Farmers, Wildlife, And Conservation In India
We are losing biodiversity at an alarming rate, and while carving out parks and reserves does offer wildlife some protection, private landowners can also be part of the solution. Conservation on private land is not new in Africa or Latin America. However, it’s less familiar in South Asian countries — for example, there is concern over how it might work in a country such as India, given its growing population and demand for resources. Currently, only about 5% of India’s land is part of a Protected Area (PA), and while there are potential benefits to living near a PA, the costs of living alongside wildlife can also be high.
To stem the tide of environmental destruction, in 1992 150 government leaders signed the United Nations Convention on Biological Diversity, or CBD. This multi-lateral treaty was designed to promote global sustainable development, and to enhance these efforts, in 2010 CBD signatories created the Aichi Biodiversity Targets. These 20 goals sought to address the underlying causes of biodiversity loss and promote ecosystem conservation. In this study, researchers looked for ways to impact Target 11 in India. This target set a 2020 goal for amounts of terrestrial and marine habitat to be set aside into Protected Areas. PA’s are effective conservation strategies, but much more needs to be done.
To learn how conservation incentives might work in India, researchers conducted a survey with 699 farmers from 287 villages living within a five-kilometer buffer zone next to Randupur and Nagarahole National Parks. This landscape supports some of the largest global populations of tigers and elephants, along with threatened species of leopards and Asiatic wild dogs. The survey explored the willingness of private landowners to enroll in voluntary wildlife conservation programs or to allow future tourism on their lands. From April to July 2019, trained volunteers surveyed farmers about the percentage of their land they would be willing to set aside for conservation and for how long. Participants were also asked for demographic and socioeconomic information along with questions about their experiences with wildlife depredation.
About three-quarters (73%) of the farmers owned less than five acres of land and grew an average of three crops per year. The top five crops were cotton, millet, maize, banana, and tobacco. A large majority, 86%, owned animals used for food. And 84% of participants reported crop losses due to wildlife. Even so, four out of five (81%) expressed interest in adopting one of the conservation programs proposed in the experiment. On average, farmers preferred to enroll smaller parcels of land for shorter periods of time. Unsurprisingly, they found programs with higher payments more appealing. The exception was farmers with a longer history of living next to the PA, or who owned larger parcels of land, and grew fewer commercial crops. These respondents actually preferred to enroll larger land parcels for conservation. Most farmers surveyed were interested in offering tourist experiences such as walks in the village or accommodations in their homes.
Any proposed conservation solutions must consider social, ecological, and economic interests. In India, poverty, and food security present special challenges. Yet private land conservation must be part of the solution to the biodiversity crisis. Advocates could focus on outreach, awareness campaigns, and efforts to share knowledge and build capacity. They could also work to secure the use of funds from the Compensatory Afforestation Fund Management and Planning Authority (CAMPA), funding which could incentivize landowners and encourage wildlife-friendly land use. Ecotourism in areas surrounding PA’s might also be valuable as long as the benefits go to the local communities. Successful efforts such as these will expand critical wildlife habitat, one key to supporting ecological health and biodiversity.