We need to bridge Community Biodiversity and Sustainable Tourism practices


The call to action on “biodiversity and sustainable tourism” as part of this year’s international day for biological diversity attracts those who advocate for an offensive approach in biodiversity conservation. Biodiversity enabled sustainable tourism is pertinent for a country like India where both biological and cultural diversity occur rich and attractive. The diversity at the level of ecosystems, species, genes, local communities, languages, arts, customs, crafts, cuisines  and curatives, offer a great deal to tourism economy, and thereby case for conservation of nature and culture.

The traditional agricultural and fishery practices of coastal India offer wide opportunities for community engaged tourism and thereby employment and poverty alleviation.



Eco-tourism travel in India on the whole, however restricted to the level of ecosystems, often wild life sanctuaries, forests, lofty mountain terrains, beaches and to some extent the indigenous cultural landscapes. The eco- tourism sector is managed in a centralised manner by mostly the private industry and government tourism or forest departments.
Inclusion of agro-ecosystems, diversity of genes in crops, farm animals, fish, medicinal plants, and promotion of biodiversity linked cultural heritage and effective participation of local communities in tourism sector can contribute significantly to sustainable and inclusive development of the rural India.

Promote Sustainable tourism around the Agricultural Heritage

kuttanadbackwaterThe local communities and their biodiversity management practices are responsible for on-farm conservation of over 90 percent of India’s traditional crop and animal diversity. India is home for 2000 ethnic groups; 1721 languages being spoken here; twenty different agro-ecological regions are in management, and over 1000, 000 villages where the everyday life of the huge majority revolves around agriculture, forest or fishery based livelihoods. This multiplicity have large stake in conserving biodiversity and traditional knowledge heritage of India. And this large social and ecological environment of the planet through a multitude of agricultural, art and artisanal occupations in land and water offer awesome opportunity for promoting tourism.  

Such heritage should be an important target for attracting the enthusiastic tourists. The Centre of origin of rice is believed to be the present India-China boarder. The rice growing was practiced in this region as early as 7000BC. More than 50000 different varieties of rice were known in cultivation in India.

dyke constructionThe traditional agricultural and fishery practices of coastal India offer wide opportunities for community engaged tourism and thereby employment and poverty alleviation. For example, the historicity, cultural and social system uniqueness, traditional practices of the Coromandel Coast need to promoted from a renewed tourism and biodiversity angle.

Show case the Globally Important Agricultural Heritage sites (GIAHs)

In India, there are 13 provisionally identified GIAHS by FAO based on the ingenuity and uniqueness of the agricultural heritage. Almost all these sites are family and group farming oriented so it encourages collectiveness and bonding. The systems are highly potential for creating income and livelihood security if managed with the point of view of niche agriculture and sustainable tourism.

The GIAHS designated sites. The first two have already received the certificate of recognition.

  1. Koraput traditional agriculture System (tribal agriculture)
  2. Kuttanad Below Sea Farming System (Below sea level Rice farming)
  3. Saffron Heritage of Kashmir (Family Farming in Saffron cultivation)
  4. Grand Anicut (Kallanai) farming system
  5. Catamaran fishing system
  6. Koranganadu Silvo-pastral system
  7. Soppina Bettas Systems, West Ghats
  8. Tribal agricultural systems (Sethamphat, Andra Pradesh)
  9. Apatani rice fish culture system
  10. Darjeeling system in the Himalayas
  11. Traditional Ladakh agriculture system
  12. Raika Pastoralists of the Thar desert, Rajasthan
  13. Sikkim Himalaya agriculture

Koraput traditional agriculture System

koraput0In the Jeypore tracts of India, still a few hundred traditional rice varieties are being cultivated. Koraput district which falls in this region has been identified as one of the Globally Important Agricultural Heritage sites (GIAHs) by Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) for maintaining unique rice biodiversity and tribal traditional agricultural practices.  There are 62 different ethnic groups live in this region, with over 80% below the poverty line. Rice is the life line crop for these communities.

