The eighth largest state of India, situated in the southeastern corner of the country is home to around 49.67 million people. Andhra Pradesh is a rich reservoir of biodiversity and natural resources with an estimated total forest area of around 36,914 km2l, which is now unfortunately threatened by deforestation, forest mismanagement and climate change.
At the recent 6th Asia-Pacific Climate Change Adaption Forum held in Colombo, Sri Lanka, from October 17-19, lessons were shared from what was learned on ground in Andhra Pradesh on how community-led ecosystem adaptation projects can help build resilience and mitigate the threats of climate change.
In the session, ‘Ecosystem-Based Adaptation’, panellists shared experiences of how their organisations in India are working to incorporate ecosystem-based climate adaptation practices into the policy framework of local governments. It was moderated by Nafisa Goga D’souza, Executive Director of LAYA, an organisation which has been working with marginalised communities like the tribal communities of Andhra Pradesh to empower them about their legal rights of the lands and natural resources which are crucial for their livelihoods and survival.
LAYA, which focuses its work in the natural resource-rich Eastern Ghats with tribal communities across four districts: East Godavari, Visakhapatnam, West Godavari and Khammam shared its findings in collaboration with the Delhi-based Indian Network on Ethics and Climate Change (INECC) on the vulnerability of forest ecosystems to climate change and how poorly managed forests is threatening the very existence of the tribals.
From the research which was carried out by LAYA and INECC, it was discovered that 94% of the families which inhabited their research area were involved in the agricultural sector, with the majority of the cash income, the farmers earned coming in due to the advent of the Northeastern Monsoon. It was found that drought and irregular rainfall patterns were responsible for crop loss over a span of 7-17 years.
Rivers are a source of clean drinking water. But despite the increase in the quantity of erratic rainfall, it was found through research that there has been a considerable decline in rain water due to which many of the perennial rivers have dried up and other ground water resources are diminishing in the area.
It was learned that 27% of the indigenous families are involved in collecting and sale of non-timber forest products – NTFPs. But research done in the districts have shown that there has been a considerable decline in NTFPs. A total of 37 species could be collected previously. But it is only possible to collect 26 now. Some medicinal plants which were usually found in the areas with low altitude are now found only in high altitude regions indicating an increase of temperature due to climate change.
Ajita Tiwari, the National Facilitator of INECC, New Delhi went on to add that, “The state action plan for climate change formulated in Andhra Pradesh is hardly being translated into a priority, particularly when it comes to safeguarding the rights of the tribal people and the women of the area. The organisation’s partnership with the local communities and panchayats (village councils) of the four focal districts has always been more fruitful as compared to their work with the government which is less focused on such pressing issues.”
Afforestation practices must be seen as a strategic and crucial part of any community led ecosystem-based adaptation project in Andhra Pradesh. Corporate Social Responsibility – CSR projects must support social forestry and forest conservation projects instead of funding plantations of the eucalyptus tree, silver oak and tea plantations to sequester carbon. Such initiatives can help regenerate decimated forests with help of the tribal communities. The communities can be encouraged to utilise their traditional wisdom for forest conservation.
It has been reported that there has been a significant decline in dense forest cover across India. According to the official statistics, India has a forest cover of only 24 % left and a serious lack of scientific data and academic understanding is proving difficult in measuring the benefits of ecosystem services and implementation of ecosystem based climate adaptation projects in India,” Ms Tiwari said.