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Inaugurating the 7th Eastern Himalayan Naturenomics™ Forum, 2019

Transformative dialogues on Nature Capital for Universal Basic Assets


Tracing the journey of Balipara Foundation and Eastern Himalayan Naturenomics™ Forum, speakers Prabir Banerjea and Karishma Ahmed, of Balipara Foundation, inaugurated the much awaited Eastern Himalayan Naturenomics™ Forum 2019 today, at Hotel Palacio, Guwahati. Now on its 7th edition, the Forum, serves as a dialogue to drive more sustainable actions towards Rural Futures— The objective being understanding and discussing possible ways to create a system for natural capital enhancement and subsequent sustainable liquidation towards Universal Basic Assets.

Rural Futures™ is Balipara Foundation’s flagship framework to facilitate socio-economic mobility in the forest-fringe communities of the Eastern Himalayas, through habitat restoration and other biodiversity conservation and preservation efforts.

Keeping that in mind, Ambassador Chandrasekhar Dasgupta, Prime Minister’s Council for Climate Change, India, opened the first session “Setting the Tone: National and Global Strategies for the SDGs”, speaking about the need to integrate sustainable development goals into national policies, plans and strategies, and regularize varied dimensions of sustainable development in the country.

This was followed by a panel discussion on “Interdisciplinary Thought-Leadership for the Naturenomics™ Civilization”. The panel was hosted by Ranjit Barthakur, Founder- Balipara Foundation and comprised notable speakers from multi-disciplinary fields like A.M. Singh, India, Jianchu Xu, China, Dibakar Goswami, USA, K.M. Bujarbaruah, Mayank Vahia, Rita Banerji, Sunayana Sarkar, Namita Vikas, Reza Masoom and Dipti Gorh, India. The panel explored all possible methods for sustainably using our natural capital to deliver access to universal basic assets such as education and healthcare to communities across the region.  With a clear focus on regenerating natural assets and capital, the panel highlighted the need for a shift from the current economic paradigm towards one that reconciles human and biodiversity needs for a sustainable future— The only way forward to achieving sustainable financial growth pegged to natural capital creation and equitable access to universal basic assets.

Saurav Malhotra and Joanna Dawson, members of Balipara Foundation, then spoke about putting Naturenomics™ to practice through Rural Futures™– Establishing Naturenomics™ civilization that can support all, through various regenerative systems. 

This was followed by a video message from Richard Hawkes, The British Asian Trust, UK and a talk delivered by Saleem Khan, India Director, The British Asian Trust, India on “Impact Bonds Towards Universal Basic Assets.” The key takeaway from the session was to look at Impact Bonds as essential but not a fix for all the socio-economic-environmental challenges we encounter— Instead to gradually incorporate social finance and innovative finance to bring about development.

Addressing the question of how the value of ecosystem-based services could be used, to deliver universal basic assets, a panel chaired by Anish Andheria, Wildlife Conservation Trust, India, was held on “Nature Capital Optimization for Delivering Universal Basic Assets” where Anish said, “The ill effects of the tsunami of development can be countered by building a strong connection between natural, financial and social capital”. The other panelists were Sarath Davala, Basic Income Network, Sarmistha Das, Tezpur University, Rituraj Phukan, Green Guard Nature Organization and Suresh Pait, Pakke Jungle Camp. 

A video message on mainstreaming the worth and subsequent valuation of natural assets in an equitable manner, by Lord Nick Stern of Grantham Research Institute on Climate Change & Environment, LSE, UK, shortly followed. To quote Lord Nick Stern: 

“We are already beginning to change the way we look at Economics, as a subject, which is also undergoing a slow change, particularly if you look at the theory of growth. It is not just human capital, physical capital and technology but if we have to bring down poverty, we also have to consider natural capital and social capital”

The latter half of the Forum 2019, had multiple parallel sessions. While Sunayana Sarkar of NMIMS University, India, spoke about “Anthropogenic Causes & Geogenic Outcomes: An arterial link to Universal Basic Assets”, Purnima Devi Barman of Aaranyak, India, held her session on how “Community based Wildlife Conservation” is crucial and ecologically beneficial.

