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Naturenomics initiative - North East Page

At a function last month in Guwahati, the 2015 Balipara Foundation Awards were given to seven conservation activists in diverse fields and three community-based organizations like the Panchan Lakhar Community Conserved Area Management Committee (Arunachal Pradesh), Khanchendzonga Conservation Committee (Sikkim) and the Bicone Bio-diversity and Nature Conservation Network (Mizoram) for their “inspirational conservation work” and successful efforts to protect wildlife, restore deforested land to biodiversity rich forest status, promote organic farming as a measure of sustainable food security and replace agro-chemical inputs and energy security through the spread of renewable energy systems in villages.

Six, including two women from Assam, Bhutan and Meghalaya, received Forest Guards Awards for their “tireless service to protection and conservation at wildlife sanctuaries”, often at great risk to their lives.

The individual awardees included K M Bujarbaruah, director of the Indian Council of Agricultural Research complex for the North-east hill areas, for introducing organic farming as “food for the future”; internationally-renowned environment lawyer and activist Ritwick Dutta, Achintya Sinha for reviving deforested land in Tripura and Nimesh Ved for securing an elephant corridor in Meghalaya’s Balpakram National Park.

The remarkable work of Thingnam Girija of Manipur in creating a “one of its kind” website — www.flowersof india.net to showcase India’s floral heritage and which has brought flower enthusiasts all over India under this forum — earned her the “Young Naturalist” award.

The inclusion of Bhutan in its scheme reflects the international dimension of the foundation’s work embodied in its clear emphasis that the eastern Himalayas is an integrated geophysical and climatic region and hence its conservation requires concerted efforts by all stakeholders across political boundaries.

This vision of the Balipara Foundation is bold and is in resonance with the spirit of the recent Paris meeting on climate change and suggests the need for a consensus to build a common action plan to mitigate climate change and conservation covering the entire eastern Himalayan system.

Established in 2006 as the Balipara Tract and Frontier, it started work by enrolling farmers across 50 villages in Assam to build a data bank on local agricultural practices to spread organic farming. The brainchild of Ranjit Barthakur, an entrepreneur who, unlike many hardcore industrialists, cared for nature, wildlife and conservation of the beautiful landscape of Assam and the region, in 2007 it became a non-profit organization. The Balipara frontier tract was listed under Part B along with Abor and Mishmi hill districts in the Sixth Schedule. The late N K Rustomji, who established the administration of the North East Frontier Agency (now Arunachal Pradesh) found the region “enchanting” for its rich flora and fauna. This might have motivated the Balipara founders as the very words Balipara Frontier conjure up images of unspoiled nature.

This probably explains the passion with which the foundation developed and introduced, probably for the first time in the country, the theory of naturenomics and its spread as its mission. Simply put, naturenomics™ rejects the conventional wisdom that “development forces us to make a choice between development and sustaining natural resources” which inevitably means degradation of environment and life support systems; instead, naturenomics™ suggests that “the only rational choice for mankind is to have economic development along with sustaining our natural resources”, the reason being that the environment cost, even when calculated on conservative basis as pointed out by noted Cambridge economist Sir Partho Dasgupta, might as well indicate a clear adverse cost benefit ratio in respect of a number of hydel and mining projects.

The foundation’s strategy includes the creation of  “nature capital” in the form of what it calls “ecologically compliant” assets; these are organic farming nurseries for distribution of saplings and organic inputs to replace  chemical inputs, bio-diversity security through conservation and cultural security through alternative livelihoods, demonstration breeding units for poultry varieties suitable for local conditions, revival of ecologically sound traditional land use and water management practices and sustainable energy by tapping renewable resources. The foundation deserves accolades for putting across ideas that largely remained in the realm of theory into practice and developing a naturenomics framework as evident in the work of two recipients of the Naturenomics Award — Richard Belho of Nagaland and Rupjyoti Saikia Gogoi. Belho trained Naga youth to acquire employable skills and protect environment while Rupjyoti provided training and marketing facilities to local weavers, improved their skills and productivity and uplifted rural women and youth.

That the foundation’s naturenomics™ initiative is crucial for the region was stressed by Dr Gunter Pauli, eminent Dutch exponent of the concept of “Blue economy” while delivering the third RN Barthakur memorial lecture. His idea that “we need to provide basic needs for all and move from an economy where what is bad is cheap and what is good is expensive sounds truly Gandhian” and more so in the background of his work at the Zero Emissions Research Institute that he set up at the UN University in Tokyo to develop competitive business models on recycling waste and converting the same into revenue through a value chain generating investment and jobs. No doubt Dr Pauli’s thoughts have raised questions about the validity of the growth model that India has adopted. The work of the foundation thus deserves to be noted by the government and the ethical and social contents of naturenomics made central to development strategy.

However, there is perhaps more in the Balipara initiative than the fact of a vibrant environment movement; it shows that the region is not all about unrest and violence.


The author is a retired IAS officer of the Assam- Meghalaya cadre.

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