The Biligiri Rangaswamy Temple Wildlife Sanctuary (BRT), a 540-square-kilometer protected area, forms a part of India's Western Ghats, one of the global hotspots of biodiversity. The area has traditionally been inhabited by an indigenous community, the Soligas, and is also a habitat for a number of endangered plants and animals. Soligas have harvested forest products for centuries for their own use and more recently for markets. The interrelated issues of livelihood enhancement of the Soligas and biodiversity conservation have been at the heart of ATREE's work in BRT for close to a decade—along with a partner non-governmental organization, the Vivekananda Girijana Kalyana Kendra; a local community organization, the Soliga Abhivrudhi Sangha; and the Karnataka Forest Department [1
]. A detailed understanding of the drivers that cause forest loss and degradation is the first step toward its preservation.
The forestland of India's Western Ghats is a target for conservation, which must involve local communities
We have used demographic models to analyze changes in population structure of nelli (Phyllanthus emblica
and Phyllanthus indofischeri
), one of the most important NTFPs in BRT. Nelli is an edible fruit high in vitamin C, extracts from which are key ingredients in traditional Indian medicine, and in cosmetics. Our results indicate that population growth rates, on average, are close to rates that would allow full replacement of individuals. Moreover, it is not harvest, per se, but rather the method of harvest involved (e.g., whether or not it involves the lopping off of branches or cutting of small trees) and the spread of Loranthus
, a plant parasite that infests mature trees, which affects population growth [2
]. Management efforts, therefore, need to focus on control of the parasite, and on the use of nondestructive harvest techniques.
Discussion of harvest techniques and parasite removal form part of the annual participatory monitoring meetings with Soliga harvesters. These participatory monitoring meetings also focus on the temporal and spatial patterns in availability of various NTFPs, which are then used to guide harvest decisions. Information collected as part of this participatory monitoring program corroborate the results of scientific monitoring, namely, that populations of nelli, and also those of other important NTFP species, such as the Asian honeybee (Apis dorsata), a source of honey, have remained relatively stable over the last ten years.
It is essential that the benefits accruing to harvesters be maximized for their continued participation in management and conservation. A large part of our effort to strengthen existing institutions has, therefore, been directed toward reform of the Large-Scale Adivasi (tribal) Multi-Purpose Society, a government-established cooperative society, and a key element in the success of efforts at forest conservation. Non-timber products harvested from the forest can only be sold to the Large-Scale Adivasi Multi-Purpose Society. ATREE is also working with Soliga farmers to increase agricultural productivity, enhance on-farm diversity, and improve soil and water conservation. It is hoped that through simple agricultural interventions we can achieve a greater on-farm contribution toward subsistence and cash needs, thereby reducing the extent of dependence on NTFP.
BRT is the only forest area in India where production and extraction of NTFPs are being monitored, and where the local community is involved in such monitoring. In a recent meeting with the Forest Department, a committee comprising members of the Soliga community, Vivekananda Girijana Kalyana Kendra, and ATREE was proposed to provide suggestions to the Forest Department on management of the protected area. If formalized, this would make BRT the first protected area to have such a three-way collaboration between managers, the local community, and researchers, and would be a model for other protected areas in the country.