Coexisting with tigers in the Anthropocene age - Hindustan Times
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Coexisting with tigers in the Anthropocene age

Mar 02, 2024 09:53 PM IST

Green eco markets around tiger reserves, national parks and sanctuaries would ensure the sustainability of wild fauna and flora.

India has many good practices to offer for conserving tigers. The country has a great track record indeed of resurrecting the endangered tiger. India has the largest tiger population in the wild. So, what next on the tiger agenda? The Amrit Kaal Ka Tiger Vision (Tiger@2047) released by Prime Minister Narendra Modi in April 2023, provides contours of the roadmap for the future.

The wild tiger lives in a landscape under stress. (Representative Image-Wildlife Institute of India) PREMIUM
The wild tiger lives in a landscape under stress. (Representative Image-Wildlife Institute of India)

The wild tiger lives in a landscape under stress. In most tiger range countries, including India, such stress is mostly human-induced. This is not something unique but is a natural process in the Anthropocene age. Human actions are never benign, be it development or bonafide use. They usher in a lot of change. Such changes define the transformation dynamics of a landscape in terms of land use. Agriculture and cash crop cultivation are ubiquitous. Landholders resort to cultivation. The crop cover acts as a qualifier and imparts a new cover value to the fragmented habitat. Human actions in the vicinity of wildlife areas foster an “agro-pastoral stress continuum”. The presence of such stress makes the human-wildlife interface sensitive and leads to lethal interactions between humans and wild animals.

We have numerous examples to cite in this context: Sugarcane tigers of Pilibhit, conditioned wild carnivores in crop fields, disturbed elephant populations resorting to depredation, black bears entering human settlements near Buxa, tigers and elephants entering human settlements, including towns, in Wayanad, Kerala.

In this context, it becomes important to conceptualise the rural aspect of the human-tiger interface. This is characterised by poverty, the need for sustainable livelihood, varied agro-pastoral practices, subsistence poaching, forest resource dependency, human-wildlife depredations, and a disconnect with nearby protected areas. It is obvious that such a situation will nurture animosity against any tiger or wildlife conservation effort among human residents.

More inclusive actions are needed. There is a compelling situation for green eco-business models to benefit local people. The optics of business are demonstrative and rather immediate and need to happen in the periphery of tiger reserves.

Investment in peripheral buffer areas for inclusive actions to benefit local people has brought down the natural resource dependency. As a sequel, both the tiger and its habitat have gained. This is glaringly discernible in some well-known tiger reserves. Kanha of Madhya Pradesh is fabled for its more than a hundred tigers, with around 100,684 local beneficiaries gaining from eco-development. In contrast, Palamau in Jharkhand has very few tigers, and only around 2,923 beneficiaries.

Thus, a pattern amounting to correlation is clearly visible. Sustainable livelihood options do improve the wilderness, and there is local ownership as well. More than 5 million man-days per annum are generated through tiger investment by the Centre and states.

The rural poor in tiger landscapes are largely small or marginal agricultural producers. In several states, they depend on a single rain-fed crop. Their agricultural processes are traditional and old. The crop yield is little and more often remnants of crop depredation by wild animals. The heterogeneous composition of forest villagers has a mix of agricultural labourers, rural artisans, petty trade service providers, and migrant labourers, with a large number of jobless dwellers depending only on natural resources.

Entrepreneurship needs to provide economic opportunities to local people that should be ecologically sustainable while reducing losses from human-wildlife conflict. It requires considerable facilitation starting with assured market linkages.

CSR commitments are well known and they do happen. But something more is warranted. Innovations are required to give more thought to rural tiger entrepreneurship which is different and unique. The model needs to focus on small landholders. It has to be producer-driven, valuing the prevailing human-wildlife conflict settings. There has to be a definite bias for gains to local people. Entrepreneurship has to be innovative and focussed on value extraction from local places, vis-à-vis local resources, with assured transfer to local markets. Revalourisation of place towards utilising the local potential and village attributes, while aiming at new rural products and services is also important. Trade agreements with the community should be simple and honoured. The market chain collaboration should also be fostered. Thus, the story is quite different from a simple CSR model.

Envisioning such entrepreneurship should also take note of related risks of market failures viz. credit constraints, lack of ability for price mitigation, production issues, lack of scale in markets, production accessibility problems, disconnect with market information and need for quality standards. Above all, financial services to support such smallholders are overarching. A conceptual framework relating to business models for environmental goods and services is fundamental in this context. This may not be difficult since the greening of businesses to promote environmental sustainability is well known. However, market-based motivations for green/eco business models need to happen towards final consumers, green supply chains, and capital markets for environmental services including biodiversity. Both regulatory as well non-regulatory actions for inducing such green business models are relevant, apart from performance monitoring.

Green eco markets around tiger reserves, national parks and sanctuaries would ensure the sustainability of wild fauna and flora. The latter are multidimensional indicators of biodiversity and human well-being, in sync with the convention of biological diversity.

Rajesh Gopal is secretary general, Global Tiger Forum. The views expressed are personal

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