Lack of opportunities, absence of major industries, high rate of unemployment among the educated youth, limited employment opportunity in the government sector, corruption and nepotism rampant in Manipur did not dampen the spirit of the youth in Tamenglong.
Ramhiamang Gonmei who holds a master’s degree in Sociology; Mordecai Panmei, a graduate from St. Joseph College of Science and Arts, Bangalore; Gaisui Gonmei; Duanguanglung Kamei; Gaikupou Goimei; Saint Kamei; Andy Gangmei; Dilunang Pame; Siplak Goimei; Gaibung Gangmei; Solomon Gonmei; and Gaidinglung Riamei—are the youth, who with the help and guidance from those who were well established in their chosen fields like Dr. Chambo Gonmei, the Chief Medical Officer of Tamenglong, Nehemiah Panmei, the Director of Tamenglong Bamboo and Cane Project (TAMBAC) and Namlalung Gangmei, MCS, began what is known as Rainforest Club Tamenglong.
The work that began way back in 2011 has gradually picked up momentum whereby the conviction and dedication of nearly seventeen active members has made Rainforest Club Tamenglong one of the most vibrant, promising and effective NGOs working in Tamenglong district and an undisputed model of youth engagement and youth leadership in a state which has battled with the nightmare of drug and substance abuse and high mortality rates among the youth.
Mordecai points out that the inherent drawbacks of districts including Tamenglong, like their geographical isolation, communication bottlenecks and backwardness, need not define the destiny of its youth.
He said, “After I graduated from St. Joseph College in Bangalore, I chose to return to my hometown unlike the majority who sought jobs in metropolitan cities. I knew what our major resources were and how they were increasingly becoming scarce all around the world. We have forests, wildlife, clean air and unpolluted water and their conservation became my career goals.”
The young men, who are also close friends, began with protection and raising awareness on Citrus indica, the parent species of the current Tamenglong Orange or Tamenglong mandarin for which the district is famous for. Tamenglong is the largest producer of oranges in Manipur, contributing about 50% of the state’s annual orange production of nearly 10,000 to 11,000 metric tonnes.
Orange Festival is organized every December since the last sixteen years by the district administration and the state government of Manipur in collaboration with multiple local stakeholders, Rainforest Club Tamenglong being one of them, with an aim to increase orange production, maintain or improve the quality of oranges, bring attention to the issues and concerns of orange growers, especially in terms of plant infections and the observed decline in growth, and usher in innovations and new ideas to take orange cultivation and export to the next level.
Rainforest Club Tamenglong has been organising outdoor sub-events during the Orange Festival, creating an experience around nature, mountains, forests, wildlife and exotic locations like Tharon Cave and Barak Waterfall for tourists and participants. The festival serves as a platform for the group to advocate for conservation of forests and wildlife.
These young men have been raising awareness on how migratory birds Amur falcons are responsible for good harvest of oranges, rice, other crops, vegetables and fruits because they feed on insects and termites that are destroying orange trees and other crops. They have been successful in preventing hunting of Amur falcons through their advocacy. Amur falcons reside in Tamenglong for almost a month every year, anytime from late October to November.
Rainforest Club Tamenglong members are currently involved in the All India Tiger Survey since March 2019 under the guidance of the district Forest Department.
Solid waste management and cleaning the town are also one of the core areas of work for this youth group, of which all members are working on voluntary basis, and the organisation is yet to have a funded project which can pay for their services and for their group activities on conservation.
Tamenglong may be one of the most isolated districts in Manipur with poor roads and connectivity challenges being at a distance of 158 km from capital Imphal, but noteworthy are its rich biodiversity and forests, the area of forestland being 88% of the total geographical area of Tamenglong as per the Geography Forest Survey of India 2011. Interestingly, people are the biggest resource for their natural affinity to conservation of environment and the mutual understanding and group cohesiveness that thrives in the community. The youth are mentored by village and church elders, and are involved in community and faith-based work from a young age.
The state start-up schemes from the government should pro-actively be on the ‘look out’ for such talented and dedicated youth-led groups and organizations because investing in Rainforest Club Tamenglong will deliver multiple goals in youth leadership, environment and wildlife conservation and agriculture through the community model. The district administration and local MLAs should take the responsibility of ensuring their inclusion in the list of applicants for Manipur Start-up Scheme for the year 2020-21 because if the state cannot give them jobs, it should be able to give them opportunities and support when they create one for themselves.
Till that happens, the members of Rainforest Club Tamenglong keep themselves inspired and goal-oriented from the deep respect and admiration they have earned from their spouses, parents and people in the district.
The writer is Youth Ki Awaaz Awardee for Best Article (Environment) in 2019 and a print and radio journalist reporting on agriculture and community from rural regions in India.