Building a coalition for the defense and nurturance of biodiversity - Side-event by SADED at the United Nations Convention on Biological Diversity, CoP-XI, Hyderabad

The purpose of the meeting was to articulate the various issues that have been neglected in cases where biodiversity has regenerated or has alternately been threatened.

This side event at the Convention on Biological Diversity, CoP-XI, Hyderabad on 16th October, 2012 was organized by South Asian Dialogues on Ecological Democracy (SADED) in collaboration with Collective for Self Learning on Biodiversity, Beyond Copenhagen, Center for Local Health Traditions, CECOEDECON, Harit Swaraaj, Kisan Swaraaj Sampark Kendra, PAIRVI, Samajvadi Sampark Kendra and Timbaktu Collective.

The idea was to build a broad coalition for the defense and nurturance of biodiversity based on this understanding.

Dr. Uma Shankari, Member, SADED Steering Committee and the moderator for the event underlined the importance of medicinal plants and drew attention to the Intellectual Property Rights (IPR) issues related to it that had been discussed in Nagoya Protocol of Convention of Biological Diversity. This was followed by two presentations on the subject.

CBD

Ovais Sultan Khan, Uma Shankari, Leena Gupta and Hariramamurthy G

Image: SADED

Local health traditions in India – By Mr. Hariramamurthy G., Institute of Ayurveda and Integrative Medicine, Bangalore

Hariramamurthy G., Assistant Director, Center for Local Health Traditions, Institute of Ayurveda and Integrative Medicine, Bangalore began by stating that seventy to eighty per cent people in India do not have access to health care facilities. Traditional knowledge and medicinal plants are of huge significance in people’s day to day life.

There are several national and international policies and health organizations like WHO, which recommend, support and recognize traditional health practices. However, not much importance is given to traditional medicine in our national health plan and this is evident both in terms of financial allocation and policy orientation. Of the total health budget, 97 per cent is allocated to western bio-medicine. Unlike here, communities in more affluent economies are increasingly turning towards traditional medicine. These are being patented in the west by big companies.

Our traditional medicinal knowledge is not only a part of medicine, but also a part of our culture, food and day-to-day life. India has a rich biodiversity, with around 6200 medicinal plant species. As many as 2000 of these are threatened. The regions which are rich in biodiversity, traditional knowledge and resources such as the tribal belt also happen to be poor.

In India, we have two streams of traditional medicinal knowledge; one is Shastriya the Ayurveda, Siddha, Unani, Tibetan medicinal knowledge and others as codified Indian systems of medicinal knowledge. Second stream is what we called Grand Ma's medicine. A large number of traditional healers are carrying forward this kind of traditional knowledge, which is not based on any written literature, but which is passed on only through word of mouth from, Grand mothers and mothers; they know the use of locally available plants for the local health needs of their community. So that is the most interesting part, whereas in the Ayurveda, they know the name of the plant, the quality of the plant, use and applications for a number of health conditions but perhaps they do not prepare medicines like folk healers do and very often they prescribe medicines as allopathic doctors do. Traditional healers do not prescribe manufactured medicine of any big or small company.

This presentation focused on 'Folk healing practices' because it is accessible to the large number of ordinary people in India. Ayurveda, like Allopathic medicines is accessible only  to the urban population by and large, but as far as community is concerned which lives in rural and far reaching parts of India, they depend on the folk healing practices. The numbers are quite significant. Largest number among any codified medicinal stream is not comparable with folk medicinal stream. Several interesting macro studies have been conducted and it gives interesting numbers of minimum one million. It is also significant to note that a large number of countries in Africa, Latin America and Central America, do not have the benefit of codified stream as we do. In India, China, Japan, Indonesia, Philippines and other countries we have some knowledge in codified form.

The problems we are facing in India are quite similar to the rest of Asia. The people of Africa and Latin America could have similar issues of access and outreach of their public health systems. The expenditure of Government of India on health is only 18 per cent, which means that people have to pay 82 per cent from their pockets to access health care. According to Hariramamurthy, it is the responsibility of the Government to make available the natural resources for the local poor people who are dependent on them. There is connection between resource and knowledge, and without conserving both of these access to and equity in health is not going to be easy.

The speaker ended the talk with the note that ‘Just like we cannot protect tigers in a zoo, you cannot conserve medicinal plants in parks.”

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Leena Gupta and Hariramamurthy G

Image: SADED

Kalpavalli – Green versus clean development - By Dr. Leena Gupta, SPWD

Leena Gupta began by discussing the two different models of sustainable development for conservation, nurturance and defense of biodiversity. One is by the community and second is by the Clean Development Mechanism (CDM) projects.

