Ethos of environmental conservation embedded in people of Nagaland: Rajkumar M, Kohima DFO

Kohima: Despite very best efforts of the communities to keep tourist areas clean, visitors bring plastic

BY | Sunday, 4 June, 2023
Rajkumar M, IFS, Divisional Forest Officer (DFO), Kohima, Nagaland

World Environment Day (WED) is celebrated annually on 5 June by over 150 countries. Since its establishment in 1972 by the United Nations, WED has grown to become the largest global platform for environmental outreach, with millions of people from across the world engaging to protect the planet.

The theme for World Environment Day 2023 is “Beat Plastic Pollution”.

On the eve of WED 2023, Nagaland Tribune talks to Rajkumar M, IFS, Divisional Forest Officer (DFO), Kohima about climate change, conservation activities in Nagaland and the major threats to the environment in the State.

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NT: What are your thoughts on climate change and World Environment Day?

Rajkumar M: Climate change is no more a myth. People used to doubt whether climate change is a myth or fate but now the impact is being felt by everyone even in day-to-day life. You can clearly see that people have started using air conditioners (AC) in places where even fans were not required. There is a change in the weather pattern, we can see that monsoon is getting delayed and so is winter or it ends fast so climate change is something that cannot be tossed aside as myth. Unless we act fast, we cannot save the only blue planet, Earth.

World Environment Day is celebrated everywhere and one key thing I want to share with the people is that many people buy tree saplings in huge number, even our department distributes a lot of saplings, but people just forget about where they have planted them. People do not ensure the survival of these plants due to which the survival rate has been poor in many places. So, if we can ensure the survival of the saplings, we can see tremendous change.

NT: In the context of Nagaland, what in your opinion are the major threats to our environment and what do you think are the priorities for environment protection?

Rajkumar M: Nagaland is blessed with rich forest and biodiversity, so we are one of the biodiversity hotspots. More than 70 per cent of our area is under forest. One key thing I would like to stress upon is that environment is not just about trees but everything that is interlinked in the environment.

I would like to stress that plastic pollution in the State, especially in urban areas, is alarmingly high. I have been to many tourist areas here in Nagaland that are mostly managed by the communities themselves and I have noticed that when tourist come the plastic inflow increase.  Despite the very best efforts of the communities to keep such areas clean, it is challenging to control plastic pollution especially in bigger areas, so I think it is our duty when we visit these areas to avoid polluting the environment. Pollution is something which I feel is the major threat otherwise tree plantation in Nagaland is doing quite fine though there has been reduction in total forest area but still we are doing quite fine but in the pollution aspect, we have a long way to go.

Secondly, In Nagaland, many village communities are making remarkable efforts for the protection of wildlife but still, we have a long way to go. Wildlife does not discriminate between lands, states or countries, it moves freely.

NT: Over the years, what do you feel are the important achievements in the field of nature protection and conservation in Nagaland?

Rajkumar M: The Forest conservation in Nagaland often gets highlighted for wrong reasons like hunting when some pictures go viral.

But, not many of us know that Nagaland has the maximum number of Community Reserves in the country with around 130 notified community reserves. These are protected forests which owned by the community but legally notified. We should be proud because these reserves are in community land and are preserved by the communities themselves who are managing and protecting the forest which is very unique in the country.

Besides such reserves, there are Community Conservation Areas (CCA) that are not legally notified by the government under Wildlife Protection Act (WPA), but Nagaland has more than 400 such CCAs which they have been traditionally managing for quite some time. These are great achievements in the field of conservation in Nagaland.

Some of the bird species found in Tizu Valley Biodiversity Conservation, Zunheboto

NT: As most of the land and natural resources are owned by community, how do you think villages can better manage forests under their jurisdiction for sustainability?

Rajkumar M: Many of the villages have strong committees who can manage the CCA. They also get financial assistance through some of our projects like Nagaland Forest Management Project (NFMP) for the expansion of CCA and if the necessity arises, they do plantation in those areas and protect them also. I have been to many villages during my stay in Nagaland and very often villages that are enforcing conservation share the same issues i.e., human-wildlife conflict. The villagers share that wildlife comes to the farming lands and destroy the crops, but they are not compensated. So, many ask how conserving their lands benefit them.

I think eco-tourism is a solution for many issues. I have seen a lot of tourists coming even to the interior districts for bird watching, butterfly watching and even for star gazing. These activities do not affect the environment and the locals also get some kind of a revenue through homestays, etc.