Below Sea Level Farming System of Kuttanad

kutanadu mapIn Kerala coast, people of the Kuttanad region practices below sea level farming system on reclaimed land from the Vembanad deep water Lake, which is a Ramsar site. The Kuttanad Below Sea-level Farming System (KBSFS) is unique, as it is the only system in India that practices rice cultivation below sea level. The major land use structure of KBSFS is flat stretches of rice fields in about 50,000 ha of mostly reclaimed delta swamps. About 1.5 to 2.5 m below sea level farming practices with dykes built in mud.

The rice fields, which are popularly known as "Puncha Vayals" exist in three landscape elements:  Karapadam (upland rice fields), Kayal (wetland rice fields) and Kari (land buried with black coal like materials).  FAO has recognized the below sea level rice cultivation in reclaimed wetlands along with its mixed agro-ecosystems such as backwaters, rivers, marshes, ponds, garden lands, edges, corridors and water ways also as a Globally Important Agricultural Heritage System.

MSSRF’s activities in revitalization of Community Biodiversity

seedfairConservation, Sustainable Use and Equitable sharing of benefits has been a major area of focus of MSSRF. The activities in this area being undertaken in four agrobiodiversity hotspots of India- Koraput district of Odisha, Kolli hills of Tamil Nadu and Wayanad and Kuttand regions of Kerala. Some of the major contributions of these interventions include; (i) Development of an Integrated Gene Management Strategy, consisting of in-situ, ex-situ and community conservation ; (ii) Revitalisation of community conservation traditions through field gene bank, seed bank and grain bank and (iii) Enlarging the food basket by including in the diet underutilized crops like millets, tubers, grain legumes and leafy vegetables.

Promoting Agri-Tourism: New Proposal for the year 2017-2018

Reviving some of the unique traditional cultural and social practices that help conserve biodiversity needs to be attempted with a new outlook of integrating community oriented tourism initiatives with the goal of achieving the national biodiversity targets. Four of the 12 national biodiversity targets have direct implications in better integrating biodiversity conservation and sustainable development. The NBTs 2 -integration of biodiversity values with development and poverty alleviation, 5 -promotion of sustainable agriculture, forestry and fisheries, 7 -safe guarding genetic diversity of cultivated plants, farm livestock, wild relatives and other socially/culturally valuable species and 11-protection and strengthening of traditional knowledge offer noteworthy options for promoting biodiversity enabled sustainable tourism in the country.

Following three interventions to strengthen and promote biodiversity enabled sustainable tourism:

1. Empowering the “Custodian Farmers” and the “Genome Saviours”

koraput1MSSRF is working in close partnership with many farmers and communities to promote conservation and sustainable use of diverse genetic resources.  The lead farmers amongst them in Koraput, Kuttanad, Kolli hills and Wayanad will be given training in tourism management and linked with certified tour operators.

2. Facilitating Educational Tour in Farmers’ Fields

mssbg13 in Kerala facilitates an inspiring travel named Bio-Education Travel (BET) through Wayanad district of Kerala, one of the pristine locations of agrobiodiversity and cultural diversity in the global biodiversity hotspot of Western Ghats. The BET aims to provide experiential knowledge to those who are interested in culture, attitude and strategies of rural men and women in sustainably managing the agrobiodiversity. The package is included with exposure visits to agricultural landscapes, tribal hamlets, sacred forests, mountain peaks (in association with forest department) and interactive sessions with lead farmers, practitioners and researchers associated with our community biodiversity programme. BET will take you through the M S Swaminathan Botanical Garden, which houses nearly 2000 flowering plant species, (including rare/endemic/or threatened species of Western Ghats) and Manikunnu Mala, a hillock rich in birds and butterfly diversity.

3. Branding and Communicating the Agricultural Heritage Sites globally

There are many agricultural heritage systems in India that evolved akin to the multitude of social, cultural and ecological systems, call for attention to be branded, showcased and communicated to outside world. Apart from the heritage associated with vast stretches of rice paddies others like Spice Villages, Coffee mountains, Millet villages that are managed with traditional farming practices and wonderful assemblage of different ‘folk culture and varieties’, will be promoted.


N Anil Kumar
19-05-2017