Wednesday, December 27, 2006
Monday, June 05, 2006
The popularity of the Great Himalayan National Park (GHNP) is growing as a preferred Eco-tourism destination in the Himalayas. A trek to the park was recently featured in the "The Hindu" magazine.
The GHNP is a 754.4 sq km. protected area located in Kullu District of Himachal Pradesh. Its final notification as a National Park happened in 1999. The park comprises the watersheds of Jiwa, Sainj, and Tirthan rivers. The trek was to be an exploration of the Tirthan valley. The GHNP is an area extremely rich in biodiversity. It supports a vast variety of flora and fauna. A visit to GHNP website , throws up some interesting facts. When it comes to fauna, the GHNP is home to large mammals like the Himalayan Tahr, Black Bear, Goral, Bharal, to a variety of endangered pheasants like the Western Tragopan, Monal, Koklas and so on. In fact the park is known as the most important area in India for the endangered Western Tragopan.
Read the whole story here
Wednesday, April 26, 2006
Mr Payson R. Stevens (a trained earth scientist and founder of InterNetwork, Inc and InterNetwork Media, Inc. (www.in-media.com), his companies worked with NASA, the US Geological Survey, and the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration for over two decades supporting their efforts in developing Earth System Science and understanding Global Change, was the co-author of the highly acclaimed book, Embracing Earth: New Views of Our Changing Planet (Chronicle Books, 1992), Stevens has been an advisor to GHNP and SAHARA (a Kullu Valley NGO) since 2000 and has trekked over 900 km with Sanjeeva Pandey in the Park, looking after “Friends of GHNP”, a group involved in bringing about awareness among local people about the fragile fauna and endangered species in the Himalayan region) said yesterday that such a competition would have a cascading effect in spreading the message of conservation.
He felt that we might never recover from the serious ecological imbalances created by mankind. These natural treasures once lost would be lost forever. He was appointed one of the judges for the competition.
Mr Kamal Chand, District Tourism Officer, here said that The Great Himalayan National Park was selected as one of the first national parks in India to demonstrate the linking of biodiversity conservation with local social and economic development, broadly known as ‘eco-development’.He said in the competition, both professionals and amateurs could participate.
Mr Ankit Sood, head of the Tourism Department at Government Postgraduate College here said that as many as 10 renowned photographers from West Bengal, Punjab, New Delhi and Himachal Pradesh had reached here.The Director of the GHNP would provide guidelines for trekking and also accommodation to the participants during their stay in the park beginning today till April 29.
Payson Stevens is advisor and member of myHimachal Group(MHG), Ankit Sood and Sanjeeva Pandey are valuable members. And MHG is working together with GHNP to promote sustainable living in Himachal.Photo Contest brochure
Sunday, March 19, 2006
Described as "Like Nepal 40 years ago" the Great Himalayan National Park, in the far northern reaches of India, provides us with a pristine environment untrammeled by tourist influences.
This is a true journey back in time to a place of profoundly open hearts, deep and genuine warmth, the kindest of smiles and incomparable generosity. You will be deeply touched by this experience and I promise that you will come home a very different person than the one who stepped forth to undertake this adventure.
The Great Himalayan National Park, is undoubtedly the most pristine mountain landscape in the Western Himalayas… and perhaps the planet. From the Andes to Nepal and Tibet, to the mountains of Eastern Europe and Western China - the pressures of a growing human population have left the landscape - even so-called 'national parks' - overgrazed, denuded of timber, devoid of wildlife and covered with signs of animals and their shepherds. Ironically, here in India, home to over a billion people, it is still possible to find vast virgin forests and endless fields of wildflowers and ranges of un-named, unclimbed summits. Blue sheep, Himalayan Thar, even bear and snow leopard abound.
The Kullu Dusshera Festival is a highlight of this year's program. We have timed this trip so that we may experience the festival at the height of activity and pageantry. The Kullu Dusshera festival is one of the most unique festivals of India where all the Gods (over 360) of the Kullu Valley converge to pay homage to the chief deity "Lord Raghunathji." We will have a personal meeting with the King of the valley presiding over the Dusshera Festival. Dusshera is also important trade fair. Hundreds of stalls are set up to sell food, religious items, famous Kullu Valley woven woolen shawls, hats, scarves, socks, and consumer goods from the plains. The maidan is packed with exhibits, local delicacies, and Sadhus (holy men), palm-readers and snake-charmers. After witnessing the unique Kullu Oracle we will visit the home of famous early 20th Century Russian mystic and artist, Nicholas Roerich.
Thursday, January 19, 2006
A Way of Adventure Exclusive
You are personally invited for a 'once in a lifetime' opportunity!
Join me on an 'Invitation Only' Trek.
Be a 'Special Guest' in the Great Himalayan National Park.