Eco-tourism has not kick started very well in most of villages, but a few are doing well. I feel that in the longer run for people conserving forest in their own land, eco-tourism will be one of the major solutions once they begin to get the benefits out of their conservation.

Read more: A community-led conservation effort: The Tizu Valley Biodiversity Conservation and Livelihood Network

NT: Can you tell us more about Community Reserves, how they are declared, who can approach and whom to approach for declaring a CR?

Rajkumar M: We have wildlife divisions in Dimapur and Kiphire who manage the community reserves in their jurisdiction of various districts. A village council can pass resolution stating that the village would conserve flora and fauna of the area.  The VC will also need to get the no objection certificate (NOC) from the neighbouring villages for the area and there will be a Tri-partite agreement between the Forest department, District administration and Village. Only after that, the government will notify the community reserve area. After notification, a management plan is prepared for five years for the area which is sent to the Union Ministry for approval. Post approval, through Annual plan of operations, funding is sanctioned to them. It should be noted that there is no change in ownership after declaration of Community Reserve.


NT: How do you think people, especially students and youth can contribute or take part in environment protection? Does the department have initiatives to engage public in environment conservation? If so, what would you want public to know about such initiatives?

Rajkumar M: The students and the youths play a vital role in disseminating the importance of conservation, especially to convince the elders who are still practicing hunting. Only youth and students can make a change. The department going and telling them is different they may or may not listen but when the youth and students get involved, they will definitely listen.

Kohima Division started a project called ‘Project Green Box’ in 2020, in five villages. Under this project, we keep more than 50 environment related books in libraries managed by the village youth associations. Almost all the villages in Nagaland have very strong civil society organisations especially the student bodies so, we try to work with them. In some villages we created a new library for them but in some villages that already has one, we donated books which are relevant to environment so that people will start to read some books and they will gain some ideas about conservation, and they will disseminate this information to the rest of the people in village so that is one initiative we have been doing for some time. We also have a Joint Forest Management Committee in villages through which we are implementing any forest projects.

We also conducted several awareness camps in villages for wildlife conservation and environment.

If any civil body is interested, they can meet us for materials, presentation, how to go about it and for training so they can become advocates to spread the awareness in their villages.

NT: What role do you envision for NGO or other citizen bodies in environment protection in Nagaland and how can they partner with the forest department for taking up environment protection activities?

Rajkumar M: The role of the citizen bodies is actually very important in Nagaland as we are aware that more than 88 per cent of the forest are under the community/Private. We collaborate with them in many initiatives such as we do plantation through Joint Forest Management Committee that are formed under village councils.

When Dzükou valley was on fire, Southern Angami Youth Organisation (SAYO) was in forefront because they managed the area and our trained field staff assisted them in fighting the forest fire. There are many CCA village committees in different villages and we work closely with them. Under Nagaland Forest Management Project, every forest division has one NGO attached to it. In Kohima and Tseminyu we have North East Initiative Development Agency (NEIDA), they act as a channel between us and village community in implementing the projects. We work with them for creating awareness, implementing projects and in improving livelihood of the people.

NT: Is the lack of awareness of environment and related issues a problem in Nagaland? As a field officer, how do you perceive people’s attitude towards environment, forest and wildlife protection in Nagaland and do you think conservation ethos are finding more relevance among people in Nagaland?

Rajkumar M: In Nagaland, traditionally, villages have been conserving forest inside their villages which is very unique. The conservation ethos has been there in all the villages and that is why we have this many conservation areas where people are conserving in their own land.

I have travelled to many villages for the last seven years and I do not see lack of awareness on the environment, I have come across many persons who are highly concerned for the environment. In fact, in some villages I have seen villagers discussing about the climate change which in the village forum was a surprise to me. The traditional knowledge and the need to conserve is there in every village.

Nagaland has a good amount of forest cover. The number of applicants requesting for tree saplings is increasing every year. We supply more than one lakh saplings to the community and to the organisations in a year. So, the awareness is there but my only concern is the wildlife conservation. It has been dwindling in the last many decades. So many efforts have been taken in wildlife conservation, but I still feel we have a long way to go. We need to make more efforts in the aspect of pollution too.

Read more: United Nations COP 27: Nagaland’s Community-Centric Nature Conservation acknowledged in Conference held in Egypt

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