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April 2002


European Union supports TDEF project

- by Isha

 

Statues of Iyanar, protector of the sacred groves

It was 3 years ago that a project began to take shape, in the midst of much ongoing Auroville greenwork, to secure major funding for extensive ecosystem management. A proposal was drafted and submitted to the EU, with the help of Martin Littlewood (Auroville International UK) and Greta Jensen (consultant), and has now been approved, with the funds ready and available for the beginnings of project implementation. The total project budget is euros 560,000 to be invested over 3 years, representing euros 450,000 sanctioned and the rest to be found in additional matching funds.

Joss and Anita of Pitchandikulam, Paul, Jaap, Walter, Glenn, Dirk, Mike, Gemma, now joined by Paula (a Newcomer to Auroville), will embody our own pool of human resources. This team from Auroville is enhanced by participation from Mr. Abdul Kareem of FRLHT Bangalore (Foundation for Revitalization of Local Health Traditions), Mr. A.N. Sharma, of the Institute of Rural Management, and Ms. Manjula whose work with Irula tribal women in the Chingleput area has proved very successful.

The project is designed to support the planting of 75,000 trees within Auroville, fortifying AV forest gene banks in designated sanctuary areas to the north and south of the City area, along with bunding and checkdam work needed to combat soil erosion and enhance groundwater percolation. Other aspects directly related to our own development is the partial funding for the new herbarium, under Walter's direction, at the new Botanical Gardens site.

The project also focuses on work in the Auroville bioregion, specifically to the north of Kaluveli Tank and its watershed. The objective is to "bring back forests on forest land", in Joss' words. In the present environmental circumstances only very small pockets of natural TDEF remain in the coastal regions, in patches of reserved forest, sacred groves, and in hillside gullies to elevations of about 500 metres. These latter have survived intact primarily in riparian microclimates, where seasonal streams ensure seed dispersal and natural topography limits access to grazing, cultivation, and fuel wood harvesting. Already in colonial times, only an estimated 0.1% of this TDEF ecosystem was in evidence. Joss hopes that in 50 years it will be possible to recreate climax tropical dry evergreen forest (TDEF) previously found predominantly along the coast of Tamil Nadu. In order to achieve this aim the project will coordinate and collaborate closely with Tamil Nadu State Forest Department officials. Auroville is already quite advanced in the work of identifying existing remnant species, with already 30 years of input, the most detailed in the last 10 years.

The project hopes to develop a strategy of shared forest management, concentrating efforts of reintroduction and proper management on government reserve lands, paramboke lands (common land), temple lands and tank bunds. Methodology will involve identifying the 50 most threatened forest species, continuing botanical surveys of existing species, listing which species are best for reintroduction, devising effective systems of monitoring and implementing approaches to participatory community management.

A question that needs addressing is "why have other joint forestry management projects not been successful?" Joss feels that many such projects are too "donor motivated," and the role of good leaders on the local level is of prime importance, to convince local people of the intrinsic value of properly managed resources. Incentives to motivate committed participation take the form of micro projects for income generation: timber and fodder lots, cultivation and sale of medicinal plants, and possibly even eco-tourism.

Near to Marrakanam, adjacent to the village of Kurrupuram, there is an area of 250 acres of government reserve forest. Nearby there was an additional 200 acres which the forest corporation cleared in 1973 for "commercial forestry", planting eucalyptus, acacia, and some cashew trees. Natural regrowth is significant in these plantations, and there is a possibility that it could become a medicinal plant development area. It is also envisioned to create nearby an "interpretation and training center", displaying aspects of the life sciences, a traditional medicine dispensary, and demonstration and ethno-medicinal gardens. In the nearby reserve forest, students could explore the rich diversity of the TDEF, for example, useful and interesting understory plants, carnivorous insect eating plants, wild ground orchids, and traditional medicinal plants such as elumbhuti, used to help set broken bones.

Jaap, who lives in and helps to manage Auroville's southern sanctuary area, is helping to coordinate the very technical application of global satellite imaging with help from ISRO (Indian Space Research Organization). With this sophisticated tool it will be possible to map the entire Kaluveli bioregion's vegetative and watershed patterns, and apply strategies for inputs taking into account the overall picture. This project component coincides with the interests and co-funding of the Asia Urbs joint cities development project, recently introduced through Aurovile's planning office and Aurofuture.

The first step will be a CAMP (conservation assessment management plan) workshop at Pitchandikulam Bio-resource Centre in March, with FRLHT who already have much experience in prioritizing the threat status of plant species in other south Indian ecosystems.

This Easter, at Findhorn in Scotland, Joss and Paul will present this project at the 'Restore the Earth!' conference hosted by Alan Watson (Trees for Life/ Caledonian forest restoration project).
They will be there to help inspire the world with their vision and dedication to the work of sensitive environmental restoration, locally and globally.

 


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