The Central Highlands Restoration Project (CHiRP) is a multi-stakeholder initiative and holistic approach to landscape restoration. Through integrated planning and business innovation, the project balances community well-being, nature conservation and sustainable economic development.
In the forested landscape of the Central Highlands of Chhattisgarh State of India, generations of Gond and Baiga tribes employed their skills and knowledge as agriculturalists, and as gatherers and hunters of forest produce. They complemented a diet of seasonal delicacies with sweet potato, millets and maize grown through shifting cultivation. Deep in the Maikail Hills, these tribal communities used and cultivated the land, not to degrade it but to extract resources in sustainable ways to satisfy essential needs.
Over millennia, the rural culture, stories and worldview became intertwined with the landscape which they are still part of.
However, their current lives in a rapidly developing India are disrupted and their communities are becoming vulnerable. Marginalization, climate change induced weather discrepancies to growing crops, and difficulties in shifting from a subsistence way of living to financially benefiting from their natural resources – are posing problems and contribute to their vulnerable status.
In some areas for example, poor and uninformed land use planning coupled with commercial exploitation by traders, resulting in unsustainable extraction of local forest resources, is reflected in the local ecology; an abundant landscape of rich forests is now rapidly deforesting and degrading – meaning, the growing local population is unable to live from their land, forcing families to migrate or survive with minimum nutritious food.
Next to this, there is a need in India for more integrated landscape management. India’s protected areas (PA) provide essential habitat for biodiversity but cover only 5% of the country. And almost 30% of India’s forestland is degraded. In this way, PAs are islands separated by densely populated multi-use landscapes. Combining the skills and knowledge of forest-dependent communities like the Gond and Baiga tribes and the Forest Service to restore native forests is an opportunity to restore biodiversity habitat. Aligning this afforestation with livelihood opportunities allows landscape restoration to go hand-in-hand with sustainable economic development.
The Central Highlands Restoration Project is a multi-stakeholder initiative to design and implement a holistic approach to land management in the Central Highlands of Chhattisgarh. The project is a collaborative effort between local Gond and Baiga communities, Samerth Charitable Trust, Commonland, IKEA Foundation, The Nature Conservancy India, United Designers, and Global Business Inroads. The project strives to find solutions for communities and nature to thrive together. By 2025, the aim is to restore 2,000 hectares and develop sustainable market linkages for 1,000 families living in the landscape.
Explore the landscape
20 year vision
Landscapes are restored by blending local wisdom and knowhow and scientific information. Increased benefits from agroforestry now provide communities with sources of abundant forest and agricultural produce for local nutritional needs and financial capital.
Communities increasingly benefit both from their cultural ecosystem services and are more and more resilient to climate change impacts. Newer generation of local people take pride in their local knowledge and way of life, and at the same take advantage of new knowledge and a new approach to problem solving. Local community needs are shifting over time and communities start focusing on repopulation of animal species, recreation, stimulation of art from the landscape along with their livelihoods.
Entrepreneurship and business innovation take place as new forms of income streams are discovered. Now, proud, empowered and motivated rural communities see hope and feel more secure of their future.
A local villager looks over the landscape, seeing how all the villages are interconnected with the forest (image credit: Commonland).
- Community own the landscape restoration work
- Pride and awareness of their sustainable practices
Children play in the sand to make field boundaries and place imaginary trees (photo credit: Shekhar Kolipaka)
- Communities driving change in the landscape
- Resilient jobs across the region that promote wellbeing
- Improved skill capacity and networking capacity
Healthy landscapes provide resilient jobs for tribal communities (Photo credit: Els Remijn)
- Restoration based on local ecology to regenerate the landscape
- Restored ecological cycles (water filtration, carbon storage)
- Improved habitat restored for local biodiversity
Practices like agroforestry provide habitat for local biodiversity (Photo credit: Els Remijn)
- Thriving local economy
- A network of entrepreneurs and businesses
- Local production connected to the local, regional and international market
- Development of investible regenerative agroforestry model
- Strong financial incentives for sustainable agriculture
Sustainable agriculture offers space for a network of entrepreneurs and businesses (Photo credit: Els Remijn)
Diverse agroforestry industry
Local produce and processing area for local produce
The CHiRP initiative is about building active “partnerships for sustainability”. Local communities and a consortium of project partners bring together existing social, natural and financial strengths and augment it with external resources (new networks, access to finance, value chains and others). A community-centered, multi-partner driven, co-created landscape restoration approach.
Community-driven prototyping ensures the sustainability of large-scale landscape restoration. An understanding of communities, their strengths and needs, allows external organisations to offer new knowledge, through trainings, while local people take the lead. Local communities are the ones that prototype, fail, learn and experiment. When issues crop up, they find their own local solutions. This inspires action and enhances the ability of a community to innovate and progress. Through community-driven prototyping, local people take ownership of restoring the landscape.
The following areas are augmented in order to support community-driven prototyping:
- Agroforestry models: collectively assess local agroforestry methods (e.g. local wadi-model) and investigate others (alley cropping, multi-tier cropping, medicinal plants, spices, NTFPs, bamboo) and customize models depending on farmer needs and wishes.
- Zoning: Community land (village land and Forest Rights land) is planned into Economic, Combined and Natural Zones
- Bamboo: the existing bamboo industry has potential ecological, social and economic benefits. Co-learning from bamboo-based initiatives, like local bamboo artisans, as well as testing and promoting agroecological production of bamboo will demonstrate product viability.
- NTFPs: promote local knowledge on Non-Timber Forest Products (NTFPs) and link to fair value chains as a scaling opportunity with multiple benefits for local communities and reforestation in forest-rich tribal areas in India.
- Biomass technologies: various biomass technologies (e.g., bioethanol, biochemicals, improved plant products, bamboo-based fibres) can bring changes in how communities sustainably utilise plants and trees grown on-farm and in forests. Through the co-development and exchange of best practices, information will be gathered on the potential for other areas of India.
- Community Forest Rights (CFRs) and Individual Forest Rights (IFR): Since 2006, the rights of forest-dependent communities have been recognized over more than 1 million hectares. However, ambiguity exists as to how communities can use this land to their advantage. A model approach for CFRs (e.g., best practices related to restoring common lands, increasing water retention and biodiversity propagation) presents an opportunity to improve natural area management while developing IFRs (e.g., agroforestry, home gardens) will demonstrate livelihood potential.
Integrated landscape management provides multiple products and income streams (image credit: Tom Davies)
Role of business
- Agroforestry industry connected to the local, regional and international markets
- Non-timber-forest-products sold locally and regionally
- Growing space for wide range of local community, agroforestry, bamboo, NTFP and, biomass technology entrepreneurs
Achieved so far
- Scouting, site survey and identification of partners
- Creation of CHiRP, a shared vision for the future, and progress in inter-partner working relationships
- Project stakeholder mapping continues
- Assessment of drivers of local degradation and deforestation
- Mapping of village lands, major NTFPs and market analysis for potential projects and management
- Assessment of community institutions, skills, knowledge, assets, governance, market knowledge, etc.
- 4 Returns MEL first Theory of Change, outcomes, indicators defined, and first landscape baselines being done.
- Strengthening partnerships with local communities
- Establishing community managed nursery and protecting cattle from entering forest areas