Help preserve the Earth's wildest mountain ecosystem and support Himalayan villagers.
I gave up guiding in the Himalayas ten years ago, but when the people of Kullu asked me to help them by bringing some friends over next year.... these people, these mountains.were simply too beautiful for me to say no. By participating in this expedition you will be supporting the efforts of the locals to sustain both the pristine national park and their way of life. And in doing so, create a model for cultural and wilderness preservation in Third World countries world wide.
Read on ...
No commercial trekking company offers trips to this region ... and you cannot go on your own.
What: A unique 'benefit trek' organized at the invitation of local villagers and the Director of the Great Himalayan National Park.
Where: The least-visited, most unspoiled mountain wilderness in the western Himalayas ... arguably the world!
Who: 12 people like you - like-minded 'adventurers' supported by a team of experienced guides, cooks and porters.
When: Early September 2006, right after monsoon when the meadows are most vibrant with grass and flowers. The entire trip will be 2 weeks from start to finish (you may want to extend this time frame to experience either the Tibetan plateau and monasteries or the Taj Majal).
Why: A chance to climb, photograph, paint, write or just explore, while supporting local villagers. You will take a pilgrimage trek up the holy Tirthan River, sacred to the locals, to our high base camp in alpine meadows (13,500'). You will experience Blue sheep and purple flowers (the sheep aren't really 'blue' but that is their name) - crystalline rivers and snowy summits.
How much? A very reasonable $2,500 - All Inclusive!!
INCLUDED: 5 star hotel in New Delhi ... flights and ground transportation within India ... all meals, guides, porters, equipment, etc.
NOT INCLUDED: Airfare from North America, personal expenses and tips.
***Non-stop air travel Chicago-New Delhi now available on American Airlines!
What do YOU need to do? Just click here and tell me that you are interested - space is extremely limited so you'll want to connect with me asap.
Adventure On! Jeff
Named by Jeff Aug 20/05
Tibet Gompa Passage
Thursday, January 05, 2006
Creating Awareness About the Concept of Rewarding Upland Poor for Environmental Services (RUPES) in India
In an effort to create awareness regarding the concept of RUPES in India, Winrock International India (WII), funded by the World Agroforestry Centre (ICRAF), undertook a pilot project in the Great Himalayan National Park (GHNP) in the Kullu district of the mountain state of Himachal Pradesh. The objective of this project was to create awareness regarding the concept of RUPES among local communities residing in the eco-development zone of the Park through the medium of street theatre and among state-level policy makers through direct interactions. This was done in partnership with a local NGO, SAHARA, which had already formed a ‘Kala Jatha’ or theatre group for awareness generation activities. The project helped to:
* Sensitize SAHARA staff (including those in the Kala Jatha) regarding the concept and aims of RUPES
* Improve the acting, speech delivery and presentation skills of the members of the Kala Jatha through a theatre workshop
* Prepare a play that conveyed the RUPES concept by contextualizing it to the local situation / issues
* Present this play in several villages in the eco-development zone of the GHNP and solicit feedback / reactions from the local communities
* Sensitize state and national-level government officials and practitioners regarding the concept of RUPES through direct interactions and a flyer
2002 Equator Prize Nominee
Reducing local dependence on the Park, mitigating poverty, and creating cooperative relations with local people. Programs focused on creating equitable and sustainable use of natural resources by local people.
The Innovative Partnership Awards for
Sustainable Development in Tropical Ecosystems, 2002
1. Name of group/organization/individual being nominated
Sanjeeva Pandey, Director, Great Himalayan National Park (GHNP); and Rajender Chauhan, Director, Society for Scientific Advancement of Hill and Rural Areas (SAHARA).
2. Nominee is best described as:
GHNP, a Biological Reserve; and SAHARA, a Community-based organization
3. Initiative Description and Innovations: Provide a description of the initiative (i.e. its purpose, activities, and outputs), with particular emphasis on the innovative aspects.
It wasn't until the 1980s that in the mountain state of Himachal Pradesh, India, initial efforts were made to create a national park. Twenty years later (1999) the Great Himalayan National Park (GHNP) was finalized. The 754.4 sq. kms. area of GHNP is the foremost priority for conservation in the North-West Himalayas. The occurrence of temperate and alpine ecosystems in a geographically compact area makes GHNP the largest conservation unit at the junction of the Oriental and Palearctic faunal realms. In particular the area supports critically important populations of the endangered Western Tragopan, Chir Pheasant, Himalayan Tahr, snow leopard and musk deer.
