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Integrating Biodiversity Conservation and Sustainable Livelihoods

WWF-India works with communities and sustainable livelihoods using a number of strategies and initiatives which are briefly described below:

Value addition to Forest Products:

 / ©: Vishaish Uppal/WWF-India
Often, communities have legal rights to extract, use and sell certain forest products. However, due to limited skills in processing and marketing, the returns are very low.
© Vishaish Uppal/WWF-India
Most of the areas where WWF works are remote and where the local communities do not have access to employment opportunities. Often, communities have legal rights to extract, use and sell certain forest products. However, due to limited skills in processing and marketing, the returns are very low. This in turn leads to over-extraction of high-value forest resources which is unsustainable in the long term. In such areas WWF promotes sustainable livelihoods based on managed resource extraction. This provides an incentive for local communities to conserve the resources and the areas where they are found. 

Supporting alternative livelihoods:

Many WWF projects are working with communities living around Protected Areas (PAs) where access to and use of forest resources is restricted. Here, sustainable livelihood initiatives are based around reducing dependence of communities living around PAs on natural resources. This is done through helping communities to adopt viable alternative sources of income. Livelihoods promoted include medicinal plant cultivation, improved animal husbandry, poultry rearing, carpet weaving, mushroom farming, basket making, organic farming, agroforestry, fish farming, floriculture and fodder production. WWF’s main role is in supporting community institutions to be able to undertake and manage these initiatives in the long terms through capacity development, training, marketing support and institution building.

Facilitating establishment of Community Conservation Areas:

Many communities, especially in the North-East of India still have traditional norms for managing forest areas owned by them. However some of these are breaking down in the face of social and economic change leading to overexploitation of forests and consequent negative impacts on the ecology and livelihoods of poor and marginalized communities. There is an urgent need to evolve mechanisms and incentives through which local communities would be encouraged to conserve forest areas under their control. WWF has facilitated such processes in Arunachal Pradesh and this is proving to be a model for many other villages in the area. These areas are managed by the communities for conservation while WWF supports the development of alternative livelihoods. Sustainable Livelihoods programme is working together with the Forests programme of WWF India in evolving mechanisms for livelihood generation such as community based tourism. » Read more

Conservation and participatory management of fragile ecosystems:

Some ecosystems such as high altitude lakes in the Himalayas have several characteristics that make them unique in terms of their biodiversity values. The plants and animals that occur in and around them are often endemic and highly adapted to the regime that they occur in. These ecosystems are critically important not only from a biodiversity conservation perspective but also in terms of their social, economic and cultural values. With increasing accessibility and human interference in these areas there is tremendous disturbance to the ecology of the area. Management interventions are also often inadequate or inappropriate as many of these areas are not legally protected as PAs. WWF has engaged with the local community to set up/strengthen community institutions for management of wetlands and livelihood options (often based on community-based tourism) in Ladakh. This successful model of community based ecotourism is now being expanded to similar areas in Sikkim and Arunachal Pradesh.

Promoting energy efficiency:

Fuelwood is the major source of energy in rural as well as semi-urban settlements across India. Wood, together with dung and other agricultural residue meets 95 percent of fuel needs of rural areas. Wood tends to be the domestic fuel in poorer regions with low productivity, while dung and agriculture residue is used in agriculturally prosperous regions with fertile soils and irrigation. Apart from extraction of fuelwood for own consumption, selling it is also an important source of income for poor communities. The impacts of uncontrolled fuelwood extraction can have severe negative impacts in many forest areas. Use of fuelwood and dung also has serious health impacts, especially on women due to poor ventilation in many households. WWF India addresses the problem of unsustainable fuelwood extraction and its related social and environmental impacts through the design and promotion of fuel efficient stoves among communities where this is acceptable and feasible. In other areas with a higher income level, WWF is enabling communities to switch to alternative energy sources (such as kerosene and LPG).