Climate change is evident in the experiences of the community in the project area (Alwar, Rajasthan India). They experienced that changes in local rainfall and seasonality have had clear cut consequences on the status and biotic composition of the Orans. The most apparent change has been in the decline of large plant species. The Orans of the area were renowned for their bamboo. Today their numbers have fallen sharply. Another large plant species know locally as Kala Khair (Acacia catechu) and Gugal (Commiphora wightii) have visibly decreased in presence. A most important species of the Oran in terms of its grazing utility was Dhok (Anogeissus pendula). The picture is similar for grasses and shrubs. For instance there is a species locally known as Sawan, an excellent fodder grass and its grain is used to make food. Its peculiarity is that it needs sustained light showers to grow optimally. The shortening of the rainy season has directly affected its growth, and there is today a severe decline in its availability. Similarly, it was reported that some twenty odd species of bulbous plants of medicinal value were formerly available in these Orans. Today these have become hard to find. As most Orans have water sources in the form of tanks known locally as Johads, talab and Bawari; many of these have now run dry. For generations, people started sleeping outside in the open air along with their animals when the weather became warmer around the festival of colour (holi) in March. Then, they moved themselves and their animals back indoors around the festival of lights (diwali) in October, marking start of the winter season. Yet, in this generation they are sleeping outside 15-20 days before holi and moving back indoors 15-20 days after diwali because it is still too hot.
This project is trying to address all these issues/ challenges (e.g. climate change, water scarcity - reduced water availability from traditional sources of water in the Orans, loss of habitat and biodiversity) through planting trees and grasses, renovating water harvesting structures etc., in 10 orans of Rajasthan (India). These Oran conservation initiatives have increased the adaptive capacity of communities, to deal with climate change in the following ways:
1) Re-establishing methods and institutions for management of water bodies in orans, are of major importance, as they harbour springs, acquifers and water storage structures, leading to more efficient use of groundwater and thereby increasing communities’ ability to cope with drought.
2) Encouraging the plantation of a wide variety of crops using scattered land holdings to cope with the expected reduction in annual rainfall associated with climate change in this region.
3) Campaigning against water-intensive monocultures
4) Introducing new low-cost technologies, including improved chulhas (stoves), solar paneling, etc., which reduced demand for fuel wood, thus helping to conserve Orans and maintain vegetation cover.
In the project village Bera, there are 40 women of Gujjar pastoralist community, which formed a Mahila Mandal (women group) for taking up their oran (community forest) conservation work. These pastoralists’ women depend on the oran for fuel wood, animal fodder as well as for traditional medicine and various non timber forest produce (NTFP). The women group meets once a month and Rs15 is collected for each member. Apart from the project assistance, the group as a whole has taken bank loans three times of INR 20,000, 40,000 and 50,000. The loan and the money are usually spent on livelihood activities e.g. used to buy each member one buffalo, other livestock and fodder. The interest paid on the bank loans is 9%. Though all the women in the village are illiterate, but managing their group so efficiently. Members of the group have worked on the check dam construction, tree plantation and the johad (water harvesting structure), under the project “Restore 10 oran in 10 villages of Rajasthan” of the GG program.
The well-known Sariska Tiger forest reserve is in fact one such collection of Orans or Devbanis that together formed a substantial forest tract. To this day it is possible to identify the various dev-banis(sacred forest) that comprise the Sariska Reserve. There are 28 villages located in Sariska National Park. The Sariska authorities have Identified 11 villages for relocation from Sariska. The process has already begun in 3 villages where 148 families have moved. KRAPAVIS has working with pastoral communities on livelihood and sacred groves in and around the Tiger Reserve. During the last three months, KRAPAVIS had a series of meetings on relocation process with the local communities inhabiting Sariska Tiger Reserve.
During the meetings with the local communities, there are some anecdotes from conversation with communities; “We have shared the landscape with tigers and our livestock, and ready to loose a few of the livestock to protect the rest. After so many years, where our ancestors have lived too, why are we being asked to move out? We have helped them nab the poachers and outsiders who steal timber we have protected our Devvanis/ orans (sacred forest). All was well till the forest was ours”. “Everybody is bothered about tiger, where as the forest condition is deteriorating due to invasive species, if this continues wildlife will die due to lack of food”. “I have 30 livestock and they recognize my voice, wherever they are, will be back on one call of mine and they have only five tigers which they (forest officials) cant even protect.
“Yadi hamara devbani thik to sab kuch hai; yadi yah thik nahi to chara, pani aur bhojan ke lale.” (If our oran is intact we have everything; if not, we suffer from lack of fodder, water and wood” because Oran is our livelihood, say People of Meena ki Dhani village. In order to keep intact the oran, tree plantation has undertaken during the monsoon period. As many as 5000 tree saplings were planted to increase the number and variety of trees and also arrest soil erosion. Nearly 15 species of trees like Prosopis cineraria, Acacia sp., Zizyphus, Anogeissus pendula etc are planted in the orans. The saplings are raised in a tree nursery at KRAPAVIS Bani. The species used for fodder by the community and also their drought tolerance and ability to fix nitrogen. These species, during the time immediately before the monsoon or in times of severe drought, “provide fodder when other tree species become devoid in foliage.” Also, these ecologically valuable species perform key functions in the ecosystem thereby supporting and enhancing biodiversity and helpful in reducing the climate change.
In Nathusar village, where through the GG assistance KRAPAVIS helped the village community for their oran renovation; today it is buffaloes that use these orans for grazing and wallowing, especially during the lean parts of the year. Goats and sheep also graze these orans in large numbers. When livestock (buffalo, goats and cows) become ill traditional healers are able to identify and apply plants (in the form of a paste or powder), from orans, that have anti-bacterial, anti-inflammatory or pain-relieving qualities. The orans’ mahatma’s practices also have a preventative dimension; in order to ensure that livestock is protected from sickness and other evil forces he is called upon to ‘anoint’ the animals using twigs from the neem (Azadirachta indica) tree (the jhara dena ritual). Specialist knowledge of this sort is not limited to the mahatma; most of the older generations are aware of various plants used to treat, among other things, sore throats, migraines, open wounds and osteoarthritis. And in many villages, tribal communities still gather once a year for the ‘dudh ki dhar dena’ ritual, during which milk is collected from each household and then drizzled around the sacred grove with the whole village following in procession. This practice is thought toward off evil spirits for the coming year.
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