Nagaland’s community conservation efforts take the flight to success

Nagaland’s community conservation efforts take the flight to success

On the face of it Yaongyimchen looks like any Naga village nestled in the mountains shrouded in morning mists. Come winter and the clear blue sky over the village is covered with black patches as thousands of avian guests start arriving from far-off lands, making Yaongyimchen an ornithology hotspot. But more than the annual month-long sojourn of its winged guests, the village in...

On the face of it Yaongyimchen looks like any Naga village nestled in the mountains shrouded in morning mists.

Come winter and the clear blue sky over the village is covered with black patches as thousands of avian guests start arriving from far-off lands, making Yaongyimchen an ornithology hotspot. But more than the annual month-long sojourn of its winged guests, the village in Nagaland’s Longleng district, bordering Myanmar, is today known for its hospitality towards the visitors, Amur falcon.

The longest-travelling raptors in the world come to Nagaland from Siberia en route to South Africa, travelling around 22,000 km in a year.

To ensure their roosting is peaceful, the village initiated biodiversity conservation by setting aside hillocks, earlier used for the traditional slash-and-burn method of cultivation called jhum, as community conserved forest.

Not too long ago, however, villagers would hunt visiting birds in thousands for meat. Besides, depleting forest covers and polluted water bodies discouraged the raptors to flock to the area.

Hunting, depleting forest cover and polluted water bodies had led to migratory birds giving a miss to Nagaland’s Yaongyimchen. Things have, however, changed with communities taking up conservation on their own. Photos: Facebook/Sendenyu Community Biodiversity and Wildlife Reserve

That is until church worker Nuklu Phom mobilised residents of Yaongyimchen and two other neighbouring villages, Alayong and Sanglu, to set aside around 800 hectares of community land for biodiversity conservation in the area in 2007.

The community conserved areas is a unique biodiversity conservation concept adopted by many villages in Nagaland where land ownership pattern is such that it is owned either by the village community, or by a clan within the village, or by individuals.

This land ownership right of the people of Nagaland is protected under Article 371 A of the Constitution of India. Hence forests in the state, barring a few under government control, are owned and managed by individuals, or the community under the supervision of village councils and other traditional institutions.

There are 407 such community conserved areas (CCAs) which account for almost one third of the total villages in Nagaland, according to an inventory of such conservation efforts prepared by the Energy and Resources Institute (TERI) at the behest of the Nagaland government’s department of environment, forests and climate change.

To put it in the context, such conserved areas cover more than 1,700 square kilometres of the state’s total area of 16,579 km2 and contribute an estimated 120.77 tonnes per hectare (0.01 km2) of carbon storage.

One important aspect of the CCAs is that the onus of conservation is entirely on the villagers and they themselves make conservation regulations and enforce them. The regulations include restrictions on collection of forest produce, ban on felling trees or hunting, or use of explosives or poisonous substances for fishing.

These restrictions vary from village to village. For instance, some villages enforce blanket bans on hunting of all species through the year while some enforce seasonal or species-specific restrictions.

“Not all CCAs are managed properly because in the absence of alternate livelihood options economic activities of most villages are largely based upon utilisation of forest resources. But many such efforts have become success stories, which need to be emulated elsewhere,” said journalist turned conservationist Bano Haralu.

One such success story has been scripted by Phom in Longleng district for which he received this year’s Whitley Awards, also known as the Green Oscar.

Conferring the award to the 48-year-old conservationist, the Whitley Fund stated that thanks to the community conservation reserves, Phom and his peers created, the population of migratory Amur falcons in the area increased from around 50,000 in 2010 to more than 20-times in 2019.

“Ours is a holistic biodiversity conservation effort and protecting Amur falcons is just a part of it. Since the forest cover has increased and also the water bodies have become cleaner, the migratory birds are congregating in larger numbers now. Since Amur falcons feed on flying termites, we have also ensured its protection,” Phom said.

As in any success story, the beginning was not easy. “The first three years were very challenging. But gradually our efforts started paying off when the village council and student leaders realised the importance of our concept. By then they had themselves started experiencing the impact of environmental degradation. The water level was going down and the harvest was not as it was in the past,” he recalled.

Environmentalists believe CCAs can reverse the trend of environmental degradation with some help from the government. Photo: Photo from Sendenyu Community Biodiversity and Wildlife Reserve

It was as if his grandfather’s premonition was coming true.

“When I was growing up in the village and still very young, my grandfather used to say the way humans are putting pressure on the environment, my generation would find it very hard to survive,” Phom said.

In 2007, when Phom returned to his village completing his master’s degree in Theology, he realised how right his grandfather was. “The forest cover had thinned and wild species which were very common during our childhood had either become extinct or had been rarely spotted,” he added.

From 2001 to 2020, Nagaland lost 225 kilo hectares of tree cover which was 11.9 per cent of India’s total loss during that period, according to a study done by University of Maryland, USA, using over a million satellite images.

Leading environmentalists of the state such as Haralu and Phom believe that CCAs can reverse the trend with some help from the government as some community conservation efforts have already shown encouraging results.

A Delhi-based NGO, Wildlife Protection Society of India (WPSI), earlier this year documented how wildlife is bouncing back in previously “denuded and overhunted forests’ due to community initiative in Thanamir village under Kiphire district.

The NGO documented the presence of among others elusive clouded leopards, Indian muntjac, Asiatic back bears, Asian wild dogs, stumped-tailed macaques and 220 bird species in the 65-square-kilometres of Thanamir’s community forest developed and protected since 2019.

Similar turnaround due to community effort is also seen in Sukhai, Ghukhuyi and Kivikhu villages in Zunheboto district. The initiative started in 2015 after the local residents realised that excessive hunting, overfishing and jhum cultivation are putting biodiversity in their area in danger.

Wildlife is beginning to prosper in parts of Nagaland due to conservation efforts at the level of individuals and community. Photo: Facebook/@Alijo2012

Three villages came together to form the Tizu Valley Biodiversity Conservation and Livelihood Network (TBCLN) to manage and protect forest on a parcel of land of about 15 square kilometres they jointly designated as community conserved area.

The blanket ban on hunting and destructive fishing led to the revival of wild population. A recent checklist prepared by the TBCLN listed the presence of 222 species of birds, 31 reptiles, 11 amphibians, 200 species of butterflies and over 200 species of moths.

A similar successful initiative has been run in Khonoma village in Kohima district since 1998, converting the village into a green village and an important tourist destination of the state.

The success stories, however, do not outshine the challenges the CCA faced amid the community that sustains through forest resources.

Some community conservation efforts are already showing encouraging results. Photo: Facebook/Nuklu Phom

“Extraction of forest products and hunting of wildlife are some of the main sources of economy for forest dependent communities. Amidst such a scenario, it is not easy to convince them about conservation of forest and natural resources unless the community members are empowered with means for alternative sustainable livelihood,” Phom said.

“Except for the common/general funds like MGNREGA, no special scheme or fund has been made available for community conservation initiatives by the government. As a result, the economic condition of the people became too precarious,” he added underlining the constraints faced by the community efforts.

The community has done its bit. It is now time for the government to take forward the initiative to protect the fragile ecosystem of the state.

Next Story