In Meghalaya, a state once famous for its thick forests, dwindling forest cover— an annual forest loss as high as 5.6 percent from 2000-2005 in the East Khasi hills district—has spurred communities to take charge of their own forests and their ‘sacred’ legacy. And since forests are largely owned and administered by local communities with their own systems of grassroots governance, revival campaigns have integrated traditional and contemporary practices with astonishing results.
In what is the first of its kind initiative in the country, the Mawphlang Lyngdohship (or village government council) has successfully introduced measures such as social fencing, regulating fuelwood harvesting and grazing, using smokeless chullahs or stoves, switching to higher value stall-fed livestock, controlling forest fires by laying down fire lines in ten meter patches outside the forests and banning mining at nearby quarries.
As a result, aided by US-based non-profit environmental organization Community Forestry International or CFI, the Mawphlang community has regenerated their forests and set up a federation of Himas that will allow them to earn income from carbon credits. This forest landscape restoration project that includes the Mawphlang Sacred Grove and covers 62 villages, is now poised to be India’s first community led REDD+ pilot project. Innovative strategies such as a wildlife corridor, eco-trails and awareness campaigns with schools and colleges are being used to strengthen the intrinsic bond that a Khasi has with the forest.