Saturday, 7 March 2015

ROLE OF SOME UNSUNG WOMEN IN BIODIVERSITY CONSERVATION

P.K. Mishra
Department of Botany
Vinoba Bhave University
Hazaribag-825319, Jharkhand, India
E mail: malay_mishra@yahoo.com

Introduction
Women have been custodian of plant genetic diversity from time immemorial. They have adequate knowledge regarding importance of plants as food, medicine, clothing and raw materials for various house-hold purposes. Plants are the backbones of religious events and rituals. Obviously these aspects of life are dependent on women. Since time immemorial, role of women has been acclaimed by society as gatherer and conservator of plant species. In the year 1983, Yale University press published a book authored by Frances Dahelberg entitled “Woman the Gatherer”. The book glorified how women have contributed in conservation of plant genetic resources. Culinary tradition of any area is highly specific and tailored according to plant diversity present in that area. Needless to mention, women play vital role in maintaining this tradition. Rituals and festivals are also important aspects of the cultural diversity as various plants and plant parts are used for various purposes. Women are pivotal for maintaining the cultural diversity and they properly manage and maintain plants for this purpose.


Apart from contributing in day to day maintenance and conservation of the plant diversity, women have made the ultimate sacrifice to protect plants and such instances have been the lighthouses for present day conservationists. Sacrifice of Amrita Devi is noteworthy in this regard. In the year 1730, the King of Jodhpur ordered his men to cut some Prosopis cineraria from Khejari village of Marwar. Residents of that village are mostly Bishnoi cult having strong regard for plants and environment. Men of that village vigorously opposed this step. Next day the King sent his men in afternoon when all male members of the village were out on their work. Amrita Devi resisted cutting of trees and sacrificed her life along with her two daughters but did not allow cutting of trees. Thus, the Chipko Movement was started.

Some Case Studies Highlighting Role of Women in Biodiversity Conservation

Our country is full of unsung women champions of biodiversity conservation. It is difficult to mention all of them but few important among them are described below.

Rural Education and Development Services (REDS)
Women of Dharmpuri village of Tamil Nadu formed an organisation REDS which took up the task of conserving plant diversity of their area. The role of ex situ conservation took shape and now 35 medicinal gardens have been established which conserve and cultivate 158 medicinal plants. The approach of these women soon started paying dividend and apart from conservation of the medicinal plants the attempt led to socio-economic growth of the area.

Herbs for All, Health for All
Women from Panangofe, Pampuchathamana and Bharathnoor villages in Kerala formed an organisation and got training for scientific conservation of medicinal plants. The women got training about collecting, maintaining, conserving and propagating medicinal plants. The women then started training other village women and now the area is strongly committed to conservation of plant diversity.

Raksha Bandhan in Garhwal Himalayas
As mentioned earlier, women play a vital role in maintaining the rituals of a particular area. Bachchni Devi of Garhwal Himalays successfully exploited this for the conservation of trees. She organised a group of women of her locality and encouraged them to tie sacred thread to trees. In this way Raksha Bandhan of tree was done. This event became popular in Garhwal and helped in the conservation of trees.

Kamala Pujar of Orissa
Korapat district of Orissa is abode of over 1,800 landraces of rice. It is unfortunate that presently the cultivation of only 15 high yielding varieties is done. Landraces are better adapted to the local environment and are often not as susceptible to diseases as the high yielding varieties. Normally the land races are tolerant to climatic changes also hence are of great value as a tool for the climate change adaptability. Landraces are also treasure of various valuable genes which may prove to be an important tool for crop improvement. Too much emphasis on high yielding verities has accelerated erosion of the landraces. Kamala Pujari took responsibility of conserving landraces of rice with the help of some other women of her district. Now these landraces are also being cultivated in many areas of Orissa along with the high yielding varieties. Contribution of Mrs. Pujari was acclaimed at international forum also and she was awarded at the World Summit on Sustainable Development at Johannesburg in the year 2002.

Maa Ghodadei Mahila Samiti
Illegal falling of trees is a serious problem and it has got a far reaching negative effect on environment. Women of Nayagarh district of Orissa took this problem seriously and accepted the challenge of the forest protection. Women organised themselves and formed a group known as the Maa Ghodadei Mahila Samiti specially aimed at checking illegal falling of tree from forest. Members of the Samiti use to patrol forest area even during the night and catch the culprits. The women force has created such an impact that dreaded criminals now do not dare to enter forest for the illegal activities. The contribution of women has helped in protecting the forest.

Conclusion
India is a country of diverse cultures and rituals. Women have played a vital role in maintaining these virtues. Plants are an integral part of these cultures as they are variously utilised in the rituals. Women take an utmost care for maintaining plant species for this purpose. Agriculture is another sector which is largely dependent on women. They collect; gather and conserve plant varieties and thus conserve the biodiversity. Culinary is another area dominated by women and their role in conserving agro-biodiversity is larger than life. The examples and case studies are endless. Every area of our country is full of the women conservationists. It is high time to highlight role of such unsung women champions of biodiversity conservation. Such success stories have high motivational impact. Proper encouragement is very important for continuing and propagating such schemes and programmes. Proper regard from the society and the governmental organisations is urgently needed. Although there some governmental schemes for working women, a large number of women from unorganised sectors are contributing significantly in the biodiversity conservation and the environmental management. Supporting such workers is equally important. It will not be an exaggeration to say that until unsung women are not credited properly and are involved in environmental management, desired result will not be achieved.
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