At a presentation on the sidelines of COP 11 they reveal the result of their efforts

Arunachal Pradesh is helping tribal residents use ‘globally significant medicinal plants’ for livelihood security through community management of forests. The State has a staggering 500 medicinal plant species, and more than half the forests come under the control of the indigenous people.

At a presentation on indigenous and new approaches to natural resource management in the State, held on the sidelines of the Conference of the Parties to the Convention on Biological Diversity here on Thursday, tribal practitioners said they had set up seven Medicinal Plant Conservation Areas (MPCAs).

According to tribal beliefs in Arunachal Pradesh, dense forests and big trees are looked upon as ancestral souls, and hornbill hunting is banned during the breeding season. The tiger is sacred as it is the ‘brother of Tani, the first humans on earth’.

However, as a presentation by the INSPIRE Network for Environment made clear, large tracts of forest had been lost in Arunachal due to development of pastoral lands, agriculture expansion, shifting cultivation and demand for firewood and timber. INSPIRE is helping residents in Western Arunachal’s Tawang-Kameng area form a large arboretum for Rhododendron arboreum, an evergreen tree with bright red or pink flowers that holds the soil against landslips. Its flowers are used to produce squash under a plan partnered by the Indo-Tibetan Border Police and the Sir Ratan Tata Trust.

Medicinal plants have come to the rescue of communities, and hence they vigorously guard against the removal of plant and animal species by outsiders. Hake-Tari, Salari, Laa and Wannu are examples of community forests, said Tapu Gapak, member-secretary of the Medicinal Plants Board of Arunachal Pradesh.

Arunachal Pradesh is attempting to show that community ownership can help produce incomes from biodiversity sustainably. There is strong support for conservation of fauna, too.

The Nature Conservation Foundation has been working in the area around the Pakke Tiger Reserve with the Nyishi tribal people, successfully persuading them against hunting hornbills for casques, which form part of headgear. Fibreglass substitutes are accepted. Tribal residents have participated in nest protection schemes, and local councils have seized guns from villages.

An adoption scheme launched by NCF for the hornbills has attracted 49 urban patrons, who paid between Rs. 1,000 and Rs. 1-lakh to protect the birds in nesting sites. A dozen birds have fledged through this scheme. NCF researcher Amruta Rane said that in the next phase an assessment of abundance of nesting sites and availability of some 45 fruit tree species favoured by hornbills would be carried out.

A pictorial guide to significant medicinal plants of Arunachal Pradesh authored by D. Yonggam, with information about their use, was released here by MLA Bamang Felix.

Several tribal participants were present at the discussion wearing wood casque headgear, demonstrating how hornbills could be spared.