At the much awaited 6th edition of the Eastern Himalayan Naturenomic Forum 2018, Indian scholar and inspirational leader, Vandana Shiva, in a keynote address highlighted the importance of organic farming for Rural Futures and to conserve the web of life. Tracing India’s agricultural history, she spoke about the importance of organizing our politics, democracy and economy towards a circular economy and to conserve collectively with our communities “Vasudeva Kutumbh”. She also invited global delegates to join hands for transition of subsidies, knowledge and planning from Kashmir to Kohima to build a Biodiverse Organic Himalaya.
The Forum began at The Lily Hotel, Guwahati on 1srt of November. Ranjit Barthakur, Founder Trustee- Balipara Foundation launched the forum with his overview on Highlights from Eastern Himalayan Naturenomic Forum 2017. He spoke about bringing in rural linkages for sustainable development and about the lack of corporate funding support needed to implement some of the projects – ‘CSR has corrupted our mind and should not be a favour or an economic profit. Business is equivalent to working with the society and understanding the impacts that it has on the environment.’
Prabir Banerjea, Managing Member, Balipara Foundation, gave an overview on the achievements and goals of Balipara Foundation. The concept of Rural Futures and its implementation on ground, through afforestation of 3 lakh trees in the Khalingduar Reserve Forest and building social mobility assets for forest fringe communities. He announced the launch of an Indo-China partnership for cross border- cross disciplinary co-operation towards sustainable development and Mountain Futures.
Oxford historian, Mark Davies, whose great grandfather has mapped Brahmaputra in 1793, is in Assam to trace his roots through a river journey and through the platform of the Forum, he brought in a fresh perspective to the ‘Relevance of Alice in the Himalayan Wonderland”, bringing popular animal characters from the story to life, to explain the relevance and existence of different elements of nature in today’s day and world.
The first panel discussion was on Rural Futures: Communities Speak. Chaired by Gautam Baruah, Balipara Foundation gave a platform to community leaders to share their nature and community story. Tambor Lyngdoh, Meghalaya works with the indigenous communities in the East Khasi hills to preserve the Mawphlang Sacred Grove, the only living corridor from Bangladesh to the Khasi Hills and also the first Community Based Carbon Project in India. Khem Chetri, from Wild Mahseer helps his communities preserve their indigenous art, tradition and culture through mindful tourism. Akeina Gonmei, a social activist from Nagaland, who said that the land and environment is her community’s identity, empowers women in her community by advocating for their land rights. Kamison Milli from Assam’s Baligaon Mishing village, which is Assam’s first Green Village spoke about on-ground challenges for keeping communities involved in preserving nature and Dulu Bora shared his experience on rescuing Elephants and educating his community on protecting the Flagship species.
The second parallel panel discussion was on Rural Futures: Nature Tourism as Conservation. The session was chaired by Prabir Banerjea, Balipara Foundation, India, who showcased a film on mindful tourism in the Eastern Himalayas that benefits local communities and the environment. Panellists Bittu Sahgal, Sanctuary Asia, India; Shankar Venkateswaran, India; Kartik Shukul, India; Tsering Wange, Arunachal Mountaineering & Adventure Sports Association also shared their community tourism experience. They emphasized how Tourism can be used for fuelling conservation efforts and explored solutions to boost our rich natural heritage in generating alternate revenue sources and the relevance of homestays in tourism and community development.
Following the session, was a media address by Vandana Shiva and Diana Owen, Royal Overseas League, UK. Diana, who spoke about the rich heritage of Assam and synergizing education, art and tourism for community development. And Dr. Vandana Shiva highlighted the role of women educating women for building a nature’s economy based on care for Earth and Humanity.
Second part of the day began with a session on Rural Futures: Universal Basic Income headed by Anindita Roy Saha, Indraprastha College for Women, India who spoke about Universal Basic Income as a key component of Rural Futures and a solution to tackle economic disparity.
Lt. General ArunSahni spoke about the relevance of art in education to engage with children for successful conservation. With examples of schools pioneering a no plastic zone or encouraging students to not burn crackers, a culture is being inculcated to expose future green leaders to make decisions for sustainable development. Anish Andheria, President, Wildlife Conservation Trust spoke about the difference between education programmes for rural and urban children and explained that only through persistent education over decades and by drawing connections with the kind of interaction the children have with the forests and wildlife, will conservation education be successful. Manini Bansal from Current Conservation shared her experience in line with Anishh’s view on conducting an Eastern Himalayan Conservation Storytelling Workshop in Balipara and Guwahati on Asian Elephants. Moderated by Kelli Rogers, Global Development Reporter, Devex, the session also explored the role of technology in the spread of education.
The parallel session was on Rural Futures: Asian Elephants & Communities. K. K. Sarma, Assam Agricultural University, India was the chair of the session. Panellists of the session were Ranjan Barthakur, Green Guard Nature Organization, India, Lisa Mills, University of Montana and Jayanta Das. Dr.K.K.Sarma, Assam Agricultural University spoke about compassion in the people of Assam for Elephants despite the conflicts and leading the path towards creating innovative solutions to enhance the human elephant relationship.
The session on Rural Futures: Water & Sanitation chaired by Rituraj Phukan, Walk for Water, India focused on developing the traditional models of accessing water in Eastern Himalayas. The speakers were Md. Maksudur Rahman, Bangladesh Environment & Development Society, Bangladesh and Lt. Gen Arun Kumar Sahni, India. Together they highlighted that water crisis is the biggest global challenge for sustenance and emphasized the need to manage our natural resources and restrict human interference.
The next parallel session was held on the topic Rural Futures: Law & Conservation chaired by Anindita Phukan, Altum Law, India, panelled by Rohit Choudhury, India; Prasant Choudhury, India; Surendra Kumar, India and Kartik Shukul, India. Kartik pointed out about the inadequate training provided to forest officers and hence, underperformance by them, offering solutions to eliminate the gap. Rohit spoke about the power of law over violence for protecting our wildlife.
The final session of the day was on Rural Futures: Nature Capital and the session were delivered by Anirban Ghosh, Mahindra Group, India.
Many more different speakers like Vishal Massey, Club of Rome, India; Sunayana Sarkar, NMIMS University, India; Md. Maksudur Rahman, Bangladesh Environment & Development Society, Bangladesh; Rakhee Sharma, Cotton University, India; Dietrich Schmidt-Vogt, University of Freiburg, Germany; Misako Namiki, Teikyo University, Japan; Jitul Kalita, Cotton University, India; Kalpesh Popat, Saras Ennovations, India spoke on various topics related to Rural Futures.
Two publications – “Nameri National Park Guidebook” and “League of Earth Heroes” were launched at the Forum. The guide book is a document on the denizens of the little explored national park by Sanctuary Asia and Balipara Foundation and League of Earth Heroes is the documentation of eco crusaders of the Eastern Himalayas, who are doing extraordinary things to preserve the environment.