National workshop on Biodiversity Conservation begins

Gangtok, 15 Nov (IPR):

Three-day national workshop on “Challenges for Biodiversity Conservation and Human-Wildlife Conflict – Identifying the Problems and Possible Solutions” hosted by JICA assisted Sikkim Biodiversity Conservation Forest Management Project (SBFP) under Forest & Environment Department, Government of Sikkim commenced at ChintanBhawan in Gangtok today.

The workshop was inaugurated by Speaker, Sikkim Legislative Assembly, L.B. Das, by lighting the ceremonial lamp in the special presence of Minister of Forest & Environment, Karma Loday Bhutia, Chief Secretary, Government of Sikkim, S.C. Gupta, Principal Secretary-cum-Principal Chief Conservator of Forests, M.L. Srivastava, Chief Representative, JICA India, Katsuo Matsumoto, Chief Development Specialist, JICA India, VineetSarin, and Martam-Rumtek MLA,SonamVenchungpa.

Also present for the event were HoDs of various State departments, JICA Japan delegates, representatives from 12 other States, representatives of educational institutions, members of Joint Forest Management Committees (JFMCs), Eco-Development Committees (EDCs), Self Help Groups, NGOs, Press & media fraternity and other participants.

At the onset of the programme, felicitations through khadas and bouquets were presented to the chief guest, Forest Minister, Chief Secretary, JICA India Chief Representative and other dignitaries on the dais.

In his welcome address, Principal Secretary-cum-PCCF, Forest Department, Mr Srivastava, spoke in brief about Japan International Co-operation Agency (JICA) and its objectives. He informed that JICA offers developmental assistance to India with human security and quality growth being its main broad mission.

Quoting JICA as “an engine of growth”, MrSrivastava pointed out a number projects taken up by JICA in the country under various domains like health & medical care, transportation, power & energy, private sector development programme, agricultural and rural development and many other categories.

Highlighting the key achievements of JICA assisted SBFP with introduction of eco-tourism policy in the State being one amongst them, Mr Srivastava said that SBFP has achieved in bringing a distinct paradigm shift in ensuring transparency and accountability in the villages propelling Sikkim as the first State in the country to effectively ensure field forestry convergence and Panchayati Raj issues. It has also immensely contributed in strengthening SHGs’ movement in forest-filled villages as settlements which generally comprise of women force, he added.

Speaking about the workshop on human-wildlife conflict, Mr Srivastava stressed on the need to come up with practical and effective solutions and urged for more stakeholders’ participation in conflict management so as to mitigate the conflict issues amicably to an extent that is possible. He further listed out some of the initiatives undertaken by the Forest Department to deal with human-wildlife conflict which included habitat improvement, awareness & capacity building training for front liners, solar fencing, better food availability in forests, sterilization of feral dogs and others.

Concluding his address, MrSrivastava maintained that the active involvement of the civil society is a must and expressed hopes that this three-daylong workshop would help in achieving a deeper and broader understanding of the solutions to address the human-wildlife conflict in the State.

The PCCF’s address was followed by a video message presentation wherein Chief Minister, P.S. Tamang (Golay) conveyed his welcome greetings to the JICA representatives and to all attending the event. He expressed happiness over the workshop being organized by JICA assisted SBFP to address challenges of biodiversity conservation and human-wildlife conflict.

He also conveyed his apologies for being unable to attend the event due to an urgent engagement. He hoped that through this platform of knowledge sharing and discussion, a proper and practical solution to resolve various issues pertaining to biodiversity conservation and human-wildlife conflict could be deliberated upon successfully.

The inaugural session was also addressed by JICA India Chief Representative, Katsuo Matsumoto, who expressed gratitude to the organizers for hosting the workshop and also complimented the State for its cleanliness, fresh air and great scenery while adjudging Sikkim as a special State in terms of its history and also the State’s potential to be developed.

He spoke in brief about India-Japan relation and stated that for India, Japan is the largest bilateral development partner. Likewise, for Japan, India is the oldest and largest partner of Official Development Assistance (ODA). He further discussed various engagements of JICA with the State in the forestry sector and emphasised on the achievements and impacts of its projects. He also expressed hopes for fruitful deliberation of the workshop and extended gratitude to the organizers for inviting him to the State.

Delivering the keynote address, Forest Minister, Karma Loday Bhutia, extended warmest welcome to the invitees from JICA and all other dignitaries and participants. He said that the newly formed SKM-led government is at its youngest stage and is looking forward to working with JICA for the development of the State in the years to come.

Presenting an overview of the State since its engagement with JICA, the Forest Minister stated that finding an absolute solution for human-wildlife conflict may not be possible but best efforts should still be made in order to achieve an effective solution to mitigate the issue.

He also shared that along with being the Forest Minister of the State, he is also the area MLA of Kabi-Lungchok constituency in North Sikkim. He informed that the area is an economically backward tribal belt of the North district with low source of income as the fertility of the soil is not adequate for farming.

In the past years, people of the area were growing Cardamom as cash crop, however, over the years due to various soil fertility diseases the production of cardamom has seen a shocking end. Therefore, more researches need to be done and necessary measures need to be taken to revive agriculture in the area and also explore its potential for sustainable development through eco-tourism, he added.

The Minister further assured to give consent and approval for future projects after detailed study and understanding of the same. He urged the experts and researchers in the workshop to continue creating inclusive management plans that are dynamic and present strong scientific reasoning.

Addressing the gathering, chief guest, L.B. Das (Speaker, SLA), presented an overview of the flora, fauna, pristine lakes, cultural heritage and organic history of the State.

Stressing on important issues with regard to human-wildlife conflict pertinent in the State of Sikkim, the Speaker gave suggestions that can be considered as a measure to mitigate the issue. He suggested plantation of fruit bearing trees in the forest areas to at least minimise the occurrences of wild animals straying away to human habitats for food.

He further expresses hope that at the end of the workshop, a profound information and understanding on human-wildlife conflict is achieved in order to deal with these issues and enable a peaceful co-existence between wildlife and humans. He further emphasized on erecting solar fences to stray away wild animals and shed focus on intensive patrolling during peak seasons of human-wildlife conflict.

During the programme, the chief guest along with other dignitaries on the dais released three publications of the Forest Department namely Rapid Biodiversity Survey (RBS) Report-V, Rapid Biodiversity Survey (RBS) Report-VI and a book on “Wildlife Population Estimation- Phase II”.

The vote of thanks was proposed by Project Director, SBFP-JICA, NWTamang.

Simultaneous to the workshop, a plenary meeting with the heads of line departments of the State along with JICA representatives was also convened under the chairmanship of the Chief Secretary, Government of Sikkim for discussing prospective projects.

State Departments of Urban Development, Roads & Bridges, Agriculture, Animal Husbandry, Forest, Tourism, Mines & Geology, Education and Sports presented their proposed projects to which the JICA representatives assured to provided assistance as per their cadre after further discussions and considerations in the days to come.

The inaugural programme was followed by technical sessions delivered by representatives of the States of Sikkim, Meghalaya, Nagaland, Rajasthan and Odisha which also included a question-answer session.