Local Communities Play a Key Role in Preserving the Himalayas

Sep 25, 2013

Photo: UNDP India

Date: 25 - 27 September 2013
Venue: Kohima, Nagaland

Local communities are crucial to the survival of the Himalayan ecosystem, one of the most biodiverse and ecologically important regions in Asia. This was the key message emerging from a three-day summit in Kohima, the capital of Nagaland in the North East of India.  The summit brought together governments from India’s Himalayan states to discuss how a host of environmental and ecological pressures are threatening the existence of the ecosystem on which an estimated 700 million people in the region depend on. The Summit was supported by UNDP and other partners.

Himalayan people have long been preserving the resources of their ecosystem to ensure that generations are able to benefit from its biodiversity, whether it is to sustain livelihoods, meet healthcare needs, ensure adequate water to irrigate land, sustain industry or keep homes running. It’s a relationship that is increasingly under threat with studies estimating that close to 70 percent of the region’s biodiversity faces extinction.

A series of studies and reports by the United Nations examines approaches to sustainably managing and preserving ecosystems. The importance of local communities cannot be underscored. As Lise Grande, United Nations Resident Coordinator and UNDP Resident Representative, India says, “Evidence suggests that one of the most effective approaches to conserving ecosystems and biodiversity is to ensure that local communities are gainfully employed in sustainably managing resources. When these employment opportunities harness traditional knowledge and modern technology, the impact is striking and when done well, everyone benefits.”   

A UNDP project in collaboration with the government of Nagaland and local communities illustrates the close synergies that exist between conservation and livelihoods when an integrated ecosystem approach is adopted. Close to 700 jhum farmers, largely women, have benefited from a 15 to 20 percent increase in household incomes by adopting a range of sustainable land management practices that utilize local knowledge and modern technologies suitable for small, subsistence farm holdings. In turn, the jhum cycle is increasing and farmers are able to continue farming for a longer period of time, instead of abandoning their land because of degradation.

The Summit provided an important platform for addressing sustainable natural resource management in the region, home to 18,000 plant species, a rich diversity of people, cultures and biodiversity.