Kaushik Deka of India Today, spoke about the challenges of mainstreaming environmental news. 

To quote him: 

“Education is largely responsible for why environmental news is still not mainstream. Unless environmental degradation affects people and their daily life, they will not start treating environmental news seriously. Delhi for instance, is a good example now. Educated people chose to celebrate Diwali, for just one day, and it has come at a cost. However, there should be more positive communication between Environmentalism and media at the same time.” 

Harshita Singh, Assistant Professor at NMIMS, who has specialized in Environmental Engineering, delivered a talk on “Ground Water Contamination and Natural Biosorbents.” Relevant issues, such as mindful tourism as an effective tool to propel local economies, were addressed by Raj Basu of Help Tourism, along with Prabir Banerjea, Roopa Barua, Niranjan Das, and Jashoda Chettri. 

On “The Importance of Education from the Grassroots to the Forests”, Dr Vibha Dhawan held conversation with Ravneet Pawha, Deakin University, Rishi Raj Sarmah, Living Art, Tamara Law Goswami, and Vasavi Acharjya of IIFPL to establish education as an unparalleled method to lasting change. 

A very impactful statement made at the session was, “Environment is a cross-disciplinary space. It is only when people pursue higher studies that they think about a cross-disciplinary field. But it has to start earlier. Our education system is not keeping up with the rapid environmental changes. We have to inculcate sustainable values, transform syllabus for formal education. Our issues are different in depth and breadth and we have to look at individual spaces, we have to understand traditional knowledge and work accordingly with it.”

A panel discussion on “Nature Capital for Food security”, as an effort to address how the endemic biological diversity of the Eastern Himalayas can be preserved and propagated, was held where notable speakers like K.M. Bujarbaruah, Jatindra Sarma, Zabed Hossain, Naresh Swami and Komison Mili shared their perspectives. 

The Forum also witnessed the launch of A Handbook on Ethnobotany: Across 7 Ethnic Communities of Assam, a Naturenomics™ 8.0 publication.

The book launch was followed by another set of parallel sessions. Siddharth Singh, of The Jute Foundation spoke about “Enhancing Nature Capital Through Organic Agroforestry in Tea/Jute.” Omkar Gupta of Development Alternatives shared his opinion on livelihood models that are based on Circular Economy Principles- or community owned and Community operated principles. 

Dr Naryan Sharma of Cotton University held a session on “Exploring Ecosystem Services, Alternate Livelihood Issues, Awareness and Advocacy” and Kamal Kumar Tanti of Rajiv Gandhi Institute of Petroleum Technology shared his perspective on the traditional climate knowledge of Northeast India. Dr K. K. Sharma of Assam Agricultural University, a pioneer in the field of research on elephant anesthetics, delivered a talk on “Asian Elephants on the Wild.”

A session on effective transboundary collaboration for small holders towards the SDGs was held. A panel comprising S. Ramadorai, Krishan Varma, Jianchu Xu, Kalpana Sarathy was in conversation regarding a partnership of India and China to work towards sustainable development.

The Forum also screened a short documentary Planet Fungi that was followed by a session on fungi trails in remote parts of Eastern Himalayas and how they continue to impact rural livelihoods. The session was conducted by Peter E Mortimer of Kunming Institute of Botany, China; and the panel included Akeina Gonmei, Pranjal Baruah, Gautam Baruah, Prasanna Daimary, and Gabriel Gonmei.

Mayank Vahia, former scientist at TIRF, Mumbai and currently working at NMIMS, delivered a very interesting talk on “Ethnoastronomy: Cultural Traditions and the Stars.” 

The first day of the Forum was successfully closed with a video message from Dasho Karma Ura from the Centre of Bhutan Studies and GNH, Bhutan, on Bhutan’s Gross National Happiness Index and how Bhutan achieved it, by accommodating years of change, having faith in integrity of communities and believing in individual personal growth.

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