The GHNP is naturally protected on the northern, eastern and southern boundaries by permanent snow and/or steep ridges. On the western side, about 1400 households (total population: 14,000 villagers) live in 140 villages in the 265 sq. km. buffer zone of the Park. Isolated for centuries from the large urban centers, the remote hamlets developed a highly distinctive culture, based on the worship of local deities (devta), which are celebrated in numerous local, regional and national festivals. GHNP is typical of a remote area in the Himalayas: biodiversity is concentrated, poverty tends to be all pervasive, and where the outreach of government development programs is often limited.
The Park remains untouched by any road network and thus provides a unique opportunity for sound conservation efforts. Until the 1960s human pressure on the Sainj-Tirthan area grew very slowly. People in the area were primarily living at a subsistence level with very limited export of natural resources. More recently, the state government's commitment to rapid economic and social development of the area put great pressures on the environment. The major pressure on GHNP's species diversity is the collection of medicinal herbs, as well as other forest products, including the commercially valuable morel mushroom. Until the 1960s there was no significant commercial market for the major herbs, and no one anticipated that this would become a critical issue for the Park. Beginning in the 1960s the commercial market expanded enormously, giving local people a major new source of income. Before 1999, a survey indicates that 70-85% of households derived cash income from collecting and selling herbs.
The challenge at GHNP has been to reduce local dependence on the Park, mitigate poverty, and create cooperative relations with local people, all on a sustainable basis. In 1999, the Park management commenced efforts to involve community participation. Programs focused on creating equitable and sustainable use of natural resources by local people. A major goal is developing new economic opportunities from biological resources that will increase land productivity as well as provide alternative livelihood sources.
Recognizing that reducing poverty has to begin with the poorest individuals and that often these are the women, a local Community Based Organization (CBO), SAHARA (Society for Scientific Advancement of Hill and Rural Advancement), and the Park management are working to enhance the income of poor women along with their social and political empowerment through an instrument called "Women's Saving and Credit Groups (WSCGs)". The work of organizing such groups started in January 1999. In the buffer zone of the GHNP, the acceptance of SAHARA amongst the villagers can be attributed to the fact that all their staff (group organizers and the director) are locally rooted and live there. Most of the group organizers are women. SAHARA is committed to working with poor households including scheduled castes. The composition and acquired credibility of SAHARA continues to increase the coverage of area as well as households under the present initiative. Without the local CBO, such a program would be nearly impossible to initiate and sustain. At the moment there are 75 Women Saving and Credit Groups (WSCGs) involving about 750 women (one women from each household) in the buffer zone of the GHNP. The active support of the Park authorities have helped synergise the efforts at reducing poverty by working with SAHARA.
In an area that is largely illiterate the issue of building capacity of the local community remains a challenge. In the present case the training programs over the last two years have been focused and intense. Over 10 formal trainings involving outside resource persons have been developed for the group organizers. Several trainings were held for WSCG animators and then for selected women members in skill development. Marketing support to sustain income generation activities comes from the Park management. To date the marketing of apricot seed oil and hemp based handicrafts have included using outside experts for small periods. Vermi-compost (a high quality soil amendment from worm casts) prepared by the WSCGs has sold locally to the GHNP medicinal plant nurseries. There are skill development programmes for the WSCGs for marketing of products outside the area involving value additions.
Women's Saving & Credit groups formed at the Panchayat (village council) ward level make their presence felt even in remote areas with largely illiterate populations. This is seen in the election (once in five years) of group members to positions in the Panchayat during the last election (2001) in the area. Groups also greatly facilitate collective articulation of women's interests and concerns at the village and Panchayat level. The establishment of about 19 Medicinal Plant Production Areas exclusively by and for women's groups with the agreement of the concerned Panchayats is an example.
It has been noticed that there is a perceptible change in attitude among the men of households where women have brought in money either through daily wages or from income generating activities. Women members have reported willingness on the part of their husband or other family members to share household work and facilitate their attending meetings. This change is also reflected in members' willingness to attend longer duration training programs and take up more activities that bring in income to improve livelihood opportunities. The male members of the WSCGs are being organized to undertake Ecotourism activities that include providing support for trekking in the Park. The rich diversity of local folklore is reflected in a street theater consisting of men and women who perform in local villages to enhance the awareness about the efforts of WSCGs and nature conservation in the Park.
4. Poverty Reduction: How has the initiative improved the socio-economic conditions and well-being of the community?
The collaboration between the Park management and SAHARA demonstrates that efforts to reduce poverty need to be properly targeted for them to be effective. In the buffer zone of the GHNP, women are amongst the poorest of the poor (as in other mountainous regions). Once these women are properly identified (caste remains an important issue locally) and organized into Saving & Credit groups, usually within six months sufficient money is generated to finance most of their household and production requirements. Since this is their own money, it is very carefully spent. Thus, dependence on outside capital or continued government funding is obviated or greatly diminished.
