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Forest landscapes of the southern western Ghats, India

B.R. Ramesh
Rajan Gurukkal

Part III. Towards a Paradigm Shift: Rethinking Strategies of Landscape Management

9. Strategies and Actions-I: Accounting for Values

B.R. Ramesh, P.V. Karunakaran, M. Amruth, M. Balasubramanian et Rajan Gurukkal

Texte intégral

1Value based management zones are defined on the basis of conservation importance of species, habitats and ecosystem components such as soil and water and economic resources of human survival. Based on this criterion, three zones viz. biodiversity conservation zone, resource zone (includes bamboo, reed, NWFP and teak) and, soil and water conservation zones we are identified and delineated. Strategies to manage these zones are suggested to integrate various stakeholders’ interests with an emphasis on participatory approaches.

Biodiversity conservation zone

2The study area belongs to the Anamalai geographical region, which is one of the important centres of endemism in the Western Ghats. Biodiversity appraisal of the area revealed its extreme biological diversity adding to the conservation importance of the region. However, a substantial portion of the forest habitat is subjected to fragmentation and degradation to the extent of threatening the long-term survival of numerous species. Although, some of the biologically rich areas are under protected status, still large areas are outside PAs and face mounting anthropogenic pressure.

3A comprehensive biodiversity conservation zone is proposed to represent adequate areas of biological richness and uniqueness, irrespective of the legal status of the forests. The chief objective of this zone is to conserve the biological diversity (with special reference to endemic, rare, endangered and threatened species) and to ensure habitat representativity, ecological integrity and connectivity.

4The main criterion for the delineation of the zone was presence of evergreen forests, as this biome supports maximum number of plant and animal species. For this purpose all the polygons (extent over 300 ha) of evergreen forests of low and medium eelvation with varying degree of disturbances (dense, moderate and high disturbance) are identified based on land cover and land use map. Habitats of the selected endangered species (lion-tailed macaque, Malabar pied hornbill, Nilgiri tahr and tiger) and unique ecosystems (grasslands and swamps) were included. Deciduous forest habitats and teak plantations, (in Parambikulam) with high frequency of tiger were also included in the zone.

5Total extent of the biodiversity conservation zone is 660 km2 that accounts to 36 percent of the study area Figure 9.1. The major part (96 % of the total) lies in LU16 and the remaining is spread over in LU13.

Figure 9.1 Distribution of biodiversity conservation zone in the LUs

6Major sources of constraints in management are poaching, tree felling, ganja cultivation and encroachments. Other potential impediments to conservation are due to tourism, commercial plantations (Nilgiri tahr habitat in the Manjakallan area of Malayattoor division is bordered on north by tea estates), highway cutting across the landscape, lack of co-ordination between the government agencies (Tribal Department, Electricity Boards of Kerala and Tamil Nadu, Kerala Water Authority) and inadequate infrastructures. Because of these the zone is vulnerable to fire, soil erosion, habitat degradation, fragmentation, species loss, weed infestation (Mikenia and Eupatorium), etc.


  • Develop appropriate institutional mechanism supported by infrastructure, human resource and theme plans for regulating destructive human activities.
  • Take up suitable mitigating measures for reversing the impacts of soil erosion, habitat degradation and fragmentation with the involvement of local people in compliance to the principles of restoration ecology.
    • ○ Soil and moisture conservation works in the soil erosion prone area should be taken up only after proper understanding of the topography and nature of the drainage. ○ Restore natural habitats by phasing out monocultures wherever it is essential for maintaining the integrity of habitat for long-term biodiversity conservation. ○ Develop appropriate mechanism to control invasive species and explore the possibility of involving local institutions in managing the weeds.
  • Regulate road traffic in the forest landscape during odd hours.

Resource zone

8The forests of the landscape units have high resource potential for sustaining the livelihood of locals and for meeting the raw material needs of industries. Unregulated extraction of these resources and its ecological consequences constitute a major concern. Main resources in the landscape are NWFP, bamboos, reeds and growing stock in teak plantations. In addition, soil and water are essential for maintenance of ecosystems in the landscape and for sustenance of agro-ecology in plains. Resource zones are management units within the landscape spatially depicted by combining information from land cover and land use, topography, soil, and drainage maps.

