Community conserved areas of Nagaland: a case study


The State of Nagaland, one of the "Seven Sister" States of the North-Eastern region is a land of lush green forests, rolling mountains, enchanting valleys, swift flowing streams and beautiful landscapes endowed with rich biodiversity. Falling in the Indo-Malayan Region, it is also part of a global biodiversity hotspot, and the remarkable floral and faunal diversity of the area can be attributed to the wide range of climatic conditions, elevation gradients and vegetation types that are characteristic of the state.

Community Conserved Areas

The inhabitants of Nagaland are almost entirely tribal with distinctive dialects and cultural features. The 16 major featured tribes are Ao, Angami, Chang, Konyak, Lotha, Sumi, Chakhesang, Khiamniungan, Bodo-Kachari, Phom, Rengma, Sangtam, Yimchunger, Thadou, Zeme-Liangmai (Zeliang and Pochury). In Nagaland, customary rights are protected under Article 371 A of the Indian Constitution, and the majority of natural habitats are owned and managed by individuals and clans overseen by village councils, district councils and other traditional institutions. Hence, customary land ownership and management practices characterize forest management in the North-East including Nagaland.

However, in the absence of alternate livelihood options, most of the economic activity in the villages is based upon utilization of natural resources. This has led to overexploitation of forest resources due to the increasing needs of local people, and sometimes due to the weakening influence of traditional institutions. In Nagaland, shifting cultivation (jhuming) is practiced, where the locals clear the land (forest) which is cultivated for two successive seasons, after which it is allowed to revert to a forest fora number of years. Along with farming, wildlife hunting has always been a way of life for the Naga tribes, but there is a silver lining here in the form of an age old practice of conserving areas/forests.

Traditional conservation practices have helped protect biodiversity, and there are records of Community Conservation Areas (CCAs) being declared in the early 1800s, especially in response to forest degradation and loss of wildlife. Community Conserved Areas can be described as, natural and/or modified ecosystems containing significant biodiversity values and ecological services voluntarily conserved by indigenous and local communities, through customary laws or other effective means (World Parks Congress Recommendation V26 2003). CCAs seek to address threats to natural ecosystems and cultural values from changing socio-cultural, economic and developmental imperatives and mores, as well as unsustainable resource extraction practices - e.g. hunting and poaching or shifting cultivation practices on a reduced fallow cycle.

In 2013, The Energy and Resources Institute (TERI) was assigned the work of carrying out an inventory and documentation of Community Conserved Areas in the entire State of Nagaland by the Department of Environment, Forests and Climate Change. Based on the criterias defined by the International consortium on CCAs, the study resulted in the identification of 407 CCAs which accounts for almost a third of the total number of villages in the State of Nagaland. This has helped the State to showcase this unique age-old conservation practice, and appeal to the Government of India to technically and financially support the efforts of local communities. The network of CCAs in Nagaland provides a wonderful example of a fledgling people's movement for conservation that deserves to be strengthened and supported.