"Many want to gain from India's experience"

While India's rule-of-the-fist wildlife conservation programmes focus on protection, UNESCO's Man and Biosphere Programme seeks to lay emphasis on the people. Miguel Clusener-Godt of the Programme spoke to Anju Sharma about the international network of countries which house biosphere reserves and the possible advantages India could derive from joining it

Published: Saturday 30 November 1996

On the difference between a biosphere reserve and protected area in India:
A biosphere reserve is a concept that prioritises the human being. Protected areas or national parks simply concentrate on the conservational aspect and comprise of two parts: a core and a buffer zone. A biosphere reserve, on the other hand, contains three parts. The core zone -- which is usually protected by state law -- can be a national park, ecological reserve or a sanctuary. Around this is a buffer zone where activities that would not harm the surroundings are allowed. The largest area is the one around the buffer zone and is called the transitional or the developmental part. The emphasis is on including people in the activities of the reserve and giving them the message that the core area of the biosphere reserve is really their's and not the government's or the unesco 's (the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization).

On how the UNESCO ensures that the views of the people are taken into consideration:
The Seville Strategy -- adopted last year at an international meeting in Seville, Spain, to lay down guidelines for the formation and administration of biosphere reserves -- states that decisions should be taken in consultation with the local people because they are the benefactors.

On the management procedures laid down for biosphere reserves:
The procedures depend on the country. We at the unesco can suggest the international framework on how the procedures should work but a biosphere reserve is clearly always a national exercise. However, our rules require that there be some sort of an administrative structure operating in a biosphere reserve. Whichever be the country, the first thing normally done is to remove it from under the jurisdiction of the forestry department and cancel national park authorisation. We encourage the management committee to include people from diverse disciplines including biologists, social scientists and even lawyers, as formation and management of a biospere reserve could involve property rights. One should avoid the exclusion of the people to the greatest possible extent as they have been part of the reserve area for hundreds of years. Local politicians, who happen to be the people's representatives, should of course be included.

On an example of how a biosphere reserve has managed to include the people:
The unesco is involved with a biosphere reserve in Madagascar whose total population is around 60-70,000. The reserve has two parks: a terrestrial park with tropical rainforests and a marine park with islands. Before the activities of the biosphere reserve began in 1987, the tropical rainforests were under severe threat. Initially, we went about drawing a plan and mapping and studying the resources and the causes of their destruction. We wanted to understand why the people were adopting the slash and burn technique to cultivate rice. Now, the forests are no longer destroyed. People sometimes go into the core to look for wood which I think is not so dangerous. The important thing is that the people know it to be a biosphere reserve and accept it the way it is.

On how the people have been provided with an alternative:
The development area of a reserve deals with improving agriculture. For instance, we have avoided the use of fertilisers in Madagascar. If a project that is initiated cannot be followed by the people later, it is useless. Rice production in this country was not very high. The people were taught how to improve production by planting rice in rows (and not throwing the seed), by setting up nurseries and building dams (irrigation dams and not big dams). The project turned out to be a great success because the production of rice multiplied two-fold, sometimes even three-fold. Thereafter, we established tree nurseries to produce firewood. There has been an increase in awareness and this is very important. The forest is sometimes perceived as an enemy in Madagascar. The people are hesitant to go deep into forests for fear of spirits. We held a major environment awareness campaign to show that the forest was not an enemy but a friend which could be used in a practical way. A veterinary and a health programme was also conducted.

Many of the requirements listed out by him are already being met in the protected areas in India, particularly by the ecodevelopment programmes which claim to consult the people. But in reality, the government thrusts on the people what it thinks is right for them. On how the UNESCO Programme can help a country like India:
Although the idea of a biosphere reserve is already more than 20 years old, we are still learning. We seek to improve the system and are increasingly moving away from conservation-oriented goals and more towards the people. This is a good time for India to adopt it. The ecodevelopment system has not solved the problem. In fact, the problem cannot be expected to get solved in 20 years. One is constantly working on the system and trying to improve it. In my opinion, one of ways to participate in this network is to continue working on it. If there were a conflict between the local people and the government, it would help to include more actors in the process to make recomendations. These could be ngo s or anybody else who is unrelated to both parties. But this is up to the government and depends on what a country is looking for while consituting a biosphere reserve.

The benefit a country like India could derive is that when you participate in an international network, you are party to a great deal of combined work. You can share your experiences with other countries. Many look forward to gaining from the Indian experience because India is a big country. India probably has a lot to give and take, especially with the other two biggies in the world, Brazil and China. Such networks also help countries build their capacities. They can derive the benefits of technology transfers and funding facilities.

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