Anantapur district, which is barren and arid today was once upon a time an area of massive dense forest cover. Timbaktu Collective was formed in 1990 by a young team which believed that agriculture was the key to progress and that if the poor were organized in a collective to do organic farming even the barren wastelands of Anantapur district could be transformed.

By 1993, Timbaktu Collective began to closely collaborate with the eight villages of Kalpavalli and several others in an attempt to plant indigenous plant species and revive the forests in the area. Together with the villagers, the planting of trees and eco-restoration work began and slowly over time one could see the initial stages of what would eventually become a dense forest. The eco-restoration work comprised of restoration of water bodies, soil moisture conservation, nursery development, fire prevention and de-siltation of tanks & other water bodies.

To understand the ecoservices of Kalpavalli forest in terms of life support system and also to comprehend the impacts of wind energy project operations done in Kalpavalli region, a detailed study was done. Line transects were laid in different habitats like wetland, valley, hilltops, streams, cliffs, dense and degraded patches, grass patches, sacred groves, paddy fields, toddy and date palm groves, spring proximities, windmill operation areas (in Kalpavalli), adjoining Guttur Reserve Forest, wind farms and gold mine dumps of Ramagiri and other open areas.

Attention was paid to the windmill's legal (on purchased-authorised land) and illegal operations (on unauthorised area for road constructions without legal permissions) to understand the impacts of such projects on local vegetation, catchment area, streams and water flow towards tanks. Surveys were conducted in terrestrial and aquatic (lentic and lotic) ecosystems. Trees, shrubs, herbs, grasses, climbers were reported and specimen collected for herbarium.

Threats, pressure on resources, community dependency on the forest, interlinkages between the forests, agriculture, pasturelands and windfarms were also studied to understand the status of the forest. Information on the historical profile of the area was collected from authentic documents and was supported by discussions with the local community of Kalpavalli, and members of Timbaktu Collective.

The study revealed that Kalpavalli has an enormous variety of plants and animals, both domesti­cated and wild, as also a wide array of habitats and ecosystems. This diversity meets the food, medicine, shelter, spiritual as well as the recreational needs of local people in and around the Kalpavalli region. It also ensures that ecological functions such as the supply of clean water, nutrient cycling and soil protection are maintained. In effect, soil erosion started due to irresponsible, illegal and unsystematic windmill operations.

The diversity and richness of genes, species, habitats and ecosystems are the real wealth, far more important than money. Perhaps the most important value of biodiversity, particularly in a region like Anantapur, is that it meets the basic survival needs of a vast number of people. A large number of traditional communities depend, wholly or partially, on the surrounding na­tural resources for their daily needs of food, shelter, clothing, household goods, medicines, fertilizers, religious customs, economy, etc.

In the preliminary survey, a total of 387 species were reported from Kalpavalli forest, pasture patches, sacred groves, agriculture fields, Guttur RF fringe area (border area) and other outside areas of Kalpavalli.

Fauna diversity is dependent on the flora of the area. The rich vegetation of Kalpavalli supports a range of non-chordate and chordate fauna diversity (more than 150 fauna species were recorded from the area).

Large numbers of local and migratory birds and animals are indicators of good habitat and food security in Kalpavalli. The Mushtikovila tank and adjoining plains are playing a role of corridor for the wildlife of Guttur Reserve Forest. In sum, the Kalpavalli tanks and valleys provide food and water whereas Guttur RF provides safe hiding for animals.

The regenerated Kalpavalli forest area became a strong and sustainable life support system for the local community. Kalpavalli provides fuelwood, NTFPs, and many more ecoservices to the local community.

Wind Power and Kalpavalli’s environment

Enercon, a company specialized in wind energy began negotiations with the Government of Andhra Pradesh for setting up of windmills and generation of wind energy in Kalpavalli and surrounding areas in 2007. 48 windmills were proposed in the area covered by forests. Both the government as well as the company ignored this and referred to obsolete revenue records which showed the area as “wastelands”. Subsequently, the company and the government entered into purchase agreements for one acre plots at 48 strategic locations at throw away prices.

Neither the state government nor the company thought it fit to discuss the setting up of windmills in the Gram Sabhas and thereafter in the Panchayats. Meetings were held with government officials and with elected representatives and occasionally with some Sarpanch’s. The State Government and the elected representatives were most keen to promote windmills as the investments were considerable and certain benefits were likely to accrue to these officials personally.

