Mountain people in the Himalayas lack a unified voice when it comes to preserving their ecosystems and claiming control over what is rightfully theirs
Experts present at the 2nd International Dialogue on Himalayan Ecology in Chandigarh debated on the value that ecosystems provide to human beings and the need to understand them in totality. Managing ecosystems can bring in livelihood opportunities and lead to sustainable development.
Padma Shri recipient Anil Joshi, who chaired the post-lunch session of the dialogue, said that the mountain people lack a unified voice when it comes to preserving their ecosystems and claiming control over what is rightfully theirs.
While urban people are the masters of economy and best managers of natural resources produced in the hills, mountain people in the Himalayas are just the providers and they have remained only that, as the latter do not have any control and right on their resources. What should have been the natural right of the highland people has not happened till now due to this lack of a unifying voice among mountain dwellers. Terming ecology as the permanent economy, Joshi said mountain people, who are the saviour and guardian of natural resources, are ultimately suffering. “We never realised how important the ecology is. There is a need to add value to the Himalayas,” he added.
To ascertain the value of ecosystems, we should do a valuation of nature as it provides us with everything. But according to Lalit Kumar from Delhi University, “nature has escaped the market”. “There is a lack of valuation of nature and so we take nature's services for free, we misuse or overuse resources, leading to degradation of ecosystems.” Kumar advocated expansion of our markets to include ecosystems services.
To bring about development in the Himalayas, where benefits have escaped the poor only to be reaped by people living in the lowlands, experts suggested calculating benefits for different ecosystem services and presenting them to policy makers. At a time, when Himalayan ecosystems are degrading due to enormous pressure, there is a need to reduce ecological scarcity for sustainable development.
On a similar note, Ruchi Badola, professor, Wildlife Institute of India, Dehradun, said that currently, value of ecosystems is not included while calculating the GDP. Giving the example of pollination which is an important ecosystem service, Badola explained how Chinese farmers who have taken up the task of pollinating themselves, as there are no pollinators left.
Jai Raj, principal chief conservator of forests, Uttarakhand, said that conservation of natural resources has been the focal point in the state when the “vigour of ecosystems is declining with increasing biotic pressure”. Raj focused on the need to conserve Uttarakhand's forests as they contribute a lot in terms of ecosystem services. In the same way, the Dal Lake in Kashmir provides a number of services to farmers, fishermen, Shikara owners, tourists, transporters and hoteliers, according to M H Wani of Sher-e-Kashmir University of Agriculture & Technology, Srinagar. Realising the importance of the lake in sustaining people's livelihoods, the Dal restoration project was conceived. The lake, at present, is shrinking, with algae growth giving it a greenish appearance. In the Little Rann of Kachchh, valuation of salt making, prawn fishing and tourism has been made to understand the ecosystem service benefits.
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