Teak (Tectona grandis)

9Teak is one of the most commercially valued timber species. Out of 1762 km2 area of forest plantations in Kerala, 42 % is under teak. A major part of the forest revenue is due to timber from teak plantations. Teak plantations also support local economy by providing job opportunities. In the landscape, teak plantation is a dominant feature. The teak management zone is delineated by locating existing plantation by combining two-land cover categories viz, exclusive teak areas and teak mixed with other deciduous species. The total extent of teak plantations in two categories in the landscape is 237.39 km2, which is 11 percent of the total extent (Figure 9.2).

Figure 9.2 Distribution of bamboo, teak and reed management zones in the LUs

10Fire hazard and soil erosion are the main management constraints in the teak zone. Considering the functional role of landscape, teak plantations affect the contiguity of habitat and deprive fodder for animals. From the socioeconomic point of view, the non-operation of plantation restricts the income of local people. Strategies to support the local economy and to minimize impacts on biodiversity in the management of teak are given below:

  • Implement special schemes and innovative techniques for fire and soil erosion control in the plantation area.
  • Explore the possibility of intensive planting (planting seedlings between the gaps created after 2nd or 3rd thinning cycle) with better qualities through improved nursery and sylviculture techniques.
  • Develop accounting mechanisms to monitor production, utilization and revenue generation of teak resource.
  • Take up special planting programmes to facilitate movements of arboreal animals between habitats separated by plantations. Parts of the existing plantations in such areas may be allowed to regenerate to the status of natural forests. This may be also achieved by maintaining the gallery forests along streams and by avoiding further planting in the region. Planting in new areas should be done only after a thorough assessment of the area in view of animal movement.
  • Employment of the local people, especially those belonging to the adivasi communities, in planting and felling operations should made mandatory. Such operation may be contracted fully or partially to VSS.


11Bambusa bambos and Dendrocalamus strictus are the commercially important species of bamboos in Kerala forests. B. bambos is large clump forming thorny bamboo distribute through out the hills and plains of Kerala. D. strictus is mainly found in dry areas. At commercial scale, bamboo constitutes the raw material of paper and pulp industries. Mavoor Gwalior Rayons Ltd., had been the major industrial consumer of bamboo in the state until its closure in the last decade. In recent years, Hindustan Newsprint Ltd. (HNL) started collecting bamboo from forest areas. Though extracted at a smaller scale, the bamboo plays a major role in the local subsistence economy. In terms of habitat use, bamboo areas are highly preferred habitats by the wild animals such as elephant.

12The bamboo management zone within the landscape was delineated on the basis of bamboo growth in deciduous forest zones as pure bamboo brakes or as a dominant constituent in woodlands. Total extent of bamboo zone in the study area is 206 km2 (11 %), out of which 46.40 km2 is pure growth of bamboo and 159.60 km2 mixed with woodland (Figure 9.2).

13Fire is considered as a major hurdle in management of bamboo zone due to its heavy fuel load and flammability. Unscientific felling by ignoring the felling rules is a potential threat affecting the sustainability of the resource. In some areas local people are deprived of collecting bamboos for own use.

14Major objective of this management zone is to increase the growing stock of bamboo and protect the habitat with the associated species, for ensuring the sustainable supply to the local and industrial users. Following are strategies to be pursued in the management of the zone:

