Drylands span across 224 million hectares, constituting 68 percent of the total geographical area of India. Drylands in India contribute to 44 percent of the total food grain production, consist of 66 percent of the total livestock population and support the livelihoods of more than 500 million people. However, the drylands in India, as in many other parts of the world, faces widespread degradation. They are characterized by undulating terrain, low soil depth, regular drought and erratic rainfall conditions, depleting groundwater levels and high concentrations of poverty and backwardness.
Community forests, pastures and water bodies, collectively the Commons, constitute nearly one-fourth of the drylands area. Commons serve critical ecological functions (and services) contributing to carbon sequestration, biodiversity conservation and maintenance of hydrological and nutrient cycles. They meet critical livelihood needs of food, fodder, medicine, firewood, small timber of diverse group of rural households, from the landless and socially marginalized groups to often the dominant groups with access to land and other resources. Commons not only act as a ‘safety net’ to which vulnerable households turn to when everything else fails, but are also the foundation to multiple production systems in a manner in which it strengthens the resilience of these systems. Despite the ecological, social and economic significance, Commons have been neglected due to unfavourable property rights and weak institutional arrangements for local management and governance resulting in widespread degradation of the drylands.
In this context, Foundation for Ecological Security (FES), a non-governmental organization (NGOs) working across 12 states in India, helps decentralise the top-heavy approach to environmental management and demonstrates the strength of local communities to collaborate and deploy local knowledge to cost effectively manage natural resources, Commons in particular. The presentation by Foundation for Ecological Security (FES) aims to share reflections and insights from our experiences of working on the inter-connected issues of tenure, local governance and restoration of degraded landscapes for improved health of ecosystems and resilient livelihoods. The presentation will highlight the landscape level approach and the fundamental dimensions of our work at village as well as landscape level. We will share about FES’s experiences of –
- working with community institutions, government and civil society actors to enable communities secure their rights on Commons, strengthen collective action and enhance investments on restoration;
- the ecological processes, methods and the best practices in restoration of Commons;
- application of tools and technology to enable data and evidence-based decision making at scale;
- impact in terms of improved vegetative cover and carbon sequestration, improved environmental services and resilience of agro-ecosystems, stronger local stewardship, sustainable land and water management addressing land degradation.