The cutting of top of the hill to create a flat area for the construction of the windmill, the making of the roads, the incessant heavy traffic up and down the hills and through the villages by trucks carrying the massive parts of the windmills, created heavy dust pollution. This settled on the trees and on the agricultural fields causing tremendous inconvenience to the people, the rise of temperature in the area, and the decline of agriculture. As road building necessitated the cutting of mountains, the internal water aquifers were destroyed leading to a drastic decline in water availability through traditional sources. Even the main streams of the villages began to dry up gradually.

The Kalpavalli area was widely known for the abundance of grass that grew on the hill slopes which was more suitable for sheep and goats. Even during drought periods, Kalpavalli was one area where the grass grew in abundance and animals could graze and survive. The livelihood of the people of Kalpavalli depended, in no small measure, on these pasturelands which brought them livelihood and income.

With the making of the roads, the cutting of the mountains, the destruction of the groundwater sources, the cutting of the trees for the construction activity, and the erection of 48 huge steel structures reaching high into the sky; the grass of Kalpavalli began to mysteriously diminish and now, in many parts, has disappeared altogether. The cattle are unable to graze on the mountains because the slopes of the mountains have been disrupted by the making of massive roads and by deep cuts made in the mountain side which make it impossible for the cattle to climb up. Grazing of cattle has therefore come to an end completely and with that a major source of livelihood for the people of Kalpavalli.

The construction work also caused huge amount of debris to spill into the adjacent fields and to fall into the tanks and water bodies thus destroying the water bodies wholly or partially and affecting livestock. The putting up of the windmills resulted in plastic and metal debris spread all over the area. Cattle ate this debris and died.

To make matters worse the construction activity needed a huge amount of water and even afterwards windmills need a constant supply of water for the cooling of windmills. This water was taken by the company from the traditional water bodies of the villages without bothering to take permission and most often without payment and occasionally on the payment of some paltry amount. Water was also taken by the excessive drawing of water from the tube wells on private lands which depleted the water table even further.

Yet, Enercon has submitted this windmill project at the UNFCCC to receive carbon credits under the UN offsetting scheme Clean Development Mechanism (CDM). Under this scheme, projects can receive carbon credits if they reduce emissions and contribute to sustainable development. If approved, the project will receive about 360,000 carbon credits. Compared to other CDM projects, a relatively small amount.

Despite serious concerns explained above, the Indian government has confirmed that the project contributes to the social, environmental, economic and technological well-being in the region. This without any Environment Impact Assessment (EIA) being done in the area.

Moreover, the UN approval process requires a thorough stakeholder consultation process, including a local stakeholder consultation where local communities are consulted about the project.  This was not done in the case of Kalpavalli. It was only when the roads needed to be constructed that a process of involving the community was followed by making many promises with the idea of dividing them. When concern was raised about the adverse effect of the project on cattle grazing, villagers were provided assurance.

This indicates that windmills adversely impact the local community as well as on biodiversity. The study done by the author, documents more than 500 flora and fauna species in the region, including many rare and endangered ones. The study also shows that the region is acting as a corridor to the nearby Guttur Reserve Forest, which is the only wilderness area in the region.

It stresses the need for restoring the damage caused by the construction of roads apart from compensation for the loss of the livelihood potential due to restricted grazing access and loss of other livelihoods from Non Timber Forest Produce. There is a need to consider the local community as the primary stakeholder for the preservation of the biodiversity which includes many rare and endangered species having worldwide significance.

Making Environment Impact Assessment (EIA) and Social Impact Assessment (SIA) mandatory for the construction of windmills would ensure that there is a proper assessment of the potential damage before giving permission to the windmill company. Lastly, there is need to reject the request by the UNFCCC Executive Board for registration of the project under CDM on grounds of breach of local stakeholder consultation rules.

Windmills are being promoted as an alternative to thermal power and hydel power (big dams) that are considered to be destructive to the environment besides causing huge displacement of people. The use of windmills is an age old practice. However, the way in which wind power projects are being implemented under CDM without a proper EIA and SIA process is defeating the purpose for which it is intended. 

The Kalpavalli case study of the CDM project: Clean Energy generation from Wind Energy in the State of Andhra Pradesh shows that wind is part of a larger energy system. Indiscriminate tampering with this, results in destruction of other forms of energy. The impact on the life support systems of the local people has to be therefore considered as an integral part of any project and must be factored into the assessment of the benefits and costs.

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