  • Implement total fire control measures such as fire tracing, appointing firewatchers and early burning of fuel loads.
  • Identify the soil erosion prone areas and adopt appropriate measures to minimise erosion.
  • Supervise, coordinate and monitor the felling of the bamboo in compliance to the felling rules and utilize the revenue thus generated for managing activities in the area.
  • Sustainable and waste-free methods of bamboo working, transportation, storing and utilization should be followed. The usual method of dragging bamboo bundles through the forest affects the regeneration of forests.
  • Develop species-specific annual plans of extraction to ensure the sustainability. The plan should be for one year depending on the quantity in demand. The present ten-year plans are inappropriate, as this is a fast growing species. The annual plan of the bamboo management zone should provide details such as flowering cycle, year, rough estimate of the produce, arrangement for removal of the dried fuels, etc.
  • The collection and transport of the bamboo should be entrusted to the VSS.
  • Local bamboo worker should be trained on value addition techniques with the help of NGOs (e.g., Uravu) and governmental (e.g., Kerala State Bamboo Mission) agencies.
  • Integrate industrial stakeholders (especially the industry through their logistical and financial contribution) to manage the zone. The present rates of segniorage by the industries seem to under valuation and there should be an assessment of this. A part of the revenue due to industry should be utilized for managing the bamboo zone.
  • Degraded forestlands may be planted with bamboo for the bona fide use by local inhabitants for reducing conflict between stakeholders.


15Unlike bamboos, reeds grow gregariously along the streams and in high rainfall zones in forests. Ochlandra travancorica is the main raw material for the mat and basket weaving in the traditional sector and, supplementary raw material in the paper and pulp wood manufacture in the modern sector. HNL and KSBC are the major industrial stakeholders of reed. These firms have entered into long-term agreements with the state government on the extraction of reed from the forests. Between 2001-2002 and 2003-2004 these agencies have extracted about 25,670 metric tons of reeds worth nearly 41 million rupees.

16The reed is extracted directly with the help of hired labour (in case of KSBC) or through contractors (as in case of HNL). There is a large number of reed workers operating in the fringe areas of forests in the unorganized sector in addition to the mat and basket weavers of Muthuvan and Mannan communities in the area. Reed being growing in evergreen forests, its management is significant in terms of arresting fragmentation and degradation of these forests. It is a major fuel source for the forest fire and hence a major threat to the evergreen zone.

17Reed zone is delineated based on the land cover and land use map, where all the classes of reeds (pure patches, reed woodland and mosaics with moist deciduous or evergreen forests) are merged as a single layer. The total extent of the reed zone is 206 km2, which is 11 % of the study area. (Figure 9.2). Twenty-six tribal settlements belonging to the Kadar, Malayan and Muthuvan communities are present in the zone of which fifteen of them are with VSS.


  • Real-time monitoring of status and extraction of resources are possible with the aid of remote sensing and GIS. This would facilitate updating of working plans on shorter intervals making it more realistic. Forest department should engage institutions equipped with such capabilities for realising this goal.
  • Involve local people (adivasi as well as non-adivasi) through VSS for working the coupes.
  • Provide training for the reed cutters on sustainable and less wasteful extraction of reeds.
  • Take up soil conservation, fire protection and regeneration measures with local VSS and EDCs
  • Develop protocols for monitoring and reinvesting of revenue accrued from extraction of reed.
  • Revise the segniorage system so as to ensure equity in inter-sectoral resources allocation

Non-Wood Forest Produces (NWFP)

19NWFP form the direct link between the biodiversity and livelihood. The forest dwelling tribal communities owe a significant proportion of their income to NWFP collection. Thomas (1996) based on a state wide survey estimated that the average contribution of NWFP to the total income of the tribal people were to the tune of 58 percent. There are 120 items of forest products, the collection of which are legally allowed from the forests of Kerala. Out of which, cooperative societies are authorized to collect 96 species. There are six ST Service cooperatives involved in the collection of products from the region. A total of 235599 kg of NWFP biomass worth rupees 6.1 million is extracted by them. Largest consumer of the forest products is Ayurvedic Medicine Manufacturing Units (AMMU). Nearly 33 percent of the total quantity of the produces collected from the study area earning 56 percent of the revenue is due to them.

