Eco-development for wildlife conservation: Solar lanterns distributed in Garo Hills


Tura (Garo Hills, Meghalaya), Sep 24, 2010: Continuing eco-development efforts in Garo Hills, the Garo Hills Autonomous District Council (GHADC), Meghalaya Forest Department and Wildlife Trust of India (WTI) supported by the World Land Trust (WLT) and Whitley Fund for Nature (WFN), in collaboration with The Energy and Resources Institute (TERI), distributed solar lanterns in three remote villages in the region, yesterday.

A total of 100 lanterns were provided to residents of Sakaladuma, Baladingre and Khalagre – the latest among the host of Garo Hills villages that have volunteered to set aside community (A’khing) land for wildlife conservation.

The initiative is a part of WTI-WLT’s Garo Hills Conservation Project that encourages and facilitates community participation to establish contiguous forests between west Garo Hills, Nokrek National Park and Balphakram National Park, promoting the elephant and the Hoolock gibbon as flagships. Seven villages have already set aside and registered as Village Reserve Forests, over 1500 hectares of community land. Eco-development assistance is provided to communities for their contribution to conservation.

Handing over the lanterns to the people in the presence of the Nokmas (traditional village head), HA Sangma, Secretary, GHADC, said, “Inadequate lighting not only is a hindrance to progress and development, but also has an adverse impact on the environment. The poor people presently use kerosene to meet their most basic lighting needs, which is expensive. It is really a noble deed that WTI is keen in helping the poor people by giving this eco-friendly product.”

The lanterns were made available at a subsidised rate by TERI under its flagship ‘Lighting a Billion Lives’ campaign that aims ‘to bring light into the lives of one billion rural people by replacing the kerosene and paraffin lanterns with solar lighting devices’.

“The solar lantern is a small token of appreciation for these communities that have gone out of their way to protect the forest and wildlife. The people of Garo Hills are contributing a lot by voluntarily setting aside their A’khing (community land) as Village Reserve Forests (VRF) for its conservation and management. The benefit of biodiversity conservation should reach the people,” said Sunil Kyarong, Coordinator, WTI.

Solar charging stations will soon be set up in these villages to ensure that the beneficiaries do not face any hindrances while using these lanterns. These stations will be managed by a local person from the respective villages, who would also help in the upkeep of the lanterns for optimal use.

Garo Hills support a substantial elephant population. However, with jhum-based agricultural practices, the area faces rapid conversion of forest land, creating a mosaic of secondary forests interspersed with jhum-cleared land and primary forests. This, along with mining for coal and limestone has severely fragmented wildlife habitats resulting in intensification of conflicts with wild animals, particularly the elephant.

“Garo Hills Conservation Project attempts to restore the connectivity and secure the ‘right of passage’ for elephants, Hoolock gibbons and other wild animals, by facilitating creation of series of Village Reserve Forests. However, this cannot be a one-way isolated activity. Improving lives of local people is very much a part of any successful conservation initiative today,” added Kyarong.