People Participation in Biodiversity Conservation
Social systems and ecosystems are strongly interlinked, forming social-ecological systems. With its long and intense history of human occupation and the present strong pressures from urbanization, tourism and agriculture, the tropical ecosystem especially the Western Ghats is the compelling example. These human-induced pressures are altering all components of biodiversity and ecosystems in the region they live, including their functional trait composition. Functional traits (i.e. the physiological, structural, behavioural or phenological characteristics of the organisms that form an ecosystem) have been shown to play important roles in the provision of many ecosystem services. Periyar Tiger Reserve (PTR) is one of the best managed tiger reserves in the country. The area falls under the Periyar landscape that consists of more than 4000 km2 of forested areas mainly of rain forests both in Kerala and Tamil Nadu states of South India. The objective of the management is to ensure viable source population of tigers, co-predators and prey animals and to support agricultural, livelihood, developmental and other interests of the people living in the buffer and fringe areas of the Reserve. The PTR took many initiatives to improve livelihood and empower the people lives in its fringes. The initiative includes the release of tribal community from their debt trap, the transformation of the tribal community to become real owner of their agricultural produce, the assurance of regular income and food security, their involvement in biodiversity conservation, etc. One example is the pepper cultivation which has become the traditional agricultural practice and major source of livelihood income of the indigenous tribal communities, the Mannans and Paliyans. As these indigenous were not educated in the past and at that time the money lenders manipulated their loan account and made entry it into many fold increase. So, the people suffered always with loan amount for which they were not actually liable. The borrowing of money was being accumulated with wrong entry and continued till harvest season begins. During the harvest season, all money lenders reach tribal hamlets with untold and untruth loan register and force the people to repay, and the negotiation finally ends up with mortgaging their land and pepper yield. The money lenders harvest and take away all the pepper. This was the practice of “a debt trap” that continued for many decades. The initiative through the India Eco-Development Project (IEDP) intervened in this immoral debt trap. The Forest Department conducted a series of awareness programme for these indigenous tribal communities regarding their trap, and eco-development committees (EDCs) were formed. Then the initiative called up all money lenders for fact finding, and their accounts were scrupulously verified, and the anomalies were removed. The amount lent by the lender was negotiated and paid by the initiative, and the initiative conclusively pushed out all money lenders and their miscreant activities from the indigenous tribal community.
The indigenous tribal community people came to know the value and actual revenue of their pepper product. The communities organized under the village EDCs are managing themselves the cultivation, harvest, collection, product value addition, and marketing. The Forest Department initiatives were extended to help them to acquire Organic Pepper Certification which helped to export opportunity. This greater increase in their livelihood income through the initiatives did not necessitate the community to go for forest produce collection which helped to prevent forest degradation and destruction. The present paper describes all the initiatives from PTR towards conservation with people participation.