20Although the NWFP collection and marketing sectors are formally organized, mode of collection, value addition and marketing needs improvements. Lack of sufficient knowledge on resource availability, regeneration, timing and method of collection are the main constraints in the sustainable use of these resources. The collectors are not provided the benefits of training in the methods of scientific collection. Absence of market intelligence on the supply of and demand for the NWFP affects the local value addition and gives room for exploitive intermediaries.

21In order to identify the spatial distribution of the NWFP zones a thematic layer depicting the NWFP richness across the different vegetation types is prepared (Figure 9.3). The NWFP species generating annual revenue higher than Rs. 3000 and those collected in large volumes are considered in preparation of the thematic layer. Thus only 24 out of the 47 species are considered here.

Figure 9.3 Distribution of NWFP management zone in the LUs

22With reference to the scientific literature and field observations, the potential natural habitat of each of these 24 NWFP species is identified in the land cover map. Depending on the frequency of selected species, the potential vegetation types are classed into 3 - low (< 5 species); medium (from 5 to 7 species); high (> 7 species). The class ‘low’ comprises of dry fringe evergreen forests, moist deciduous forests with bamboo, reed woodlands and mixed teak plantations. The ‘medium’ class includes dense and disturbed evergreen, dense moist deciduous and semi-evergreen. Category ‘high’ consists of highly disturbed evergreen and moist deciduous woodlands. The total extent of NWFP zone is estimated as 1050 km2 (nearly 55 percent of the total area of landscape unit). There are 52 tribal settlements of six tribal communities are distributed in the zone, of which 26 have VSS.

23The management objective of this zone is to support local livelihood and ensure sustainable supply of NWFP for all users. Strategies are designed to ensure sustainable extraction and local value addition of the resources supplemented by restocking the degraded forestlands with NWFP species.

  • Develop database on the biology and ecology of the NWFP species:
    • ○ Identify information gaps by conducting joint consultation with resource-collectors, users and academic intelligentsia.
    • ○ Commission basic researches on the ecology and biology of NWFP species with the participation of college students and volunteers under the guidance of experts.
    • ○ Develop an interactive database on the various resource species based on the outputs from above mentioned activities
  • Impart training on the sustainable collection and marketing of the NWFPs for various agencies involved in the NWFP extraction and utilisation.
    • ○ Develop curriculum and team of experts locally for conducting trainings on inventorying resources and monitoring the status of resource base, sustainable extraction, value addition, marketing and cooperative management.
    • ○ Conduct regular training programmes for various agents involved in the NWFP governance
    • ○ Encourage documentation of intellectual property rights relating to product and process formulations associated with NWFPs.
  • Introduce green certification of the products that use NWFPs as raw materials. This is to ensure that the raw materials are obtained from forests by meeting sustainability standards.
  • Revamp existing institutional arrangement by including VSS and ST cooperatives with forest department as coordinating agency to improve the market share of these agencies and to reduce intermediaries. Provide a platform for sharing the concerns and interests of various agencies associated with the NWFP management including AMMUs, Research & Development institutions, traditional health care practitioners, individuals and firms involved in the trading of NWFPs etc.
  • Regeneration programmes are ideally implemented under the supervision of the forest department with active involvement of the VSSs/EDCs so that the labour generated would function as an added incentive in sustainable management.
  • The agency coordinating the joint management of NWFP should have the autonomy for fund generation and its reinvestment from various sources such as rents, cess, sponsorships etc. associated with NWFP conservation.

Soil and water conservation zones

24Soil and water are important constituents of any landscape, they not only provide services to the functioning of ecosystems, but also render services directly and indirectly to a wide range of stakeholders. In the study area, 10.5 % of land has soils prone to erosion. High precipitation including rare rainfall events (often related to passage of cyclone), widespread land sliding and steep slopes of highly dissected hills are important features that reconstitute the landscape. Net results of these are gully erosion and the deposition of sediments in rivers. Although such events may be beyond control, the effects are aggravated by callous developmental activities and public works resulting in degradation of the forest and exposing sensitive areas to erosive forces.

