April 3-4, 2012, an Oxford scientist Dr Shonil Bhagwat accompanied by a TERI scientist Dr. Yogesh Gokhale and Aman Singh of KRAPAVIS visited Orans, the sacred groves in Rajasthan India. They visited half a dozen orans which are being restored under this project. The scientists’ team gathered information in face-to face meetings with local communities, carried out field visits and provided their feed back/ suggestions on-the-spot. Also, they suggested that along with restoration work, KRAPAVIS should take up scientific documentation of sacred groves around Sariska Tiger Reserve, in order to better understanding links in biodiversity conservation and sustaining livelihoods. The team is now in the process of developing a concept paper.
During the last three months, KRAPAVIS has documented 50 Orans in Jaipur District of Rajasthan (India). ‘Orans’ serve as a strong, shared and naturalised icon of village life. As a communal and sanctified space, they are frequently utilized as forums for local affairs. Matters pertaining to village politics, crops and livestock a well as the Oran itself may be discussed there, and punishments for offences relating to the Oran (e.g. encroachment, destructive extraction, and the like) are often enacted around the temple or shrine. In the process of documentation, KRAPAVIS collected the basic information about the Orans through structured survey format; recorded GPS positions of each study Oran; took photographs of each surveyed site and drawn maps of each site, showing the location and important features on the boundary and within the site; recorded any encroachments, diversions, and allotments found through visual estimate or discussions with the local guide and communities; check vegetation status and state of grazing by visual estimate.
This process has had benefited the community, in the following manner;
The pastoralist communities of Rajasthan live mired in sobering destitution, subsisting in a hand-to-mouth fashion on distressingly meager resources. Yet even these few assets are perpetually under threat from Rajasthan’s arid and unpredictable climate, from its uncertain and volatile market. Such extensive challenges make life a daily struggle for the rural poor, yet they have had one support system that has helped them weather any crisis they were confronted with from times immemorial. The source of the vital assistance that enables these communities to surmount even the most extreme hardships is the sacred grove, or what is locally known as the ‘Oran’. Surviving through the ages due to their revered status that precludes unsustainable utilization, have always provided a much-needed lifeline and safeguard to their respective communities. They have done so by acting to unify people religiously, culturally and socially while providing a forum for village-level discussions, festivals and other social events; through provision of much needed sustenance for people and livestock through the ‘Talabs’ or rainwater harvesting structures, streams, wells or other water sources present in every Oran, as well as grazing pasture, which in turn enable the animals to provide dairy foods, wool, manure for use as fuel and fertilizer, and manual labor to plow the fields; valuable medicinal herbs and marketable fruits, berries, and other produce such as honey; as well as timber to be used under certain circumstances for fuel or construction materials.
KRAPAVIS, a voluntary organisation has been working in the semi-arid Aravalli hill bio-regions and arid Thar Desert of Rajasthan, India, with our field base stationed in the remote village of Bakhtpura, Alwar District, which borders the famous Sariska Tiger Reserve. It works with rural and pastoralist communities, particularly with gujjars, to revitalize village Orans, both physically and conceptually - numerous approaches have been adopted, including training villagers, and cataloguing, reviving and campaigning for Orans; construction and repair of Oran Talabs, water harvesting structures and trenching units on the Orans’ land; setting up and maintaining a ‘Seed Bank’ and nurseries for tree plantation and grass broadcasting in Orans. During this monsoon (the reporting period), we planted about 10,000 saplings in the Orans.
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.
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