Bengaluru: Managers, conservationists, and scientists working in the grassland landscapes met at NCBS and deliberated on issues related to grasslands, seeking an action plan that could help the government and stakeholders in the management of what is often unfortunately treated as ‘wastelands’.
Initiated by WCS-India, the session commenced with Prakriti Srivastava, Country Director, WCS-India pointing to the need to restore and protect grasslands. Grasslands are not recognized as important ecological entities contributing to ecosystem services, ameliorating climate change as well as being important habitats for wildlife and biodiversity. They are treated as wastelands requiring afforestation, especially in the context of climate change and carbon sequestration. As a result, plantations are raised on grasslands with species such as Eucalyptus, Acacias and other exotics, reducing their ecological value. Grasslands in revenue lands are also diverted for housing, industrial, infrastructure and other ‘developmental’ schemes.
WCS India Country Director, Prakriti Srivastava addressing the gathering
Departments like Revenue, Forest, etc. are involved in the management of grasslands and there is a dearth of scientific guidelines to inform officials in the management of these crucial landscapes, she added. Such a framework could aid the implementing departments regarding scientific management of this important ecosystem.
It was with this paucity of scientifically validated methods of grassland management that WCS-India decided to drive a study that helps develop an action plan for different government agencies controlling grassland areas.
Dr. Aparna Watve from Tata Institute of Social Science (TISS), who has worked on grasslands in Maharashtra, and who has led the present study, briefed the gathering on the importance of grasslands in supporting the high livestock densities and the pastoralists depending on them, besides their role in climate change. She noted how the grasslands were maintained by grazing, cutting and burning but now pressures of grazing have increased beyond sustainable levels.
Dr. Aparna Watve giving an introduction to the challenges facing grasslands.
The only grasslands policy from the government ever drafted was in 1994 but nothing much followed, she said, stressing the need for one that informs the various government agencies managing grasslands. Beginning with a definition of what constitutes grasslands, to looking at various traditional practices in the usage of grasslands that support a diversity of cattle and insects, to mapping, protecting, improving and integrating grasslands was the need of the hour, Dr. Watve said.
Marking grazing lands as such could help prevent their diversion for agriculture while incentivizing the gram panchayats to maintain the grasslands were some other suggestions from the experts who took part in the detailed stakeholder discussions that looked at the issue of grassland management from various perspectives.
For instance, while looking at traditional practices it was also important to study the role of fires, both natural and man-made, in the management of grasslands. This has to be done keeping in mind that the deleterious effect of fire on ground-nesting birds, small mammals and microfauna besides the effect on soil, it was felt. Jagadish Krishnaswamy from ATREE noted how setting the grass on fire too often may not be very beneficial, pointing to the need for more scientific studies.
The study and stakeholder meeting involved experts from ATREE, NCBS, TISS, NCF, CWS and NGOs like Samvedana Samaj Vikas Sanstha working together towards a first step in the management of grasslands.
Speaking on the occasion, Dr. G V Reddy, the Principal Chief Conservator of Forests and Chief Wildlife Warden of Rajasthan, touched upon some of the issues affecting grasslands in the state as well as all over the country. He noted that besides water canals that have led to the proliferation of cultivated areas in what were earlier grasslands, these landscapes have also been altered for reasons like sand dune stabilization, while cattle grazing and mining also contributed to the destruction of grassland habitats.
Dr. G V Reddy reccomdending measures to protect grasslands.
He also emphasized that these were the habitats of the endangered Great Indian Bustard, as well as the Lesser Florican. He called for identification of grasslands using cadastral maps as well as Revenue Survey Numbers specifying grasslands. Dr. Reddy also said that identification of degraded lands should be made specifically as degraded grasslands or degraded forest lands, which would then help in the right intervention for ecological restoration.
The participants at the workshop agreed that there was a paucity of research on various aspects of ecological and socio-economic impacts of grasslands while suggesting areas of action to be taken. Scientific data on the kinds of trees that can be used in grassland management, identifying the different savanna ecosystems, prevention of grassland diversion for industry and plantations, regulating grazing, encouraging the participatory involvement of stakeholder institutions, etc. were some of the recommendations.
Participants discussing the issues and solutions for grasslands.
Grasslands support many flagship species like pygmy hogs, bustards, fox, wolves, etc. besides helping to conserve groundwater, prevent desertification and nurture soil fertility. All over the world, these ecosystems are giving way to farmlands, plantations and industrial zones making it imperative to have the required science in place as soon as possible.