"Natural resources need to be protected"

For centuries the people in Bhinyad, a village in Barmer district, Rajasthan, been planning their agricultural activities while preserving the natural resources in the region in a unique way. , who is doing research at J N V University, Jodhpur, has attempted to provide a scientific basis to the traditional knowledge. Parihar spoke to Indira Khurana on the biodiversity of some selected areas in the Thar desert

Published: Friday 15 May 1998

On his interest in this subject:
Since childhood I have been observing trees, insects, birds and animals. I was interested in doing my Ph D and since nature has always fascinated me, I decided to work on the village biodiversity ecosystem.

On the advantage he had over other researchers:
I have spent my entire life in the village -- my father, a farmer, must have left his village only a couple of times. While talking to the villagers I realised that these people had so much of knowledge and yet this knowledge had not been tapped by a single scientist. No scientist has ever visited our village. Because of my deep association with the villagers, I could put on paper much more information than any scientist.

To solve the problems of villagers, a scientist should visit the village to understand the issues, rather than depend on secondary information like media reports. When a villager observes the khejri (Prosopis cineraria) tree and notices the flowering of the tree, activities of birds and animals around it, he will predict: "This year it will rain". It is this knowledge that needs to be scientifically analysed.

On the approach to his thesis:
A number of theses have been written on different forms and aspects of bio-diversity. But no one has looked at the village ecosystem and biodiversity as a whole. I spent more than two years in a few villages trying to analyse the effects the different forms of biodiversity had on on another. I also looked for a plausible and scientific explanation for the same.

For example, the ker (Capparis decidua trees), for instance, protect the maximum number of reptiles and animals living in burrows.

In an experiment, around 30 trees of ker and juliflora angrezi babool - prosopis juliflora were identified and the 75 square metres area around them, were checked for burrows. Around 86 burrows were found around the ker trees. But there were none around the videshi babool .

On the difference:
In an attempt to understand the pre-ference and correlation, if any, the soil around both these trees was tested. The soil around the ker remains moist even during a drought season. Its roots bind the rainwater. This gives the burrowing animals a conducive environment. The soil around the videshi babool is dry, high in salt content and does not support any vegetative growth. Moisture that drips from the leaves and falls on the soil, turns it saline.

Sadly, the state forest department promotes the plantation of videshi babool on its lands. Even the goats do not like to graze on its leaves.

On the other traditional knowledge systems that have been covered in the study:
It is amazing how these people use biodiversity and its behaviour to plan their agriculture. The villagers look surprised when I ask them questions on animal behaviour and their relation to the climate around. For them, it is almost a sixth sense.

On how the people use biodiversity in their daily lives:
The information that villagers obtain from insects, birds and animal beha-viour can never be gleaned from the meteorological sciences. When a farmer listens to a weather forecast on the transistor which predicts, "No rainfall in western Rajasthan in the next 24-48 hours," he laughs. Because, only in the morning while going to his fields he has observed the animal acti-vity which has indicated to the strong possibility of severe rains.

Predictions based on the movements of these animals are never wrong. A saying that "If the crow caws at night and the jackal howls during the day, there will be drought", has been proved right time and again.

On common property resources:
Maintenance of common property resources like gauchars (village grazing lands) and Orans - is extremely important. There are very few studies on the status of these resources. The few warnings that desert degra-dation will continue until the common resources are protected are unfortunately being ignored.

Orans are natural resources that are identified by the village elders. Trees in the Oran are out of bounds for cutting. Only seasonal grazing of livestock are allowed. This ensures fodder and food in times of need and famine. Orans are named after local gods. Even the twigs that fall are sold and used for the development of the local temple and not for personal use. Anyone who violates this unwritten rule is socially ostracised.

Gauchars , on the other hand are panchayat-controlled grazing lands where only the collection of wood is allowed. In villages where gauchars are absent or not maintained, the tree population in the Orans is low. My study has shown that a village that possesses healthy common property resources is sustainable. They definitely need to be protected.

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