KTK-BELT project for the entire eastern region of Nepal

Project Background

Nepal occupies only 0.09% of world’s landmass, but harbours enormous diversity of flora and fauna due to the extreme changes in topography from the lowland Terai region to the Himalayas. Despite being one of the smallest countries in the world, it is ranked 21st on the global biodiversity index and 11th in Asia. Today, this biodiversity is facing direct threats from rampant urbanisation of the countryside resulting in complex socio-ecological changes: increased de-agrarianisation, growing human density, declining rural livelihoods and growing youth out-migration. Between 1990-2005, Nepal lost around 25% of its total forest cover, approximately 91,700 hectares per year totalling 1.2 million hectares of forest (FAO, 2005).

As forests dwindle, the youth population continues to swell. Nepal is also experiencing a demographic youth bulge with 40% of the population being within the ages of 16 and 40 (Youth Survey of Nepal, 2011). Nearly 40% of this youth population--more than 5 million young people--are unemployed. Many are migrating overseas to take low-pay, low-skill jobs often in dangerous working conditions in the Middle East and Southeast Asia. The lack of sustainable livelihoods for youth in rural regions is further exacerbating deforestation, land fragmentation and illegal poaching as youth search for ways to survive economically.

In 2013, with funding support from Cornell University, Oxfam USA, the Atkinson Center for a Sustainable Future, and the Phul Maya Foundation, a research was carried out in Yangshila VDC, located in the Siwalik or ‘Churia’ foothills of eastern Nepal in northern Morang district, to map the intricate relationship between local communities and their environments. Led by Kumar Bishwakarma, a local primary school teacher and medicinal plants expert, research was carried out to understand the nature of the indigenous knowledge held by local people about their surrounding landscapes. In just a 20 km2 area, 412 unique plant species spanning 96 plant families were identified and their uses were described. It became evident that this habitat and species diversity was rooted in the sharp-rising topography from 180 masl to 1950 masl, and the numerous wetlands, cloud forests, and other unique habitats found along the dramatic topography.

Imagining a ‘Vertical University’

Inspired by the possibility of activating the hidden layer of indigenous knowledge and converting the landscape into a ‘Vertical University’ for the entire eastern region, the KTK-BELT project was launched in 2013. To harness local implementation capacity, Yangshila Permaculture Learning Grounds (YPLG), a farmers’ cooperative was created in 2013, and 100 acres of land was acquired in 20 different strategic locations to build ecosystem contiguity, provide a layer of defense against deforestation. Each plot was imagined as a ‘learning grounds’ to function as a community seed bank, agriculture research and demonstration site, and resource hub for alternative energy and conservation infrastructure. The ultimate goal is to engage multiple stakeholders to create a botanical conservation and education corridor spanning from Koshi Tappu, one of South Asia’s largest aquatic bird sanctuaries, adjacent to the Indian border to Mt. Kanchenjunga, the 3rd tallest peak in the world.

In the aggregate, KTK-BELT will serve as an in situ conservation mechanism, climate change adaptation measure, and means of linking upstream and downstream communities through education. The belt will also serve as a bio-corridor allowing endangered fauna and flora to thrive once again in the region. KTK-BELT will continue to be a live project, which evolves through the combined creativity and ingenuity of more than 150,000 people living directly on the corridor. As the plants and habitats will be tagged and identified, anyone will be able to freely walk along this corridor and learn about thousands of plants and 107 habitat types. biodiversity conservation through establishing national and regional policies, an unexplored possibility is to actively engage and enable rural youth to catalyze local conservation strategies.

Three prong approach

education_512PLACE-BASED EDUCATION 

The project’s commitment to place-based education stems from the fact that each contour line of the VDC possesses different fauna and flora, thereby offering divergent educational opportunities. For example, in Yangshila, it was found that the lower portions of the VDC contained a huge richness of tropical fruits such as lychee, mango, and jackfruit, whereas the middle elevations were rich in citrus and fodder tree diversity. The upper reaches of Yangshila were found to possess high value medicinal plants such as Swertia chirensis (Chiraito) and Taxus Wallichiana (Himalayan Yew).

conservation_512COMMUNITY-BASED CONSERVATION 

The project’s commitment to place-based education stems from the fact that each contour line of the VDC possesses different fauna and flora, thereby offering divergent educational opportunities. For example, in Yangshila, it was found that the lower portions of the VDC contained a huge richness of tropical fruits such as lychee, mango, and jackfruit, whereas the middle elevations were rich in citrus and fodder tree diversity. The upper reaches of Yangshila were found to possess high value medicinal plants such as Swertia chirensis (Chiraito) and Taxus Wallichiana (Himalayan Yew).

sustainable_512SUSTAINABLE LIVELIHOODS INTEGRATION 

As already stated, the predominant cause of deforestation, sand mining and poaching in Yangshila was identified to be the lack of livelihood opportunities which force people to extract raw materials in order to meet daily economic needs. Education and training about the commercial use of local plants and sustainable processing, is also lacking. In this way, creation of new livelihood streams, could lead to conservation of neglected or underused species (NUSs). In Yangshila, 97 plant species including cubeb, orange blossom, and rosewood were identified with potential to create cold press and steam distilled high value essential oils. Numerous other plants provide valuable natural dyes, papers, and incense. Education and training will lead to community-based micro-enterprises which fortify the entire ecology of Yangshila through creating new economic incentives for conservation of wild plants which thrive under forest canopy.

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