Local Communities Work to Save their Grasslands and Wetlands
We witnessed wetlands management in action in the Namuna Buffer Zone Community Forest in Amaltari, Nawalparasi district, where twenty-five men and women were working to clear dense water hyacinth and water cabbage growth from a small section of the Sano Narayani (known locally as Bhutaha Dhaab). Originally a river, the water source has become severely depleted, and is now little more than a pond. Dr. Jnawali explains: “Threats such as siltation, encroachment, overexploitation of resources, invasive alien plant species and pollution are responsible for the degradation of our wetlands and the destruction of the habitats and water sources for our wildlife.” Dr Jnawali goes on to say that the degradation of grasslands is caused by overgrazing, encroachment, invasive alien plants, and uncontrolled or mistimed burning.
DB Chaudhary, Chief Advisor to Namuna Community Forest User Group is also concerned: “We have worked to increase the awareness of local people of the importance of grasslands and wetlands. They know that unless the grasslands and wetlands are maintained, there is little chance of conserving the area’s biodiversity. Any loss of biodiversity is bound to affect their livelihoods which rely, to a greater or lesser extent, on agriculture, wildlife, and tourism.” The Namuna group is currently working with men and women from the excluded Mushahar caste on a number of riverine grassland and wetland management initiatives in the Namuna Buffer Zone Community Forest. Activities such as these not only provide a source of livelihood for local communities, but also make them more receptive to the principles of biodiversity conservation. This initiative is supported by the Hariyo Ban Program through WWF Nepal.
The Namuna ecosystem is home to a number of rare and endangered species such as the Bengal Florican – the world’s rarest bustard – and the hog deer. Bengal Floricans are ground-nesting and require a habitat with ample grassland. Hariyo Ban is working to conserve the Namuna grasslands to prevent species like these from dying out. Wetlands, wet-grasslands, pastures, and swampy areas are also home to a dazzling range of fauna and flora that Hariyo Ban is working to conserve. DB Chaudhary told us about the importance of striking a balance: “The popular notion that we must have forests everywhere is misguided. Rhinos, spotted deer (chital in Nepali), barking deer (ratuwa in Nepali), peacocks and thrushes all need grasslands for their survival. If the grasslands are healthy and full of prey, the tiger will come to the grasslands to hunt.” A tiger population indicates a healthy forest, the apex predator being at the very top of the food chain.
With infestations of bitter vine (Mikania micrantha) and other invasive species reducing the hundreds of hectares of grassland in Namuna to less than 20 hectares in 7 years, work to reverse the degradation was urgent. With support from the Hariyo Ban Program, 70 hectares has already been cleared.
DB Chaudhary is also the coordinator at the Jatayu Vulture Restaurant which is managed by the Namuna User Group. The restaurant has been working to conserve the local vulture population since 2006, by providing meat that is free from Diclofenac – a common cattle mediation which is deadly to vultures. “This vulture restaurant has helped local communities to benefit from local biodiversity,” says Chaudhary, “this is now a tourist attraction – and if we manage the adjoining community forest effectively we’ll attract even more tourists.”
Effective grassland management can also help to ensure a healthy supply of cane and thatch for building houses. Grasslands are the only source of Halfa grass (kush in Nepali - Desmostachya bipinnata) which is used in Hindu and Buddhist religious practices. What’s more, grasslands capture and store carbon, and have an important role to play in greenhouse gas emission reduction strategies. The 850 households that make up the Namuna Community Forest User Group see grassland and wetland management as a way to ensure sustainable livelihoods for their communities.
By Richa Bhattarai, Communications Associate, Hariyo Ban Program, WWF Nepal
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Disclaimer: The Hariyo Ban Program is made possible by the generous support of the American people through the United States Agency for International Development (USAID). The contents of this article are the responsibility of WWF and its consortium partners and do not necessarily reflect the views of USAID or the United States Government.