In order to increase the income and livelihood opportunities, the traditional or locally resourced, income generation combined with product marketing is being encouraged by the Park management and SAHARA. Government daily waged work such as members of WSCGs working in the Park nurseries, or road repair works, etc. is very important. Suitable policy changes can direct much of this work to the poorest and not only provide more income but also a chance to save much more as has been seen in some of the groups.
5. Biodiversity Impacts: How has the initiative contributed to the conservation or sustainable use of biodiversity and/or to the fair and equitable sharing of the benefits from genetic resources?
The capacity building of poor women through their active involvement in alternative income generation activities and services at the village level is reducing dependencies of these households on the Park. This in turn is strengthening the biodiversity conservation efforts of the Park management. The Park area is a unique and delicate environment where attempts are being made to mitigate the biotic pressures by involving the local villagers. Most of the 265 sq. kms of buffer zone on the western boundary of the Park is under forest cover, which is being used by the local villagers to meet their domestic needs. These efforts are resulting in natural regeneration of areas under the Park. It also needs to be emphasized that the women villagers have an intimate knowledge of the natural resources and their use. Hence, the most important income generation activities (undertaken within the last year), is medicinal plant cultivation in the buffer zone, which, to some extent, will help reduce herb collecting in the Park.
6. Partnerships: For each partner, describe the nature of the partnership, its origins, and how the partnership has contributed to the success of this initiative?
The main partner is the local community, especially the poor village women. The partnership focuses and addresses the following social issues: (1) that the earlier existing Village Eco-development Committees are mostly male dominated; (2) that poverty is the main opponent of conservation; (3) that women constitute nearly and significantly, half the total population are poorer of the poorest in the buffer zone of the GHNP. With these issues identified the Park officials and SAHARA began organizing the women through Women Saving and Credit Groups (WSCGs).
At Park level, the Biodiversity Conservation Society (BiodCS) has been created to implement the overall responsibility for the management of the GHNP. The BiodCS provides support to the Park management and SAHARA through monetary fund advances, flexible administrative procedures, and a governing board structure. These efforts provide continuity of Park funding across fiscal years, eliminates most bureaucratic delays, renders managerial autonomy at the Park level, and help to ensure the flexibility required for a process-oriented approach. The member-secretary of the Governing Board of the BiodCS (who is the Director of GHNP) is responsible for the management, along with assumption of responsibility and accountability for production of outputs, achievement of the Park's objective, and for the use of the Park management funds.
Another important partner is "Friends of GHNP." Friends of GHNP is an informal organization which consists of foreign nationals who have visited and/or support GHNP and SAHARA. These individuals volunteer give their time and effort to assist Park conservation and village economic and social empowerment. Friends of GHNP strongly believe the Park should have international support for its efforts to protect a part of the unique environment of the Western Himalayas. Currently, Friends of GHNP are developing a Web site for the Park and are assisting in training village men in trekking support. Most recently they have contributed to the development of educational and publicity material for the Park. They are actively assisting the Park and SAHARA in organizing ecotourism and marketing of local products made by the WSCGs.
7. Sustainability: How long has this initiative been in operation? What are the key social, institutional, financial, and ecological elements that make this initiative sustainable?
The GHNP-SAHARA linked initiative started in 1999. The initiative has inherent elements of sustainability including: (1) it is based mainly on women who have direct linkages to conservation in a mountain-based household, (2) It works with the funds that have been saved by the members of WSCGs., (3) they spend their money with responsibility which is very fundamental to the sustainability. (4) The WSCG being small, allows decision making based on members knowing each other's capabilities, (5) Programs are developing marketable products based on group decisions and utilizing marketing expertise input.
The continued existence and role of the local CBO i.e. SAHARA as well as of the groups would require institutional and financial support especially in areas of capacity building and marketing. This combination has, so far, been able to improve livelihoods of the poor, especially women, in the buffer zone of the GHNP. Equally important, groups of poor women have caused gender biases, caste issues, and political outlook in the area to evolve. Their appreciation of sustainability of the Park's resources further strengthens the protection of GHNP.
8. Other Information: Is there anything else of importance to convey about the initiative?
The continued support and recognition of efforts by GHNP and SAHARA working together will help reduce poverty in mountain villages. This in turn will support conservation, biodiversity, and sustainability in the unique and endangered environment of the western Himalayas.
