Restoration of Tropical Dry Evergreen Forest

The Kaluveli Tank Bioregion on the Coromandel Coast of South India covers a triangle between Pondicherry, Marakannam and Tindivanam. The indigenous vegetation of the area is known as Tropical Dry Evergreen Forest (TDEF). This forest type is found only in South India and Sri Lanka and provides a rare biological richness due to its very high species abundance but it is now close to extinction as only 0.01% survives. Only a few isolated fragments of TDEF exist and many of the 200 odd species of trees, shrubs and lianas listed are on the verge of extinction. Surveys carried out by Auroville in the last 8 years have managed to identify an additional 70 species, seemingly indigenous, but often in small numbers. The bioregion is home to at least 735 vegetative species including 400 plants that have medicinal properties many of which have been used for centuries by traditional practitioners.

Project Priorities

Basically there were two priorities. One was to renew areas of degenerated tropical forest by increasing the amount of forested land, whilst conserving and restoring the indigenous bio-diversity. The second was to tackle the underlying causes of deforestation in the project area, by increasing the awareness and capacity of local populations to participate in sustainable forest management practices. Of the two, the second was seen as the most important – and the most challenging – as it required radical socio-economic change, whilst preserving the uniqueness and beauty of Indian culture – itself an endangered species.

Environmental Context

The environmental context is intimately intertwined with the political and socio-economic one and that a solution to socio-economic difficulties has the potential to automatically result in an environmental reversal. India’s population growth is now stagnating in the rural areas, while its arable acreage and the fertility of this acreage is decreasing; and this while the water table continues to fall in most areas.

The environmental devastation in the project region is typical of many areas of India. The pressure for new land is constant, and farmers of groundnut, cashew or casuarina are clearing remnant forests near villages. At the same time the State Forest Department is clearing large areas of forest for planting of exotic pulp wood trees, e.g. Eucalyptus. Firewood collection and animal grazing inhibit any natural regeneration.

Objectives of the Project

  • Raise awareness in the bio-region of the need to regenerate the Kaluveli TDEF and the benefits of doing so.
  • Involve the communities of the Kaluveli Bio-region in developing and adopting a workable Shared Forest Management (SFM) methodology to establish the human resource base for SFM.
  • Help to ensure the preservation of bio-diversity by documenting the region’s biotic systems and cultural heritage and sharing this information for awareness-raising, education, wider dissemination and to create a research base.
  • Create community managed areas of TDEF at specific sites and protect remnant forest; upgrade and extend existing Auroville sanctuary forest.
  • Revitalise local health traditions so that many primary healthcare needs can be addressed through the use of local medicinal plants.

Project Achievements

By the end of project period many of the components necessary for the successful implementation of an Shared Forest Management methodology, although not fully implemented, were in place or well on the way to being created. Given that the project team were fully committed to continuing the work after the ending of the project period, it is clear that further developments would occur and that the initial aims of developing an SFM methodology for the Kaluveli Bioregion would continue to unfold.

It is clear that the awareness within the bioregion has increased with respect to the natural ecosystems, it also fair to say that at an administrative level the authorities increasingly recognise the need to conserve, protect and enhance the natural systems of the area.

Within the project area, the communities are involved and their structures are now in place and functioning well. With this firm base they continue to function and develop after the project was completed. From the project work within the schools where interest and skills were generated with teachers, students and graduate students, to the ever increasing number of self organized and motivated women’s groups, there is an increasing base of locally organized and motivated human resources with the capacity to adopt an SFM methodology. The aims of this specific objective are continuing to be pursued by the project team after the end of this contract, as they in fact are the real hope for the long-term rehabilitation of the TDEF, as is the enthusiasm shown by the project participants, particularly the women and children.

The botanical work resulted in an interactive website that allows interested parties to access the information gathered during the course of this project upon species of the TDEF. There are now clearly defined vegetation types for the surrounding regions of the Kaluveli bioregion, and there is an easy access botanical key for people wishing to identify plants from the region, which has high quality digital photographs of the species described. The faunal studies have provided a comprehensive species list for all of the major vertebrates as well as providing the basis for beginning to develop models of ecosystem functionality based upon indicator species. Cultural information gathered in the course of the project has collated traditional knowledge about this unique area with respect to the ways in which the natural resources of the area were traditionally utilized. This information covers individual plant species as well as how ecosystems were utilized as a whole integral resource. Much of the information has been incorporated within the educational materials that have been developed within the project. The work completed is essential to developing the long term potential of the TDEF as a forest based resource for the rural economy.

The planting of TDEF in the bioregion have been successful within the limited areas that they have been attempted. Small in scale and closely linked to an identifiable stakeholder they have included a wide range of stakeholders from the local community. The work in the Auroville sanctuaries has been highly successful with the gene pools of previously under represented species enhanced through the planting programmes. The value of the sanctuary area was highlighted as many species planted in previous programmes bear seed and thus provide an abundant source of genetic material for future programmes.

The village dispensaries, the training course for young village school graduates, the kitchen herbal gardens and the interest of the women’s groups, which are results of this project, have all demonstrated that the work with the local health traditions still has a valuable role to play within the social fabric of the rural environment. The local healing practices have found a place in the village situation, both for people and animals, and this indicates that in the future the products of the forest will have a real value, and this in turn will help in the process of negotiating a role for the forest in the future of the region. Indeed the sharing of knowledge and reintegration of traditional knowledge in the modern environment is one of the keys to creating an innovative and sustainable future for rural Indian society.