Arid hillocks and abandoned wetlands give way to AHADS initiative

The eastern and part of the northern Attappady Hills, which falls in a rain shadow region, now sports a green look with regeneration of forests and recharging of streams and ponds. And the credit goes to the Attappady Hills Area Development Society (AHADS).

The area was reduced to a dry patch of arid hillocks and abandoned wetlands by the early 1980s following an influx of Tamil population during the 1950s and 1960s. The area, unlike western Attappady which is copiously nurtured by the southwest monsoon, had to bear the brunt of massive tree felling, uncontrolled grazing, and unscientific cultivation practices. In fact, the settlers collectively contributed to the degradation and desertification of the area. The area, predominantly inhabited by the Irula tribe, gradually turned into a barren wasteland.

Before the 1950s, the Attappady Hills, forming part of the Nilgiri Biosphere adjoining the unique rainforests of the Silent Valley, had 80 per cent of its area under forest cover. And the tribal population depended on forest produce for their livelihood.

Eastern Attappady, which slopes downward to the east, borne the brunt of the farming practices of the migrant farmers. They tilled the slopes, as in the plains. All these facilitated heavy soil erosion. Their way of life triggered a series of topographical changes in the region and coupled with a scanty annual rainfall of 600 mm to 1,000 mm, drought and crop failure became the order of the day, says the performance report of AHADS for 2008.

The desertification of Attappady had its effect on the Silent Valley rainforests as well. To arrest the environment disaster, the Central government sanctioned a Rs.219 crore eco-restoration project with Japanese aid and established AHADS to implement it. The 10-year project, which wound up last year, helped in regenerating the forest cover in large areas of eastern Attappady and recharging the dried-up streams and ponds.

Approximately 60 sq km of the project area in eastern Attappady drains into the Kodungarapallam bordering Kerala and Tamil Nadu. The rivulet, originating from Perumalmudi on the eastern end of Attappady, runs 34 km before reaching the Bhavani river which merges with the Kaveri in Tamil Nadu.

Watershed-based soil and water conservation activities regenerated the vegetation in the area and rejuvenated the water sources. This has given hope of sustaining the land-based livelihoods of the tribe, says J. Clement Selvaraj, Assistant Director (Soil Conservation), AHADS.

Treatment of hilltops with gully plugs and contour trenches, afforestation of areas where the canopy is less than 40 per cent, conservation of abandoned midland with contour bunds and trenches and planting of fruit trees and field crops, and conservation of water at the lower reaches were implemented.

Facilitating the high velocity runoff to ‘walk, stop and percolate' beneath the land to replenish the groundwater is the key to the model, he says.

The improved groundwater regime is gradually increasing the greenery of the area. Recharged feeder aquifers are continuously nourishing the Kodungarapallam, which has shown signs of rejuvenation by flowing round the year since 2006, Mr. Selvaraj says.

Keywords: Attappady Hills

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