SMDS – Kohima Declaration
Counterpoint | Charles Chasie
[dropcap]T[/dropcap]he discussions on what kind of development would best suit the mountainous terrains of the Himalayan States have taken place during the Sustainable Mountain Development Summit (SMDS) — 111 in Kohima late last month. The follow through has to take place or else the Summit would have been a waste but the Plan of Action is still awaited for this purpose. Nevertheless, the thematic papers have been presented on Water, Forests and Agriculture which were the main themes of the Kohima Summit. These themes were discussed thoroughly by the various groups. The discussions considered the historical and traditional ways of the people, the present state of affairs, including the things that were right, wrong etc., and what ought to be done for the future both at individual level and jointly by communities or states in partnership. The important points were then put together and each thematic group presented their findings. Now it is for the organizers to distil these findings and recommendations and put them together in a plan of action.
The themes were an interesting combination. For livelihood of the people, Agriculture was needed. Agriculture needs Water and for water to be available Forests and catchment areas were vital. This inter-twining combined need was vividly presented at a plenary session by students of Alder College, Kohima, in a “role play” and showed what happens when the cycle is disturbed or broken. The cycle of destruction begins when forests start to disappear. Then water becomes scarce and finally crop failure results leading to starvation and death.
We may briefly look at some of the findings of the three thematic groups.
This group of 70 was happy with several things like closeness and harmony of the people with nature and their tenacity despite non supportive environment. The richness of biodiversity of the Himalayan states and opportunity for good healthy and organic food, complemented by people’s traditional knowledge and practices were things to rejoice about. But lack of focussed policy for mountain agriculture, absence of incentives for biodiversity, hedge against risks and disasters etc., and the mismatch that these create between policy planning and implementation made the group “sad and mad”.
The group also pointed out various socio-economic issues that were leading to younger people moving away from agriculture especially in the wake of the fact that most people do not consider agriculture as an enterprise. Moreover, agriculture was becoming more and more difficult in the mountainous regions for different reasons. All these were resulting in the overall decline in food production.
There was lack of mountain specific agriculture supportive infrastructure. Selective cash crop cultivation biased towards a few major crops without supportive services and the research and development organisations working in isolation were also problems. Further there was erosion of traditional knowledge, culture, crop varieties etc. Finally, the overall impact of climate change and man-made disasters were unhelpful.
This group considered six areas: Ecosystem, water supply and its infrastructure, hydropower, climate change, disasters and policy and governance.
In their considered view, there was still inadequate knowledge about various ecosystems. Example was dying springs. Loss of forests and grasslands were leading to reduction of availability of water and wanted conservation efforts to be stepped up. They were concerned about inadequate infrastructure for supply of water to urban areas, including quantity and quality, and its sustainability for agriculture. Their worries included hydropower projects despite risks and non inclusion and non-transparent decision making process.
There were also natural disasters which seemed to be increasing due to alternate floods, including landslides, and droughts brought on by climate change. The mountain people were more vulnerable in such cases. However, there were no early warning systems and risk prone areas have not been properly identified. In many cases, there were also no compensations for loss available.
The group pointed out that often policy process was not based on science or people’s feedback nor state’s experiences with policy available. The group suggested that there should be proper policies on water ownership, governance of water institutions, capacity development of people for policy awareness and that policies need to take advantage of state relevant acts and suggest reforms where needed.
This group considered six areas: General issues of geographical setting and people, various reasons for forest reduction, concerns, challenges, strategies and policy and governance. It seemed that this group was more systematic and also gave some action points for implementation.
As mentioned earlier, the fact the Himalayan region is earthquake prone and also to landslides and flash floods concerned this group. Coupled with this the people are generally simple practicing marginal farming and highly dependent on forest resources for their livelihood. Tragically, the forests keep reducing for biotic, environmental and developmental reasons whether natural or man-made. These bring up many concerns as dependency on forests and its resources grow while there are inadequate data, no clear-cut policy frameworks, there is continuous destruction of forests and fragmentation of ecosystems. Further, climate changes and the need to adapt according to them put even more pressure on forests and its resources. For example, these changes put threats to high altitude biodiversity even while man-animal conflicts increase.
There are many challenges to forest management like conflict between conservation and development, lack of ecosystem services, degradation and loss of forests due to development projects which also lead to weakening of community initiatives, etc. Meanwhile, there is absence or inadequate capacity building of stakeholders, little or no documentation of indigenous knowledge systems, inadequate or absence of protection of catchment areas, forest policies are still unclear and confusing in many areas etc.
Therefore, the group has suggested action points like linking forest patches to facilitate species migration, development of threat assessment protocols and in situ conservation models and defining conservation strategies for medicinal and aromatic plants with marketing and industrial linkages developed for enhancing livelihood opportunities of the local communities. The group would like to strengthen the role of community organisations, replicate models of “success stories” of forest conservation and management, promote clean energy technologies and diversification of livelihoods to reduce forest dependency. The group also recommended that the Indian Mountain Initiative (IMI) develop a portal for the Himalayan region.
YOUTH SUMMIT – KOHIMA DECLARATION
But by far, the most interesting group was the Himalayan youth who met at a summit like this for this first time. Their energy and enthusiasm were apparent and vibrated through the entire summit. They also brought out their Kohima Declaration in the form of resolutions. These are given below:-
1. Formation of a combined Steering Committee with representatives from youth, academics, experts, progressive farmers and the Government to review agricultural policies.
2. Identify geo-specific crops for production, creating local environment specific market linkages.
3. Declare Himalayan states as Organic Zone.
4. Promote and preserve local indigenous knowledge and cultural history associated with our agricultural system.
5. Build farmer-friendly infrastructures, low cost post harvest technology storage facilities, easily accessible to farmers and villages.
6. Re-evaluate market regulation policies, minimum price policy, and agricultural goods import tariff policy.
7. Discourage rampant construction of mega dams and hydro power projects. We urge government to consult and take consent from the local community that is fair, transparent and accountable.
8. Representation of youth, civil societies, communities in the EIA for developmental projects.
9. Ensure adequate safe drinking water for all; protect, preserve and secure our natural water reservoirs.
10. Importance of training the next generation hydrologists, scientists and practitioners to aid in sustainable water management practices.
11. Integrate tourism policies empowering local communities and youth.
12. Reinforce policies to curtail bio-piracy and introduce stringent laws against poachers.
13. Development policies implemented to be mountain specific and eco-sensitive.
14. Implement forest rights and draw attention towards empowering local communities.
15. Quantify forest based resources and build on traditional knowledge.
16. Innovative system on waste management with prior focus on electronic, bio-medical and hazardous waste.
17. Inclusion of mountain specific environment education, local history, culture, local languages in high school, college curriculum.
18. Government to fund, facilitate and establish communities of international standard incorporating ecological mountain specific course.
19. Strict monitoring and implementation of minimum wage and labour policies, annual inventory of illegal immigrants and regulate the growing economic migrants,
20. Political and financial commitment to fund and develop policies, laws and programmes that recognise, promote, protect and ensure proper healthcare facilities.
21. Ensure active participation of the youth in decision-making. We strongly feel the need to set up a youth wing in the institution of Indian Mountain Initiative (IMI) and organise the Indian Himalayan Youth Summit every year in Kohima.
The Himalayan youth cited the statement of President Franklin Roosevelt’s, “We cannot always build the future for (the) youth but we can build our youth for the future” to remind their elders of the direction they ought to be taking in building the future.