Western Ghats

Women for Conservation: An alternative livelihoods initiative

An alternative livelihoods initiative taking roots in the remote, picturesque village of Kokkabare in the MM Hills Wildlife Sanctuary.

This project is being implemented in the remote hamlets located inside the Malai Mahadeshwara Wildlife Sanctuary - a landscape spanning a total of 906 km² of where forest-fringe communities and wildlife co-exist.

The forest-fringe communities are heavily dependent on the forests for resources for everyday use and livelihoods, the most prominent of which are non-timber forest produce (NTFP) like grasses, firewood and fruits.

Grasses, brooms and human-wildlife conflict

Baseline surveys show that the people here, especially the women, either opportunistically work for daily wages in larger agricultural fields, or more commonly collect dwarf date palm fronds (Phoenix humilis) from the forests to make brooms to sell. Incidentally, this species of palm is also consumed by wild herbivores such as elephants, gaur, sloth bear, sambar and others.

To harvest these seasonal grasses, women have to venture into the forests several times a week, increasing the risk of chance encounters with wild animals that also occupy that space, resulting in human-wildlife conflict.

Selling brooms brings in a small amount of income, a sum not nearly enough to compensate for the arduous effort of navigating uneven terrains in the harsh weather, through the forests and risking chance interactions with wildlife. Additionally, this is a seasonal income limited to a harvest period right after the monsoons when the palm grows luxuriantly.

A stitch in time

Currently operational in the remote, picturesque village of Kokkabare in MM Hills Wildlife Sanctuary, this collaborative project aims to equip the women with a creative multi-faceted solution that has long term benefits for the communities, forests and wildlife, while focussing on reducing human-wildlife conflict and improving peoples’ perceptions of wild animals and conservation.

Krishna Murthy, the creative and training advisor for the initiative, handles the product design, and training and skill development. The women have received training on hand-stitching, machine sewing, embroidery and screen printing so far, successfully hand-crafting products like different kinds of bags and masks that are market viable and bringing in revenue from different fronts.

This activity provides a sustainable solution by saving resources for wildlife and helping people with alternative incomes.

The women are currently hand-crafting different bags like tote, drawstring, backpacks, and masks, all of which are for sale.

The beginning of the change: Earlier days of the initiative in Kokkabare.