Beni grasslands restored, but experts protest

Beni grasslands restored, but experts protest

Kachchh, Gujarat: It is harvest season in Banni, one of the continents of Asia Larger Open grasslands – harvest not agricultural produce but grass, which the forest department in Gujarat’s Kachsh district has been planting every year for the past five years in a bid to restore Gradually deteriorating environmental system.

But while the forest department is happy with the results, and is storing the crop for herders in times of need, conservationists are expressing concern about the way the restoration is being done, describing it as harmful to Banni’s ecosystem with potential long-term implications. .

Bani district spans 2,600 square kilometers (or 260,000 hectares) – one and three-quarters the size of Delhi – and is rich in biodiversity. Estimates of the number of grass species vary: according to the Gujarat Institute of Desert Environment, there are 37 Types of grass found here; ravean open research platform running on Bunny, estimates the number at more than 40.

The importance of grass extends beyond pastoralists and the livestock systems that directly depend on it, said Manya Singh, acting director of RAMBLE and biodiversity (grasslands) coordinator at Sahjivan – an NGO that works with pastoralists.

“Weeds are amazing plants that can grow in rainfall as low as 50 mm per year,” Singh said. “Not only are they important for humans and their livestock, but they are also important for the conservation of many wildlife species.” She added that perennial grass species and their root networks are just as important as tropical rainforests, if not more so, when it comes to ecosystem services, climate regulation and carbon sequestration.

The Bani grasslands are home to a largely pastoral community, the Maldharis, who belong to various tribes and live in 19 village panchayats.

Over the years, the grasslands of Banni had been degraded. According to July 2018 Stady By Mihir Mathur and Kabir Sharma Banni productivity declined from 4,000 kg per hectare in the 1960s to 620 kg per hectare in 1999. Studies have pointed to various reasons for this, but the main one is the spread of the invasive species Prosopis juliflora, known locally as cattle fight, “The Crazy Tree.”

Ironically, P. juliflora, a shrub native to Mexico and South America, was foot To Bani in 1961 by the Forest Department to check the entry into the Greater Rann of Kutch, the salt desert adjacent to Bani to the north. Invasive species have taken over over time about 50% in brown pastures, with consequences for the livelihoods of herders.

Other causes of degradation of Banni pastures are overgrazing and periods of severe drought.

Restoration process

In 2019, when the Bani grassland division of the Gujarat Forest Department started the 10,000-hectare Bani grassland restoration project, the first step was to uproot P. juliflora from the identified plots.

“This is a big challenge and we are using large machines to uproot these plants in the identified areas,” said BM Patel, deputy conservator of forests (Bani division). IndiaSpend. “We chose plots where P. juliflora grows because it indicates that the soil is fertile and less saline. If you see open areas with no vegetation, it means the soil salinity is too high. Local species of plants such as Acacia nilotica”Desi Babul) “They are not uprooted during this process,” Patel said.

After uprooting the land, it is plowed. After that, trenches are dug around the plots of land. “This serves two purposes. During the monsoon, the ditch prevents excess rainwater from entering the plot – this is important because water sometimes brings with it excess salinity,” Patel explained. “Secondly, the ditch protects the plots from grazing animals such as cattle. “Bani has a population of about 30,000 people, and the number of livestock is four times that.”

Typically, this work is done between April and mid-June, in time to start planting as soon as the rains arrive. On average, 14 kg seeds from five to six local herbaceous varieties such as Dichanthium pertusum and D. annulatum and Cenchrus ciliaris (local name) everyone) It is grown per hectare with fertilizers. It is harvested in November, when the grass turns yellow.

As part of the restoration project, an average of 14 kg of seeds from five to six native weed varieties are sown per hectare along with fertilisers.

Reap the benefits

In 2019, the grass harvest target was 200,000 kg, according to Patel. In 2020, it increased to 700 thousand kilograms. In 2021 it was 600 thousand kg and in 2022 it was 800 thousand kg. In 2023, the target is 600 thousand kilograms.

Referring to the lower target for this year, DCF’s Patel said the targets are set depending on how much surplus they have stored in their warehouses. “Since 2018, there has not been a major disaster, and we have surplus grass in stock,” Patel said. The grass harvested in the huts remains usable for three years. “However, there are more huts being built now, and once they are completed we may harvest more for the year.”

