How can we preserve the plant and animal biodiversity of the forest ecosystems in Meghalaya through decreased deforestation over the next 10 years?

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Part 1: The Issue

While the government of Meghalaya has several action plans for protecting its forests and affiliated biodiversity, the lack of governmental control, various illegal activities, and traditional yet unsustainable agricultural methods still pose major threats. 

Meghalaya is one of the most forest-rich states in India, with about 76.44% of its land covered in forest areas. Although, out of this land only 5.10% of it is under the control of the State Forest Department (Sangma). What this means is that the rest of the forest land is owned by various private communities, district councils, and clans.

Fig. 1: Map of Reserve Forests (Sangma)

Because of the significant amount of forest land being owned by private parties, the government of Meghalaya has little control over the activities that occur in those areas. This has led to a significant increase in illegal activities like rat-hole mining, excessive Jhum agriculture, and illegal logging and selling of trees and forest products. 

Fig. 2: Extent of disturbance in Meghalaya forests as assessed from the change in NDVI

All of these illegal and exploitive activities have negatively affected the biodiversity of the forests in Meghalaya, regarding both flora and fauna. According to the Meghalaya Biodiversity Board’s 2017 strategy and action plan, there are  3,128 species of flowering plants in Meghalaya, out of which 54 are rare and threatened. 

Similarly, Meghalaya has around “139 species of Mammals, 659 species of Birds, [and] 107 species of Reptiles,” out of which “35 species of Mammals are endangered, vulnerable or insufficiently known. Similarly, 10 species of birds and 9 species of reptiles are either endangered or vulnerable” (United). 

For example, the Magnolia rabanian, “a threatened and endemic tree species of northeast India, has been rediscovered after a lapse of almost 100 years from Khasi Hills of Meghalaya.” (Mir)

Fig. 3: Magnolia rabanian (Mir)

Deforestation is a threat to even globally endangered fauna species like the “Hoolock Gibbon, the only Ape found in India and Capped Langur” (Sangma), both of which are found in the forests of Meghalaya. 

Fig. 4: (Left) Hoolock Gibbon (Bhattacharya), (Right) Capped Langur (Choudhury)

If the government continues to allow such illegal activities to continue, then not only will these endangered species eventually disappear, but other currently non-threatened species will become endangered in the future.

Part 2: Cause and Effects

“Most of the people living in and around forests are primarily dependent on forest products,” (United) such as wood for building shelters and cooking, and many indigenous plants for food. In order to make money, people sell these indigenous plants and wood, exploiting the forest resources illegally and at a higher rate for a cheaper price. 

Fig. 5: Illegal felling of trees (TNT)

“Mining is the major cause of land degradation in the state.”, from which the land will take a long time to recover, despite the ‘rat-hole’ mining ban implemented in 2014 (United). According to (MIT), “The effects of this damage can continue years after a mine has shut down, including the addition to greenhouse gasses, death of flora and fauna, and erosion of land and habitat”. 

Fig. 6: Rat-hole mining (Iasparliament)

Clearly, the effect of mining on the biodiversity of any place is drastic. The occurrence of this illegal activity emphasizes the urgent need for the government to reinforce their laws and toughen their governing over forest activities. 

Furthermore, Jhum (slash-and-burn) agriculture has been traditionally implemented for years but has become a contributing factor to deforestation and biodiversity loss due to the other illegal activities that have equally contributed. 

The former member of Ministry of Environment, Forest and Climate Change (MoEF) India, V. P. Upadhayay claims that “The indigenous biodiversity has been affected to a large extent” due to Jhum agriculture, and that it is an “extravagant” and “unscientific form of land use” (Sati). 

Fig. 7: Jhum agriculture (Meghalaya)

From this section, we can conclude that the illegal felling of trees, the use of Jhum agriculture, and illegal rat-hole mining are the 3 main causes for deforestation and biodiversity loss in the forests of Meghalaya. Not only have they led to deforestation and biodiversity loss, but they have had permanent negative effects on the land, such as soil erosion and an increase in greenhouse gas emissions. 

Part 3: Past Actions

In order to combat the issue of biodiversity loss, the government of Meghalaya has designed certain forest areas that fall under their protection, which are considered “the best refuge for the flora and fauna of the state” (“Biodiversity”). There are even some national parks and sanctuaries that the government has created in order to protect biodiversities, such as Nokrek National Park (covering an area of 47.48 km^2) and Balpakram National Park (covering an area of  220 km^2). 

Fig. 8: Nokrek National Park (“Tourist”)

That being said, “These PAs (protected areas) constitute only 6% of geographical area of the state”, so the other 94% belongs to other private owners. This means that 94% of forest area is being exploited, illegally mined/logged, and/or used for Jhum agriculture.

Fig. 9: Balpakram National Park (Singh)

One of the goals of the 2016 Biodiversity Strategy and Action Plan (BSAP) was “By 2020, at the latest, people are aware of the values of biodiversity and the steps they can take to conserve and use it sustainably.” 

