T. V. Padma
South Asia regional coordinator, SciDev.Net
After wetlands, I trawled India’s forgotten grasslands, at a session this (Friday) afternoon. In case you thought that grasslands were all about some grass, sheep and goats, think again. In India, one such grassland in its west is home to the Asiatic lion. And also to many marginalised, mobile and itinerant communities, including pastoralists.
Grasslands are important for biodiversity, and loss of a square kilometre of grasslands causes more loss to biodiversity than an equivalent of the much-fancied monoculture plantations, Ranjit Manakandan, Bombay Natural History Society (BNHS), said at a side-event today.
They are critical habitats for some key species, including the rhino, wild ass, great Indian bustard, deer, insects, and, of course the lion.
The much neglected pastoral groups also maintain and manage livestock diversity, including some rare breeds, under low-input systems.
The Indian grasslands are under threat, from invasive species such as the Prosopis and Parthenium, unsustainable grazing, and shrinking land use due to encroachment by real estate and industries.
What’s worse, they are often wrongly classified by the state governments. For example, what is technically a grassland in Tamil Nadu has been classified as a wasteland, and there is a profusion of suggestions to make it fit for growing crops, says a forest officer from the state.
As many traditional pastoralists with their low-consumption lifetsyles are forced to give up their traditional lands, along with them also go their special breeds of livestock, indigenous knowledge systems.
Under the circumstances, I found the story of the Pardhi community, in India’s western state of Maharashtra. A traditional nomadic hunting community, Pardhis were classified as a ‘criminal’ tribe in 1872, and the stigma ahs remained ever since. Independent India’s forest act which bans huting, did not help matters for the Pardhis. Today they are at the heart of an award-winning land restoration programme that makes sue of their deep knowledge of local biodiversity.
Hear the Pardhi story in the link here:
This blog post is part of our coverage on COP 11 Convention on Biological Diversity — which takes place 8–19 October 2012.