9. Contact Information: For the individuals listed below, please provide
Name: Sanjeeva Pandey
Organization: Himachal Pradesh Forest Department
Address: Sanjeeva Pandey, Director, Great Himalayan National Park, Shamshi (district Kullu), Himachal Pradesh, India PIN 175126
city/town: Shamshi (district Kullu)
postal code: 175126
telephone: 0091 1902 65320
fax: 0091 1902 65320
web site: under construction; an old website is at "http://www.wii.gov.in/ghnpindia.htm"
Contact person(s) for the initiative/activity being nominated:
Sanjeeva Pandey, Director, Great Himalayan National Park, Shamshi, District Kullu, Himachal Pradesh, PIN 175126, India
Contact person(s) for the partner groups: Rajender Singh, Director, SAHARA, Village Kalwari, Tehsil Banjar, District Kullu, H.P., India
Nominator (if different from nominee): Nil
Two references (if available) who are well informed about the initiative/activity and who may be contacted by the selection committee:
First Reference: Dr. Anthony J. Gaston, Canadian Wildlife Service, 100 Gamelin Blvd., Hull, Quebec, Canada K1AOH3
Second Reference: Payson R. Stevens, Friends of GHNP, 411 Seventh Street, Del Mar, CA 92014-3013, USA. Email: email@example.com
Naveen S. Grewal
Tribune News Service
Gushaini (Kulu): The Great Himalayan National Park (GHNP) was formed to preserve the unique flora and fauna of the western Himalayas. But four years after the area located in the four valleys of Tirthan, Sainj, Jiwa and Parvati in the Kulu region was declared out of bounds for human habitation, the marauding of wild life continues.
Poaching of musk deer brown bear and ghoral (goat-antelope) and looting medicinal plants like vallerina (Nainu), pichroriza (Kauru) aconitum (Patish) and incense (Dhoop) continue unabated. Birds like monal and western tragopan are on the verge of extinction due to hunting banned in Himachal Pradesh since 1982. The magnitude of the problem can be gauged from the fact that not a single case of poaching or stealing has been registered in the known history of the region. Monal happens to be Himachal’s state bird, while musk deer is the state animal. Estimates put the number of musk deer killed in a year in this area to about 50 and ghorals to around 100.
For the past five years, the forest guards posted in the region have officially abandoned routine patrols in the area because they feel that it is a futile exercise in trying to catch people who will never be convicted due to the state’s lacking will to implement the existing law. There has been not a single conviction in Himachal during the past five years for violating the Wild Life Act. No wonder that the 349 families who have received Rs 1.56 crore in compensation for surrendering various rights in areas falling under GNHP continue to ingress the park, thereby defeating the very purpose for which it was formed.
The GHNP has over 900 types of medicinal plants, about 500 types of butterflies plants such as gucchi that fetch about Rs 5 to 7,000 per kg, taxol, a plant known to retard growth of cancer cells whose oil sells for as much as $ 10,000 for 4 millilitres.
According to Mr Ses Ram, a senior guide to the GHNP, during a search operation in 2001 the raiding party came across 108 traps for animals in four days. “It is not possible to scan each and every corner of the jungle, especially when the GHNP is spread over an area of 754.5 odd square km.
Director of the GHNP, Mr Sanjeeva Pandey, during one of his treks in the area confiscated about 20 quintals of dhoop dug out by one single team of medicinal plant mafia. “Since, we did not have enough men to carry the dhoop back with us, I ordered my men to set it on fire so that it would act as a deterrent to mafia”, Mr Pandey said, while adding that the only way to curb the menace of poaching and theft is to educate the people living in the area rather than using force, which he feels is not possible given the vast area in question.
In one year, comprising two seasons for the extraction of medicinal plants, mainly May-June and October-November, one family is able to collect around 2 to 3 quintals of plants that fetch them about Rs 15,000 in the market.
The poachers are able to sell a musk deer for anything between Rs 8,000 and Rs 10,000. The black bear is hunted for its bile that is used in making medicines. Mr Pandey admits that killing of animals and theft of plants continues, but adds that the past few years have witnessed a downward trend in these activities. A local NGO, Society for Scientific Advancement of Hill and Rural Areas (SAHARA) is using street theatre to spread awareness among the hill people for preserving nature, he says.
However, many locals are adamant and say, “killing may be bad, but it is our right to extract and sell medicinal plants”. Mr Ram Singh (name changed), a porter from Kauncha village adds “almosts all families from my village go for picking of medicinal plants, the government has thrown us out of our homes notifying it as a national park, but till we are provided alternative avenues of livelihood, how does the government expect us to survive”. Similar views are expressed by residents of villages like Dingcha located on the periphery of the park.
An employee of the GHNP, who does not wish to be identified, says “the state government is just not committed to the cause of nature and wild life otherwise the GHNP would not have remained without the grant of a single paise from the time the park was created in 1999 to 2000. The only money that came to the park was the salary of the workers. After 2001, the GHNP receive something between Rs 15 lakh to Rs 20 lakh annually for the maintenance and running of the vast area.
There is a growing demand among the conservationists in the area for separating the Forest Department from the Wild Life Department as it has been done in some states, including neighbouring Haryana. Since, wildlife is a Central government driven issue and states hardly have any role to perform, environmentalists and nature lovers who work in scores of NGOs in the region want the wild life protection projects to be funded directly by the Central Government.
