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Sacred groves of Meghalaya
Sacred groves of Meghalaya|File Image
MEGHALAYA

Meghalaya: Locals work to revive 27,000 hectares of sacred groves

The hilly Northeastern state, which has 80% of its area covered in dense forests, is under threat; it’s up to the natives now

Team EastMojo

Team EastMojo

Shillong: An East Khasi Hills community in Meghalaya’s remote village of Mawphlang is working with an aim of conserving and restoring sacred groves covering a stretch of 27,000 hectares of forests.

Under the aegis of United Nations collaborative programme on Reducing Emissions from Deforestation and Forest Degradation (REDD) in developing countries, Mawphlang’s REDD+ project is the country’s first community-based REDD+ programme.

As one of India’s greenest states, which has 80% of its area under forests and trees, three times the Indian average, Meghalaya is unique and uniquely vulnerable. Most vulnerable are its irreplaceable rainforests, the survival of which holds lessons for the rest of India, reports IndiaSpend.

Mawphlang has a tribe called Blah which alone is entrusted with the protection of 200 acres of sacred forests, which homes a wide variety of flora and fauna. However, all has not been same in the area. The loss of green cover, change in rain patterns and constant human activity has led to changes in the natural balance.

This uniqueness of the state is under threat, as according to the India State of Forest Report 2017 released by the Union minister of environment, forests and climate change Harsh Vardhan, Meghalaya lost 112 sq km of forest cover.

The major problems in the state are a product of population pressure, conversion of forestland into agricultural fields, deforestation, urbanisation, mining and industrialization.

Ray of Hope

Started as a village movement in 2007, the REDD+ initiative took steps to revive the forests by making sure the trees were not cut, the produce, such as fruit and mushroom was left untouched, and animals were not poached.

In the course of time, the project has expanded to 62 villages by involving local councils called Himas with a magnanimous target of reviving 27,000 hectares of forests.

“If sacred groves were to extend to the entire Meghalaya, we will be able to reverse the damage caused by climate change,” Tambor Lyngdoh, Mawphlang’s village secretary, was quoted as saying by IndiaSpend. The Meghalaya government, which works closely with Lyngdoh, received World Bank funding in 2018 to manage its resources better. Using this money, the government hopes to offer incentives -- whether cash or otherwise -- to communities, so they protect patches of forests in village backyards, stated IndiaSpend.

The hill tribes of Meghalaya have an in born inclination towards protection and conservation of forests, given the high cultural value they put into their forests.

“The Khasi Hills initiative represents a unique locally-driven response to forest pressures that utilizes innovative financing mechanisms including payments for ecological services (PES) such as the sale of REDD carbon offset credits,” Mark Poffenberger said in his research paper, ‘Restoring and Conserving Khasi Forests: A Community-Based REDD Strategy from Northeast India’, published on MDPI.com.

The conservation programme also contributes to six Sustainable Developments Goals (SDGs) including No Poverty, Life on Land, Gender Equality, Affordable and Clean Energy, Climate Action and Quality Education.

The community, which earlier depended mainly on firewood, is switching to fuel-efficient cook methods and maintaining fire lines to control forest fires in the area. The conservation has also led to the influx of tourists and generated an alternate source of income for the locals, with several homestays coming up.

The project, if successful will serve as an ideal example of community based efforts paying off.