25Soils with low maturity, such as inceptisols, are vulnerable to erosion. Once such soils are denuded of vegetation, fertile topsoil is eroded by exposing the infertile subsoil. This renders the restoration procedures difficult as the biomass productivity is severely affected. Consequent on the canopy opening, a large volume of water percolating through the soil, impairs the uptake of nutrients by the already impoverished vegetation. The cycle of degradation progresses by contributing to the further leaching of nutrients from the soil. It has been reported from elsewhere that significant base flow of water is observed in tropical forests whenever more than 20 % of the standing vegetation is removed (Bruijnzeel, 2004). Erosion is more rampant in deciduous broad-leaved (e.g., teak, woodlands) formations on the heavy clay soils.

26The available coarse level soil map at 1: 500,000 scale may not be a proper tool to make a precise assessment of soil erosion, its processes and forms in the present study (gully, rill, sheet erosion). Nevertheless, it has been attempted here to indicate the presence of erosion prone soils in relation to the degree of slope and the status of vegetation. The soil conservation zone has been delineated by (1) using the soil map (Figure 2.4) depicting areas of inceptisols prone to moderate erosion (Humic Dystrudepts associated with Typic Palehumults, Humic Dystrudepts associated with Typic Haplohumults) and severe erosion (Oxic Dystrudepts associated with rocks), (2) considering slope i.e. less than 20º and more than 20º (based on SRTM data) and (3) degraded vegetation (derived from land cover and land use map). By combining these three information layers, soil erosion prone areas with three levels of risk zones were mapped (Figure 9.4). They include low erosion prone areas (moderate erosion prone soils + <20º + degraded vegetation), medium erosion prone areas (moderate erosion prone soils + >20º + degraded vegetation) and high erosion prone areas (severe erosion prone soils + >20º + degraded vegetation).

Figure 9.4 Distribution of soil erosion prone areas in the LUs

27The area identified as erosion prone is about 92.53 km2 in total. In the riparian habitat, with a buffer of 50m along the main streams and rivers, erosion prone area is about 42.7 km2. Using such maps of erosion prone areas the forest managers is expected to adopt following strategies to minimize the erosion due to adverse hydrological effects arising from timber harvesting (in plantation areas), forest degradation, land clearing, areas of litter collection on forest floor and steep riverbanks.

  • Evolve a system of streamside management around reservoirs, rivers and their tributaries. The width of the zone should be determined primarily based on slope and relative size of the water body. It is recommended that around reservoir or river banks when the slope is less than 20 % the width of the zone could be minimum 50 m and when it is more than >20 % minimum should be 100 m.
  • Maintain the existing natural forest cover within the stream management zone; take up appropriate restoration activities by planting native trees in degraded areas and gradually convert monocrops to mixed plantations by promoting the natural regeneration or by artificial means in case of plantations bordering the streams banks.
  • As in Thattekkad, the riparian forests are important from the viewpoint of conservation since it harbour unique species and offer habitats for water birds. In other areas, where the riparian forests are outside the proposed biodiversity conservation zone, should also be given conservation area status.
  • Reforestation of forest clearings and degraded formations with suitable species in general has a positive impact on preventing erosion, landslips and stream sedimentation.
  • If afforestation proves to be unsuccessful, adopt additional structural measures for checking gully erosion (such as gully plugs).


28We have done a characterisation of the value based management zones on the basis of their biodiversity significance in terms of species, habitats, soil, and water besides resources of human ecological importance. The three zones – biodiversity conservation zone, resource zone and, soil and water conservation zone – have been depicted with a specific focus on their problems that are crucial from the point of view of biodiversity conservation. We have endorsed the participatory aspect of conservation management, an internationally recognised strategy of emerging importance, as the most sustainable alternative for checking the constraints of each zone.

Table des illustrations

Légende Figure 9.1 Distribution of biodiversity conservation zone in the LUs
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Légende Figure 9.2 Distribution of bamboo, teak and reed management zones in the LUs
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Légende Figure 9.3 Distribution of NWFP management zone in the LUs
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Légende Figure 9.4 Distribution of soil erosion prone areas in the LUs
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