Getting Women to Choose
A case study in reducing poverty through organising poor, rural women for sustaining and diversifying
their livelihood options in the Eco-development zone of the Great Himalayan National Park,
in Kullu district of Himachal Pradesh in India.
By Vinay Tandon firstname.lastname@example.org
The empowerment of poor, rural women in historically differentiated social groups is a long process. The approach elucidated in this case study could be one among many. It will take several more years to clearly establish sustainability of the approach and its replicability. Meantime, there are indications that when poor women are incorporated and involved in poverty reducing interventions, the outcome can be very significant in just a few years. What is more exciting is the noticeable change in women to collectively articulate and represent their interests, politically, even when they are by and large poor.
The livelihood dependence of rural communities, in rainfed, agrarian economies, on forest resources like grazing land, fuelwood and timber, NTFPs in the Himalayas, as elsewhere, is well established. Within these communities, the poor are more dependent on such resources for their livelihood needs. The poorest among these poor, usually women, because of work burden, illiteracy, caste factors, health condition, remoteness of their villages and small land holdings have no other livelihood options. This makes their poverty chronic gradually degrading the very resources they depend upon. (The vicious cycle of poverty!).
A typical high mountain area where such conditions obtain is the eco-development zone of the Great Himalayan National Park (GHNP) in Kullu district of Himachal Pradesh. The eco-development zone has about 141 villages / hamlets inhabited by about 12,000 people over 265 sq. kms. Literacy levels are low (please see Table 1) and lower still for women. In one panchayat (Garaparli) of several villages there is not even one literate woman out of a total population of 175 women. Government jobs (the only permanent jobs here), held important in Himachal, are very few. Subsistence, rainfed, low-yield agriculture gives at the most 2 crops a year, making for at best 3 to 4 months of food-grain supplies. Thus dependence on daily-waged labour to make ends meet is high. But this is invariably insufficient. Dependence on forest resources for livestock grazing, fuel, timber, NTFPs is high especially in the higher hills. Herb collection for many is the major or only source of cash income. Most villagers in the eco-development zone are involved in herb collection for varying times in the year2.
Rural societies in HP are highly stratified. This is more so for remote areas like the eco-development zone of the GHNP. The Scheduled Castes (SCs) are commonly excluded from access to key resources and institutional services. Literacy levels are lowest among the SCs. School dropout rates are higher among SCs than other castes. Widows and deserted women are almost universally included among the poorest category of people, but coverage under government programs like widow pension scheme is seen to be poor3. In the 11 panchayats of the eco-development zone the proportion of Scheduled Caste population to the total population is 31.50 %, (Please see Table 1).
Recognising that in such a situation reducing poverty has to begin with the poorest and that often these poorest are women, a local Community Based Organisation, SAHARA, planned an intervention aimed at enhancing income of poor women along with their social and political empowerment through an instrument called "Women's Saving and Credit Groups". The GHNP authorities joined hands with SAHARA and the two have been working together in the area since late 1999.
Who are NOT the poor?
Government interventions and programs (including a 6-year World Bank Eco-development project in the area) have and largely continue to ignore social differentiation among village societies. Resultantly, most benefits that have accrued from government schemes, welfare or otherwise, have been cornered by the relatively better off and the more resourceful. The criteria for identification of households living below the poverty line (BPL) often exclude the deserving and include the undeserving, thus making otherwise potentially useful interventions go haywire at the very beginning. Further government schemes do not look at sustainability of rural livelihoods and the poorest in any given village will change from one set to another after a 5-year Plan period.
What has poverty to do with caste?
Historically, the Scheduled Castes have been discriminated against. This practice is more pervasive in remote, mountain societies. The SCs occupy the bottom of the caste hierarchy. SC households are located either on the periphery of villages or as separate hamlets far flung from the societal mainstream. The average SC land holding is much less than that of other castes. Literacy levels are the worst among SCs and thus despite Constitutional provisions for job reservation, SCs in permanent government employ are very few. Participation of SC women in "Mahila Mandals" (Women's collectives) in villages is low due to discrimination norms. Access to forest resources and NTFP collection is dominated by higher castes, like for example in concessional timber distribution. Encroachment of forest land among SCs is related to social discrimination and landlessness. They are also the first ones to be evicted during eviction drives. In the handloom weaving industry which is a major income source for many households, caste taboos prevent transfer of skills to SCs. Scheduled Caste representation in Panchayats is limited to "reserved" seats and instances have been reported where SC candidates were prevented from contesting elections. The SCs are rarely considered credit-worthy by formal financial institutions. (Praxis report)3
The Target Groups: The SAHARA intervention therefore has targeted firstly, the Scheduled Castes and among them women and then other poor women. Hence Women's Saving and Credit Groups were organised.
