Ethnobotanical Study for reviving forest biodiversity to address climate change and distress migration in Nashik, MaharashtraJune 2023: Maharashtra Prabodhan Seva Mandal, Nashik

Context:

Why ethnobotany study – because it combines elements of tribal people, their life, their economy, forests and rituals and interactions between them. It will investigate how tribal people manage their natural resources for various purposes such as food, medicine, rituals, handicrafts, and so on. The practical implications of the study are conservation for climate change and sustainable resource management to address migration and socio-economic distress. This project work aims to promote conservation of biodiversity, support community-based approach to resource management, and enhance the traditionally existing knowledge systems in maintaining ecological balance.

This is a felt need that was realised through the pilot done in the area of Surgana Block of Nashik district in the state of Maharashtra, India. Since the forests covers are getting depleted, some floral species of medicinal, nutritional and commercial or economic importance are getting fast disappeared, which in turn is adversely affecting the natural ecosystems and biodiversity, further affecting the quality of life of Adivasi or tribal communities. This phenomenon of change has caused distress migration and also a lack of livelihood and income generating opportunities.

Therefore, the project aims at working on the root cause of this distress, which is not only socio-economic but also environmental.

Needs assessment:

  1. To revive the local biodiversity systems and replenish the local forest flora as land and forest form an integral part of Adivasi life.
  2. To catalogue species of medicinal, aromatic, commercial/economic, ritualistic importance so that the project can make possible creation of livelihood opportunities by tapping the resource of non-timber forest products and start processing units for value added products.
  3. To respond to the local environmental degradation.
  4. To create sustainable communities that will own the processes of their own development by safeguarding and enhancing their natural assets and capital.

Participatory processes:

  1. The project will be implemented through locally created institutions such as self-help groups, producer groups and joint forest management committees and farmer producer organizations.
  2. Community-based conservation practices.
  3. Exchange of traditional knowledge and practices through participatory approach – group discussions and sharing.

Activities:

  1. Documentation and Preservation of Traditional Knowledge (that is, cataloguing).
  2. Identification of traditional knowledge changes and shifts.
  3. Cross-cultural traditional knowledge for comparisons between different cultural groups.
  4. Insights into Medicinal and Therapeutic Potential.
  5. Conservation and Sustainable Resource Management.
  6. Cultural revitalization and empowerment of indigenous and local communities.
  7. Informing policy-making and management decisions related to biodiversity conservation, sustainable resource use, intellectual property rights, and cultural heritage protection.
  8. Training of local cadre in biodiversity management.
  9. Forest food festival event.
  10. Mobilization and promotional events for popularizing the tribal health remedies.

Goal:

Ethnobotany is the interdisciplinary field that combines elements of anthropology, botany, and ecology to study the interactions between people and plants. It investigates how indigenous and local communities perceive, use, and manage plant and other natural resources for various purposes such as food, medicine, shelter, rituals, and handicrafts. By reviving their forest ecosystems and biodiversity the project aims at creating the lost equation of sustainability of life and self-reliance.

Objective(s):

  1. To document and preserve traditional knowledge related to plant uses and practices within different cultures.
  2. Categorization of plants used as per food, medicinal, timber, etc.
  3. To evaluate the credibility of the ethnobotanical plants.
  4. To identify patterns and variations in ethnobotanical practices across different cultures in Surgana Taluka.
  5. To document and analyse ethnobotanical knowledge and practices over time.
  6. To identify culturally significant plants and highlighting the importance of biodiversity conservation for cultural preservation.
  7. To study vegetation of the nearby forest areas with the help of quadrats.
  8. To provide valuable insights for policy-making and management decisions related to biodiversity conservation, sustainable resource use, intellectual property rights, and cultural heritage protection.
  9. To revive the healthy food habits based on the forest vegetables.
  10. To promote herbal health remedies.

Results:

  1. After two years – increase in the floral diversity measured through the number species found before and after the project.
  2. A detailed floral catalogue with classification in terms of species of aromatic, nutritional and medicinal importance.
  3. Increase in the area of forest cover and biomass.
  4. A gradual increase in the production of non-timber forest products.
  5. Community ownership of natural assets through local institution creation.
  6. Revival of tribal traditional therapies for holistic health.
  7. Introducing forest vegetables back into the diet of tribal communities and also of others when in large scale production.

Indicators:

  1. Better forest cover.
  2. Reduced distress migration.
  3. Improved land use.
  4. Enhanced ethnobotanical knowledge.

Compatibility with Jesuit UAPs:

The project is very much in line with the Universal Apostolic Preferences (UAPs) and the Province PAPs – care for our common home. It is in this context that the revival of biodiversity effecting climate change and enhancing quality of life of Adivasi communities makes sense. Besides, the focus on ecological restoration justifies the project intervention.

Sustainability:

The project in its design will work through the locally created institutions, who will be trained in forest biodiversity management. The groups will be called joint forest management committees. The cost involved, which would be minimal, will be covered through the savings of groups and also profit derived from collective enterprises.

Fr. Joel Noronha S.J.
Director, MPSM.