In the Himalayan hills, the landscape is rapidly changing, as are the everyday lives of the small farming communities who call the hills home. Development, migration and climate change are transforming human-nature interactions and giving rise to new environmental pressures. Natural resources such as water, forests and land are dwindling, and there is an urgent need to manage these resources more efficiently and sustainably.
With support from global communications giant Nokia, IUCN works with partner organizations and local communities to implement innovative efforts to meet water, food and energy needs in the Balkila watershed of Uttarakhand, North India. “New kinds of cooperation are needed to manage watersheds and solve local water problems, but also to make sure people have livelihoods that are resilient, and can cope with new social, economic and environmental realities,” says Mark Smith, Head of the IUCN Global Water Programme.
Building community resilience through alternative livelihoods
Within the Balkila watershed, agricultural space is fragmented and limited by the undulating slopes of the mid-Himalayas. The crop of choice in the watershed is rice and wheat, staples of the Indian diet. These crops, however, do not provide much economic return.
Fragmented agricultural space can be made more productive, both economically and ecologically, through holticulture. Indigenous species such as the mulberry, blood orange, Indian gooseberry (Emblica officinalis) and mountain ebony (Bauhinia variegata) fetch higher prices at the market, and provide suitable vegetative cover for the region.
With the technical support of Dasholi Gram Swarajya Mandal (DGSM, a local NGO) and the Uttarakhand Forest Department, a fully-equipped nursery was established in Bandwara, a village in the Balkila watershed. Some 75,000 seedlings have been sown by the local communities. The nursery is run by local women groups, all of whom have undergone technology transfer training from the Uttarakhand Horticulture Department and the Herbal Research and Development Institute.
Diversifying energy options
Balkila communities largely rely on wood fuel for cooking and heating. As a means of combating deforestation and minimizing black carbon emissions, IUCN is exploring alternatives to wood fuel.
Biogas, a byproduct of organic decomposition, can be readily harvested from livestock waste. It also produces less particulate matter when burned. Using the biogas technology of the Pan Himalayan Grassroots Development Foundation, a local NGO working in the Indian Himalayas, IUCN and the Uttarakhand Rural Development Agency are collaborating to introduce biogas-fired cook stoves to the Balkila watershed villages of Bairagana, Dewaldhar, Gwad, Mandal and Papriana.
To date, ten biogas cook stoves are operational. A further five will be installed before the end of 2012. These cook stoves are so far successful; the recipient of one had remarked, “Since we have started using this cook stove, we have not collected any firewood.”
Other viable alternative energy sources that are being considered include solar and biomass.
These initiatives are carried out simultaneously along with the rehabilitation of springs as part of a package of integrated solutions to conserve natural infrastructure – ecosystem services that benefit people and bolsters resilience to impacts from climate change.