How they were / are organised & why?
House to house survey to assess the economic status of households in a village, including all SC households was carried out. Records from secondary sources including government, were consulted. Further information on who are the poor was also obtained during the house to house survey. The obviously rich or better off HHs were omitted. A fair idea of the poorest in the village was formed and their women organised into Saving & Credit groups. This has been done hamlet-wise or groups of hamlets taken together depending on the population / distance.
Since caste considerations are socially important, same caste women groups were organised as far as possible. In cases, mixed caste groups had to be reformed when women of one caste were either not showing interest or had reservations about the other caste (didn't work). In other cases mixed caste groups have worked for over two years (an indicator of change!).
Sustaining the S&C groups.
The formation of WS&C groups was started in late 1999.
1. The minimum saving rate per member is Re ONE per day. When SAHARA began the group formation work, there was widespread skepticism at the capacity of poor women to be able to save one rupee a day. However, as a strategy it was insisted that if the women were to form a group the minimum acceptable level of saving would be one rupee a day. The first step was to convince the group organisers that it WAS possible for even the poorest woman to save one rupee a day. Gradually, not only was this condition accepted but over the last more than two years has been by and large adhered to by members of all groups. In fact 6 groups are now saving at the rate of Rs 2 per day per member.
2. One connected reason that seems to make all women to readily agree to saving a rupee a day is if the locally perceived poorest woman in the village/ hamlet becomes a member of the group.
3. Each group elects one literate member as the group ANIMATOR. This animator is expected to (and trained) to keep group accounts and meeting records. This work is expected to be done voluntarily by the animator. In order to help the group become more sustainable, as a strategy it was insisted that the group members will pay an honorarium (which they will decide) to the animator for each meeting. This is worked, though there was some initial resistance. Now it has become the accepted norm that each animator will receive an honorarium per meeting. It has been seen that possibly as a result, very few animators have changed over the past two years.
4. Group size, it appears has contributed to stability and regularity of meetings and nearly full attendance. It is seen (Table 2) that the average group size is not even 10. This is not only for reasons of homogeneity but to ensure that women members are easily able to attend meetings, given the tough topography and the women's preoccupation with household work.
5. The existence of an organised group of women in the Panchayat ward seems to relate better with the panchayat structure and dynamics. A persistent complaint in the area has been that several government programmes meant for the poor do not reach them. An organised women's group(s) that consists of primarily the poorest households in the panchayat ward becomes difficult to ignore in surveys, census operations etc. and gradually acquires political significance. In the present case, 16 women members of S&C groups, including animators, contested the Panchayat elections in November, 2000 and out of them 7 were elected either as members of the Panchayat (representing a panchayat ward) or some as Panchayat President1. It is also significant that this is the first time that a sustainable village/ hamlet level organisations in the hills of Kullu have emerged.
6. The introduction and success of an income generating activity appears to be crucial in group stabilisation. The production loans taken in most groups (Table 2) are for starting vermi-composting pits. One pit takes Rs 1200 to 1300 investment including the cost of earthworms. The Park authorities and the forest department have a ready market for the vermi-compost which is bought through the CBO, SAHARA. Some fraction of the sale proceeds goes to SAHARA (after agreement with the groups) to help the organisation towards attaining financial viability. Some other income generation activities that have shown promise include apricot seed sale and oil extraction and hemp based handicraft products. A longer terms (2 - 3 years) income generation program involves the planting of high value medicinal herbs on forest land allocated to one group. Group members plant and protect this Medicinal Plants Production Area (MPPA) and in agreement with the Park authorities and the Panchayat have exclusive right to harvest the medicinal herbs from it. Presently, 19 hectares of forest land involving an equal number of groups has been planted up at the rate of 22,500 plants per hectare, and the first harvest is expected to begin end 2002.
7. In the eco-zone of the GHNP, the acceptance of the CBO, SAHARA amongst the villagers can be attributed to the fact that all their staff (group organisers and the director) are locally rooted and live there. Most of the group organisers are women. And above all, the CBO has genuinely worked with poor households including scheduled castes. The composition and acquired credibility of SAHARA continue to increase the area and household coverage under the present initiative. It is clear that without the local CBO, such a program would be nearly impossible to initiate and sustain. However, the active support of the Park authorities have helped synergise the efforts at reducing poverty.
8. In an area that is largely illiterate the issue of building capacity at the local level remains a challenge. This is exacerbated by the fact that most training materials and resource persons easily available are in English. In most of Kullu district even Hindi is not properly understood among the illiterate and since local dialects have no script, the medium of instruction and training becomes Hindi. In the present case the training inputs over the last two years or so have been heavy. Over 10 formal trainings involving outside resource persons have been organised for the group organisers. Besides, several trainings were held for group animators and then for selected women members in skill development. In addition there are monthly meetings that include a training / problem solving session held internally by SAHARA. The cost of these trainings have been borne by either the Park authorities or other donors.
