‘Ecopreneurship’ can save the hills
The Himalayas are ecologically vulnerable, and as the June deluge showed, crossing its bearing line can be disastrous. Dr. Anil P Joshi recommends the concept of ecopreneurship for the hilly regions that will nurture the ecosystem, besides bringing economic benefits to the people living there.
The disaster in Uttarakhand in June 2013 has left a trail of destruction unlike any other rain-related tragedy in the state in a very long time. There is a growing realisation that this was a wake-up call and that it is time the development model followed in Himalayan states is reviewed if such catastrophes are to be mitigated in the future.
Any such exercise must begin with identifying what is wrong with the current path of development. In my view, the economic model being pursued in the hills puts people’s development in direct opposition to preservation of the region’s ecology. Development has come at a high cost to the environment. Little thought has been given to understanding the interconnections that make up the region’s ecology. This needs to change, both for the long-term benefit of the hill people and as well as the fragile and unique ecology of the Himalayas.
‘Ecopreneurship’ is what hills need
A plan for the hills must address both livelihood issues of the people as well as the need to restore the ecological balance. This is where the concept of Himalayan ecopreneurship comes in. The word ecopreneurship, or ecological entrepreneurship, has been used in the context of sustainable industry. For the Himalayas, the concept needs to be tweaked to include a system where an entrepreneur would be remunerated for restoring natural systems by monetizing the value that such restoration would bring to the region. In places where opportunities for other productive employment are meagre, ecopreneurship will bring economic benefits to the hill people as well as incentivise the nurturing of the ecosystem.
HESCO trains people to extract fibres and develop their products as there are at least 35 species of fibre-yielding plants in the mountains
How will it work? Take for example chunks of land which are meant for agriculture but are difficult to cultivate for a variety of reasons. In the hills, there are vast tracts of such land. These can be transformed into a forest by the owner who would be paid for the conversion, right from plantation till harvesting. It would be like a crop for which a farmer gets direct remuneration. Similarly, barren land can be converted into water farms. A farmer converting his uncultivable land into a water farm would be paid for the water he is able to store under the ground. Likewise, soil conservation and other natural resource generation can be considered as an employment. Such productivity can be assessed in terms of number, volume and quality of production.
The Centre’s flagship programme, MGNREGA, can play an important role in remunerating the eco-entrepreneurs. Under the scheme, pond digging, afforestation etc., have been undertaken. But the provision of one-time payment for these works means the community loses interest in maintaining these assets after payments are made. A constant support for a piece of forest or water harvested will drastically increase the quality of such assets.
It’s important to give ecopreneurship serious consideration because we are rapidly losing our natural resources — the true capital of any nation. In the past decades, economic growth has been the single fiddle played to measure the nation’s progress. As a result, all major river systems are in crisis. No state in the country matches the requirement of 33% forest cover, except the hill states.
Economy and ecology can go hand-in-hand
The hill states too are in crisis. The Himalayas are an ecologically vulnerable system, and as the June deluge showed, crossing its bearing line would bring disaster. The system is intricately linked to its subsystems such as rivers, glaciers, forests, soil etc. All these subsystems are interwoven to one another as well as to other larger ecosystem like flat lands. In Uttarakhand, 17% of the total forests are under pine (chir), whose role in water and soil conservation is negligible. Soil runoff is intense in the Himalayas. While four tonnes per hectare is considered moderate, there are areas in the hills where soil runoff touches 20 tonnes for every hectare. In the seriously compromised zones, runoffs nearing 40 tonnes per hectares have been recorded. Water sources are drying up. There’s a shortage of fuel and fodder in many hill villages.
The ecopreneurship model offers a way out by turning natural resource generation into an economic activity, thereby compensating for development activities that consume one or the other kind of natural resource. Afforestation, water harvesting and soil conservation do not just help restore the place where these activities are undertaken but serve a much wider area. Forests have several services to render. The monsoon is the main source of water in the Himalayas be it glaciers, springs, rivers or underground water. Conservation of monsoon water has never been undertaken as a serious drive. Ecopreneurship could help recharge the water system and bring all-round benefits not only to the hill people but also those in the plains.
Most of these natural resources are in the domain of rural communities. In these remote areas, many economic models have collapsed because of the absence of forward and backward linkages such as marketing and regular consumption of products. Lack of employment has forced a large section of the menfolk to migrate to urban centres. Ecological restoration work can offer attractive, relevant and dignified jobs to youth in Himalayan villages and improve the quality of life there, besides mitigating the unemployment problem.
Dr. Anil P Joshi is referred to as the ‘Mountain Man’ for his pioneering efforts in ecological development of hilly regions, particularly the rural areas in the Himalayan regions, in the last 33 years. He is the founder of a voluntary organisation named Himalayan Environmental Studies and Conservation Organisation (HESCO), and promotes rural economy and ecology. The main slogan of HESCO is ”Local need meet locally”. You can log on to www.hesco.in to know more.
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