by Rahul Jayaraman
The very idea behind conserving something that is in danger, is because it has some value. But unless all of us understand that it is valuable and must be protected, conservation is a failed act. Hence, to derive maximum benefit and succeed in this act, it must be shared by those who are affected by it the most, thus involving local communities.
What is Community Conservation?
Conservation is an activity that requires incentive, commitment, and capital. This has ensured that a significant number of people do not take the first step, and its often highly motivated non-profits, conservation groups and other communities that take up conservation practices. However, many times these groups do not tend to be from the region that they hope to work in, they often speak different languages, have different customs, and most importantly, different views about conservation itself. Community conservation is simply the act that bridges this divide between two sets of people, and the act that will sustain any conservation attempt in the long run.
Understanding affected communities
To understand this issue in a very simple way, we can have two sets of communities. Ones that support conservation practices like protecting a certain animal in that region and the communities against it. Either way, the next plan of action would be to involve them in your activities, but that begs the question, how are you going to convince people who don’t want you there. It is of prime importance that communities against conservation practices are the communities that everyone should focus on. It is really easy to succeed in an operation without challenges and ensure good results, but the conservation attempts that overlap with polarised communities are the ones that often fail miserably. Why? Simply because these operations either don’t effectively convince the locals that it is important to make those sacrifices, or this operation directly goes against what these locals desire. This could be something like man-animal conflict that is clearly on the rise. Hence, the first step would be to clearly raise awareness to these locals, try to make them understand why this would be in their benefit in the long run, and most importantly, convince them that this conservation attempt is here to stay, and should not be undone once it has been set up. All of this looks very simple on paper, but how should we execute it?
In this stage, we will have to use the powerful tools that we clearly have control over, I have listed down a few:
1. Documentation and media – Use of visual content often helps us better persuade others to our ideas and thoughts that we cannot communicate by ourselves directly, and this forms the basis of the work done by conservation photographers, documentaries etc.
2. Mutual Benefits – A very common issue would be when farmers convert wetlands into cultivable land, and this destroys the habitats of Sarus Cranes and many other birds. The presence of these birds have often destroyed the rice produce that the farmers work for, however in many parts of north India, farmers continue to have them nearby and protect them, not because of their love for these birds but because having crane nests in the area would mean that their nocturnal alarm calls keeps intruders away and that is a big benefit to the farmers.
So such symbiotic relationships can be used to convince the locals to agree.
Importance of local participation
Regardless, local participation is of immense importance because of the sheer amount of knowledge they can provide on the issue given that their livelihoods and occupation surround the region. This could either be information regarding the operation or even direct participation that we see happen in various animal reserves where the locals aid professionals in setting up, say, camera trap mechanisms to study and document endangered species and actively involve themselves in these efforts. This is information and aid that no money and capital can buy.
Build up of local participation also means that it is an accumulation of political capital towards the issue, meaning people can leverage this issue to get say protection status for a land or a river, ask for a compromise in man-animal conflict etc.
The heart of this issue lies in convincing more people that these issues are worth fighting for, just like how villagers in Paddapukur, West Bengal transformed from villagers who killed Fishing Cats in the region, (an endangered species and the state animal) to the animal’s protectors once conservation groups contacted them and persuaded them for the better.
Media from https://sustain.round.glass/tag/community-based-conservation/
and other sources.