“After harvesting the target amount, we leave the area open to the local Maldharis. In 2022, after harvesting 800,000 kg from the area near Maithri village, the villagers can harvest 2.1 million kg of the remaining grass,” Patel said. IndiaSpend.

Bani faces grass scarcity between February and the first week of June, which becomes severe in the peak summer months of April to May. “During this time, the Maldaris have to buy grass, which comes from places like Valsad in Gujarat and Punjab, for around Rs 20 per kilo. For dairy cattle, additional fodder also has to be purchased, but with the restoration project, the Maldaris have access to to grass at Rs 3 per kilo.”

Recently, when Cyclone Pibargoi In the Kachchh region in June this year, “more than 500,000 kilograms of grass were distributed free from the harvest. So the operation not only helps in the recovery of Bani, but it also helps the Maldaris during scarcity and disasters.”

A herb from the local Dicanthium species grown on restored lands in Banni. “With the restoration project, the Maldaris have access to grass at Rs 3 per kilo,” says BM Patel, deputy conservator of forests (Bani division).

Concerns about the method of restoration

But Manya Singh, coordinator at Sahjeevan, is concerned about the way the restoration project is being carried out.

“On the one hand, these ditches around the plots pose a major threat to livestock in Bani,” Singh said. “Every year, eight to ten buffaloes are killed after falling into these three-foot ditches. The cattle here graze freely, and their owners are not known until much later, after their animals have fallen into the ditch. A buffalo cost Pani nearly 3 lakh rupees, So you can imagine the loss.

The United Nations was established Announce 2021-30 is the United Nations Decade for Ecosystem Restoration. Although Singh acknowledges the importance of Bani restoration, he suggests that instead of digging trenches, high walls could be built to protect the plots of land as well as the animals. “We have submitted this proposal to the forest department,” she said. “Not only livestock, many native animal species, such as the spiny-tailed lizard and other burrowing animals, are also at risk due to these ditches.” Fences have not been effective at keeping grazing animals out, Patel told us, citing previous attempts.

Chetan Misher, a researcher at Ashoka Research Institute in Ecology and Environment (ATREE), agrees with Singh about the challenges posed by ditches, saying they “make large parts of the land inaccessible to wildlife.”

“In fact, most restoration projects in the country today that focus on vegetation pay little attention to wildlife restoration,” Mesher said. “Nor are we talking about The food chainthe food chain, which also contributes to carbon sequestration.

Plowing the land every year also increases the risk of salinity intrusion, among other factors, because “Bani is inherently salty,” which digging can exacerbate, Singh said.

Kavita Mehta, Sahjeevan’s livelihood director, added that Bani should be left to recover on her own. “The only intervention required is to remove P. juliflora bacteria, which has invaded 60% of the Bani district. Once this threat is removed, the land will regenerate,” Mehta said.

Giving the example of an area in Nanidadhar, a village in Bani, where they helped remove invasive plants, Mehta said that native weeds – including… Babool Forums– He grew after that. “Plowing and applying fertilizers is an agricultural perspective. Disturbing the soil will change its inherent quality,” she emphasized.

Past forward

This is not the first time that Beni has undergone a restoration initiative. In 1995, the Gujarat Environment Commission (GEC), Gujarat Institute of Desert Environment (GUIDE) and other partners undertook a bani restoration program covering an area of ​​215 hectares. this project It ended in 2008. Then, between 2017 and 2019, the Gujarat Forest Department conducted a study Pilot project For grassland regeneration, based on GEC and GUIDE inputs.

Apart from planting grass, the current restoration program is also “trialling” banyan tree planting on an area of ​​more than 400 hectares. Not everyone agrees that this is a good idea; Pastures are Increasingly threatened Through tree planting projects, apart from invasive species, agricultural conversion, and mega development projects.

However, since the area covered by banyan tree cultivation is “less than 0.01% of the area of ​​Banyan, it will not have any impact on the ecosystem,” said Patel, DCF director in Bani. He explained that we planted it to attract birds, including migratory birds.

Patel said that they do their work only after obtaining the approval of the local residents near whose villages these plots have been demarcated. “Not all locals support the project,” Patel admitted. “Those who do not agree are being misled (by local NGOs),” he claimed.

However, the area of ​​the Bani restoration project is poised to increase, Patel said, subject to the availability of funds – from 10,000 hectares to 75,000 hectares, an area roughly the size of New York City.

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    (Tags for translation) Grassland Restoration Project in India

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