Environmental Education Program for Rural Schools


A new project on environmental education has just been started (June 2006) in Rishi Valley.

Aim and implementation

The aim of the project is to raise awareness of rural school children to their local biodiversity and educate them about ecological issues affecting them and their environment. The project also seeks to help these children understand the relationship between natural resources and livelihoods, and also the impact of human activities on various species of plants and animals.

The project is being implemented under the umbrella of the Institute of Bird Studies and Natural History (IBSNH), at the Rishi Valley Education Centre.

The project is being led and executed by Mr. Suresh Jones, who has many years of experience in working with local ecological and environmental issues. The project coordinator is Dr. V. Santharam, who is the Director of the IBSNH, with Dr. Suhel Quader as an external advisor.

The target group for this project is rural school children who hail from the agricultural families and whose actions in the long run would largely determine the survival of the wildlife and the health of the already fragile ecosystems. The first part of the project will run through March 2007.

Background

The project will take place within a 25 km radius from Madanapalle town in Chittoor District of Andhra Pradesh. This is the region where the borders of the three southern states (Andhra Pradesh, Karnataka, and Tamilnadu) meet. The altitude ranges from 600 to 1350 meters above sea level.

The uplands of the district have some of the highest peaks in the Andhra Pradesh (Horsley Hills, 1265 meters). This hilly and undulating semi-arid landscape has mostly thorny scrub with patches of dry deciduous forests. The hills form the broken ranges of the lower Eastern Ghats that connect to the Western Ghats. These two mountain ranges are important bio-geographic regions of peninsular India, and the biodiversity Chittoor District of the region is representative of both.

The area also has numerous wetlands in the form of irrigation tanks, some of which are centuries old, and are traditionally managed by the village communities. The climate is monsoon-driven, and temperatures range from 10 0C to 40 0C.

Biodiversity and threats

Most of the relatively intact forests in the Madanapalle area are remnant sacred groves. These few islands of significant biodiversity are under ever-increasing pressure.

For example, nearly 40 mammal species occur in Madanapalle Forest Range alone, ten of which belong to the category of maximum protection under Indian law (Schedule I of the Wildlife Protection Act of India). Six of these are in the category of highest global threat (i.e., they are in the Red List of the IUCN while two are protected by the international trade agreement CITES.

More than 200 birds occur, including many winter visitors and about twenty species of raptors. Several species of high conservation value are not uncommon in these forests; these include the Yellow-throated Bulbul (Pycnonotus xantholaemus) and the Starred Tortoise (Geochelone elegans).

Drought is common, and wildlife is often affected by lack of food or water. The necessary movement of animals during the drier months is aided by the broken ranges of hills acting as stepping stones or habitat corridors.

However, most free-ranging large mammals are rapidly losing their habitats due to increasing agricultural pressures. Some local communities regularly hunt or trap game species, including many partridges and quails, and mammals like the wild boar. Forest fires, common during the summer months, are often deliberately started by people.

Local Communities

A majority of the local populace derives its livelihood from agriculture or livestock rearing and depends on the immediate natural resources fodder and fuel.

Several recent changes in agricultural practices in the region are hastening the decline of already dwindling resources. Poor literacy in rural places has led to a lack of awareness of the link between the ecological health of the land and the livelihoods of the people.

More sustainable use of resources and conservation of important habitats and ecosystems are possible by involving local stakeholders. One way of accomplishing this goal is to reach out to school children from families dependent on natural resources and raise their awareness of local ecological issues.

The targeted area also has a history of community-conserved forests in the form of Sacred Groves and elements of conservation could still be seen as part of the local culture and tradition.

Funding

The project is funded by the Oriental Bird Club (www.obc.org) and the Friends of Rishi Valley (www.forv.org).

Views

"This is an excellent initiative to encourage young people to think about the state of their environment, about wildlife, and about the wealth of natural resources around them. This is an especially crucial set of issues for people in rural areas, who most directly depend on natural resources (firewood, fodder) and on ecological services like water and soil conservation. We need many more programmes like this, across the State and the country."

- Dr. Suhel Quader (Project Advisor)

" The Institute of Bird Studies and Natural History is committed to this action-oriented programme of environmental education with birds in focus touching the lives of the rural poor and paving the way for the emergence of a new environmental ethic that alone can save Planet Earth"

"It must be our aim to make every village in which we have established our rural schools a Biovillage and every resident -young and old - a conservationist"

-Sri Rangaswami (Naturalist)

Contact Information:

For further information about the project, please send mail to mreddy@forv.org