Whether this was achieved or not, the people of India are not as aware of the problem, and companies outside of Meghalaya that obtain timber exports from Meghalaya are just as likely to continue exporting today as they were before, because they aren’t nearly as aware of the issue as those in Meghalaya. “Environmental Education is made a compulsory subject in Meghalaya since 2007…(but it) is not on priority in the education system in the state” (“Biodiversity”). If this is the case in the state of Meghalaya itself, then what about educating the other parts of India that actively export the timber from Meghalaya?

Part 4: Responses

To combat this, Meghalaya must adopt eco-friendly alternatives to the forest resources, for which they need to provide the local communities with the resources and knowledge to do so. 

Alternative To Jhum Cultivation

An agricultural alternative for slash-and-burn agriculture developed by Mike Hands, the founder of the Inga Foundation, is Inga Alley Cropping. While Inga trees are not a species of Meghalaya, this method can still be employed using other tree species with similar characteristics. This method is “alley cropping using nitrogen-fixing tree species.”, which has the potential ability to “recreate a version of the conditions found on the rainforest floor.” (Sitler). 

Fig. 10: Inga Alley Cropping Method (Hands)

This method is “capable of maintaining soil fertility and good harvests year after year, thereby breaking the cycle of slash and burn and allowing families to gain long term food security on one piece of land.” (Hands)

Alternative source for coal

As for the use of wood for coal, the method of making coal from organic resources as opposed to trees would contribute to a reduction in excessive logging. Students in Cameroon have developed an ingenious alternative method for making coal using organic materials like leftover food and banana peels.

The method is very simple: the only materials needed are “one-half basin full of fresh banana peelings, a quarter basin of charcoal dust, and a quarter basin of fine sand.” (Farm). From there the mixture is thoroughly mixed, shaped into briquettes, and then put in the sun to dry. After that, they are ready for use.

Alternative to rat-hole mining

While there has been a ban on rat-hole mining, Meghalaya cannot forbid the production of coal forever, as it is a necessary resource for development. What about considering the previously mentioned method for an alternative coal source? If Meghalaya were to use this method of recycling organic waste to make coal but on a mass-production scale, then the issue of coal mining could be greatly reduced, if not solved entirely.

Fig. 11: Creating coal briquettes from organic material (Deutsche)

Clearly, there are alternative solutions to problems like unsustainable slash-and-burn agriculture, excessive logging, and mining for coal. By implementing such solutions to reduce the problem of deforestation, forest biodiversity will subsequently face a lesser threat. If the government of Meghalaya is willing to look into these simple solutions, invest and implement them, then perhaps Meghalaya can see a better future for their biodiversity and forest life sooner than projected.

Conclusion

Deforestation is a serious issue that will continue to threaten the earth and future generations. If we all do our part, then we can achieve sustainable lives and security for our future generations.

What Can YOU Do?

Here is a list of simple things you can do to reduce your consumption of paper. Even if it seems trivial, the smallest amount of help from everyone is what leads to a big change.

  1. Purchase only sustainable wood products.
  2. Use less paper.
  3. Recycle your cardboard and paper waste.
  4. Report illegal logging if you are aware of it in and outside your community.
  5. Do your research! Know if your furniture products are coming from legal and reliable timber sources.
  6. Don’t excessively burn firewood.
  7. Support organizations that are fighting deforestation, in any way you can. Here’s a list of deforestation conservation groups you can support!
  8. Raise awareness! Spread the word and share this page with everyone. Click on this link to learn more about land degradation in Meghalaya.

I would love some feedback or any contribution from you regarding your knowledge and actions against deforestation. Feel free to add to this Padlet and let me know about your ideas and experiences with deforestation, or simply give me feedback on my webpage.

Made with Padlet

Finally, here is the link to my project as a full Issue Brief along with my works cited.

4 Comments

4 comments

  1. Twyla_504

    Hi! I had never heard of Meghalaya before, but I care so much about preventing deforestation. I’m happy to hear that the government of Meghalaya is trying to preserve the biodiversity and land there, but there’s so much more that’s still in danger. In order to help this cause, I’m exploring the organizations you recommended that help fight deforestation, and I’m going to do some research of my own on the nonprofits local to me. It’s great that you’re raising awareness about this.

    1. Anya_143

      Hi there, I’m so glad you enjoyed the project and are looking into the various organizations. It’s great to see someone taking action, thanks for the feedback as well!

  2. Avatar

    Hey Anya, I liked your project very much. I like how you decided to do a real world problem. After reading this it is clear how much of a effect that the fires have caused to our forests. The deforestation is a problem that deserves to be known.

  3. Grace Sherrill

    Hi Anya! I found your project very interesting. I thought the shift from background knowledge identifying the issues to the alternatives to what individuals can do was smooth and thought-out. I also liked how you included imagery of the plants/animals that you were referring to as to provide needed context. your project was very informative and I will definitely research this issue more.

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