9. Marketing support to sustain income generation activities remains an area of concern. So far for marketing apricot oil and hemp based handicrafts outside knowledgeable persons have been engaged though for small periods. Vermi-compost has sold locally. But marketing of products outside the area involves much value addition before the products become competitive and problems in either arranging sufficient funds or marketing assurance or both, persist.
The Role of GHNP Authorities in sustaining local livelihoods:
Government daily wages are important to people of the eco-zone especially in the absence of other employment opportunities. The GHNP authorities are one of the biggest provider of daily waged work in the area. This work, however, was being provided selectively and often the poor found it difficult to obtain work for any meaningful lengths of time. Women were largely engaged for nursery work while the bulk of other daily waged work went to men. After the present initiative was taken up, it was agreed as a policy that in the eco-zone area the first preference in daily waged work would be given to members of the WS&C groups. Over the last one year this decision has helped provide several hundred womandays of work to group members in many of the panchayats. Some groups have agreed to save one third of their daily wage and are doing so thereby greatly increasing their collective and individual savings.
The success of vermi-composting as an income generation activity can be largely attributed to the assurance given by the Park authorities to purchase the compost produced by the groups. The local Forest Department too is a major buyer of vermi-compost from the SAHARA groups. Vermi-compost worth over Rs 1,40,000 has been sold so far4. The forest department uses vast quantities of manure in its nurseries every year. A policy decision to purchase vermi-compost produced by women's groups in the area could give a big boost to this important livelihood opportunity in the years to come.
WHAT DO WE LEARN?
The present case study shows that efforts to reduce poverty need to be properly targeted for them to be effective. In the eco-zone of the GHNP, women are amongst the poorest of the poor, as in other mountainous regions. Once these women are properly identified (caste remains an important issue locally) and organised into Saving & Credit groups, it is only a matter of time (six months) before sufficient money becomes available to finance most of their household and production requirements. Since this is their own money, it is very carefully spent. Thus dependence on outside capital or continued government funding is obviated or greatly diminished. In the present case, much of the collective saving is lying un-utilised for want of suitable income generation activities or marketing problems. Suitable, usually traditional or locally resourced, income generation activities wherein the products are easily marketed are essential to increase income and livelihood opportunities. Government daily waged work is very important. Suitable policy changes can direct much of this work to the poorest and not only provide more income but also a chance to save much more as has been seen in some of the groups in this study, and thereby reduce dependence on daily waged work.
Women's Saving & Credit groups formed at the Panchayat ward level make their presence felt even in remote areas with largely illiterate populations. This is seen in the election of group members to positions in the Panchayat during the last election in the area. Groups also greatly facilitate collective articulation of women's interests and concerns at the village and panchayat level. The establishment of about 19 Medicinal Plant Production Areas exclusively by and for women's groups with the agreement of the concerned panchayats is a case in point.
It has been noticed that there is a perceptible change in attitude among the men of households where women have brought in money either through daily wages or as from income generating activities. Women members reported willingness on the part of her husband or other family members to share household work and facilitate their attending meetings. This change is also reflected in members' willingness to attend longer duration exposure visits and take up more activities that bring in income and improve livelihood opportunities.
The continued existence and role of the local CBO as well as of the groups would require institutional and financial support especially in areas of capacity building and marketing. This combination has so far been able to improve livelihoods of the poor especially women in the Eco-zone of the GHNP. It may be too early to measure overall impact on poverty reduction. But the signals are clear though much needs to be done. Importantly, groups of poor women have caused gender biases and political outlook in the area to change. Perhaps, they can now begin to choose.
1. Chandar Mamta, Aug., 2001; Review of the Projects and Initiatives of SAHARA.
2. Tandon Vinay. May, 1997: Report on Status of collection, conservation, trade and potential for growth in sustainable use of major medicinal plant species found in the Great Himalayan National Park and its environs in Kullu district of Himachal Pradesh.
3. Praxis, Institute for Participatory Practices, April-May, 2000: RURAL PROFILE STUDY for Himachal Pradesh.
4. Records of SAHARA, Jan., 2002.
Browsing Classification: Economics and Employment: Poverty: Asia Pacific: India
Economie et emploi: Pauvreté
Economía y empleo: Pobreza
Sociology and Demography: Gender: Asia Pacific: India
Sociologie et démographie: Genre, Sexe
Sociología y demografía: Género
Citation: Tandon, V. 2002. Getting Women to Choose. Case study on "Sustainable Livelihoods and Poverty Alleviation", Mountain Forum E-consultation for the UNEP / Bishkek Global Mountain Summit.