Nestled in the Eastern Himalayas, the North Eastern parts of India represent a distinctive geophysical unit marked by variations in topographic relief and geologic framework. The region is home to some of the finest rain forests remaining in the country today, which serve as catchment areas for several rivers that criss-cross through the region, virtually defining the culture and life of the communities. The region's strategic location at the confluence of the Indo-Malayan biodiversity region and physiography has generated a profusion of habitats that harbour diverse biota with very high levels of endemism, and shelter endangered species such as the Asian Elephant, the Bengal Tiger, the Red Panda, Asian Rhinoceros, the Great Indian Hornbill and the Snow Leopard, along with probably the most varied Indian species of orchids too!
The population is predominantly tribal, coming under the Sixth Schedule of the Constitution which honours the traditional autonomy of tribal communities in Assam, Meghalaya, Tripura and Mizoram. The dependency of the communities on the forests for livelihood and other forest produce is immense and has led to community-specific traditional conservation systems ensuring protection and sustainable management of natural resources. However, the biodiversity of the region faces threats of overexploitation at present. In recent years, the region has been under tremendous pressure to unleash its resources to pave the way for development. Though there exists an awareness among the community that natural resources are the repositories of their livelihood needs, the region needs intensive analysis and attention to conservation owing to its highly diverse mosaic of ecological, social and physiological landscapes. There is a need to exhibit a strong willingness to balance conservation and development so as to reflect the sustainable use of the resources and ensure livelihood security of the people in the region.
The rich biodiversity of the forests and the cultural diversity of the people as also the strong character of local self governance in the region helped shape our decision to initiate work here. While on the one hand, our experience of working with village communities on commons and forest ecosystems in several parts of India would be further enriched by our exposure to the traditional practices and norms of this region, on the other, experiences from other parts of India could offer fresh insights on tackling contemporary challenges in the region.
Over visits and exposure to various organizations and initiatives, and discussions with both organizations and people of the region, have helped us realise that our initial years here would be aimed essentially at developing an understanding of the area and nurturing a group of interested individuals who are committed to better stewardship and conservation of the region.
We are exploring partnerships with different organizations so as to learn from their experiences and collaborate on some initiatives. We will undertake studies to build our understanding of local ecological characteristics, structures of local governance and administration, traditional institutions, land tenure and land use policies in these States.
We are surveying locations in Meghalaya and Arunachal Pradesh to assess the feasibility of setting up field-level teams who could directly engage with village communities to identify issues and plan collaborative efforts.
We hope to build on the expertise of local organizations and institutions in strengthening the Community Conserved Areas in Nagaland, and join hands in assisting village communities to develop appropriate management plans which bring together their conservation and livelihood priorities.