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Thursday, January 05, 2006

Equator Prize 2002

Nomination: Great Himalayan National Park (GHNP) and Society for Advancement of Hill and Rural Areas (SAHARA)
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.
Nomination Form

Equator Initiative

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
country: India
telephone: 0091 1902 65320
fax: 0091 1902 65320
web site: under construction; an old website is at ""

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:

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