The Kalpavalli, meaning “eternal source of abundance” is a programme that undertakes community-based natural resource management and biodiversity conservation in the Kalpavalli Community Conservation Area (KCCA). Kalpavalli is about 9,000 contiguous acres of village commons across Urudala Konda and Thumma Konda, which are being protected and regenerated into a wilderness cum bio-reserve. Over the past 28 years, the KCCA has provided security to the lives of shepherds, landless farmers and daily wage workers during recurrent seasons of drought. The main management regimes which have been adopted are the reforestation of barren hills, soil and water conservation, revitalization of farming systems, livestock grazing and Non-Timber Forest Produce (NTFP) collection.
Our work in Ecology involves protection & management of degraded ecosystems with the village communities who are largely dependent on these ecosystems for their survival. It is with a view to re-establish people’s relationship with nature; more importantly, to take responsibility of and control over what are their natural resources.
Towards this, we have consistently promoted the concept of eco-restoration through protection of village commons and the vast tracts of wastelands through natural regeneration. A ‘Watch and Ward’ policy for monitoring, documenting and reporting of activities is implemented by the village cooperatives to minimise over-exploitation of the resource base. Our strategy is to develop a sense of ownership in the members of Kalpavalli over the KCCA and to deploy a team of watchers to monitor the ecosystem. While a robust decentralised and functional system of local governance is in place, the program’s aim is to strengthen statutory rights over the land.
The natural regeneration work consists of 9 main activities:
- Protection from fires,
- Protection from overgrazing,
- Protection from tree cutting,
- Construction of soil and water conservation structures,
- Seed dibbling and grass seed broadcasting,
- Planting of trees where possible,
- Monitoring what fauna have returned,
- Monitoring grass being cut and removed from the area,
- Monitoring the number of sheep, goats and cows that come for grazing;
Regeneration of a forest
While the hills were almost barren when the Collective initiated this activity, the root stock that remained began to send new shoots up, the grass seeds began to germinate, birds began to come back and new trees began to establish themselves. The soil has improved and many more varieties of grasses have come back.
A livelihood lifeline for people
The Kalpavalli community managed forests and grasslands provide an important source of non-timber forest produce, serve as a watershed and as an important grazing ground for more than seven villages in the Chennekothapalli and Roddam Mandals. In addition, this large expanse of community protected land is a haven for wildlife. With ongoing protection this area has developed into an important wildlife corridor and conservation area.
The area is an important wildlife corridor linking a minimum of two Reserved Forests, the Guttur Reserved Forest and the Penukonda Reserved Forest. This area is also of significance as it harbours one of the last remaining habitats of the Grey Wolf in Southern India. The Indian sub-species of the Grey Wolf fall under Schedule 1 of the Wildlife Protection Act (1972). The presence of large carnivores such as wolves and leopards in this area indicates that Kalpavalli not only serves as a corridor for local reserved forest but also plays a role in larger and more important landscape level biodiversity conservation.
The KTGCS, Kalpavalli Tree Growers’ Cooperative Society, was registered under the Andhra Pradesh Mutually Aided Thrift Cooperative Societies Act (MATCS) in 1995. It is a Federation of Forest Protection Committees.
Each village has a Forest Protection Committee (Vana Samarakshana Committee – VSC). All works are supervised and monitored by the VSCs through a system of watchers. These watchers patrol the area every day and in case of fires, intruders or tree cutting, they inform the VSCs, which mobilise immediate preventive action. Heavy fines are imposed on anybody caught felling trees. Almost no trees are felled any more by the local people.
Each VSC also has fire control volunteers and every year around 25 km. of firebreaks are made so that fires do not spread. The members of the VSCs, the watchers and the cadres of the Collective spend a lot of time convincing shepherds who come with their sheep and goats from villages as far as 25 km. away, to avoid lighting fires. These VSCs are federated into the Kalpavalli Tree Growers Cooperative.
The Collective began to promote the concept of eco-restoration through natural regeneration in a village called Mushtikovila in 1992. It took over a year to convince people to begin protecting about 125 acres of revenue waste lands in the hills surrounding the village. The impact was felt almost immediately. Over the years, 9 more villages joined in. It was initiated with two goals: first, to mobilize local people to manage their common lands and to create sustainable livelihood opportunities. Secondly, to enhance local biodiversity on a severely degraded landscape. With these two goals in mind, various activities were carried out such as seed/sapling planting and large scale soil and water management programs.
The Kalpavalli Conservation Area has a recorded 22 mammal species, 5 of which fall under Schedule 1 of the Wildlife Protection Act (1972). 28 reptiles and amphibians have been recorded since 2013, of which 2 are Scheduled I species under the WPA (1972). Birds (70.8%) dominate this list followed by mammals (20.8%), snakes (4.1%) and lizards (4.1%) respectively.
There are a total of 430 members from 10 villages including 68 VSC leaders.
A total of 6 Ecological Camps have been conducted in the past six months which saw a participation of 165 children and 18 youth members. There have been 27 Jungle Bandi workshops, an initiative under the Chiguru programme in which a total of 958 children participated. There also has been a total of 30 training sessions for the VSC Leaders.