Biodiversity: Enhancing Livelihood Opportunities in the Himalaya

   TwitCount
Khar VDC, Darchula

“Nature” never fails to surprise us. In many parts of the world, natural resources are the sole source for livelihood opportunities. Be it in the form of wild shrubs like Daphne papyracea and Daphne bholua that can be used to make paper or Gossypium spp (cotton) that forms the backbone of textile industries, nothing can compete with the artistry, vigor or dynamism of biological resources. More recently, Girardinia diversifolia (Himalayan Nettle), a fiber yielding plant, has become an important livelihood option for people living in remote mountainous villages of the Hindu Kush Himalaya.

There is a community in Khar, a hamlet in Darchula district of far-western Nepal, which produces fabric from Himalayan nettle. The fabric and products made from it are sold in the local market as well as in national and international markets as high end products. A Himalayan nettle value chain development initiative implemented by the Kailash Sacred Landscape Conservation and Development Initiative (KSLCDI) at the International Center for Integrated Mountain Development (ICIMOD) has transformed the lives of the community in Khar. This is true especially for women and marginalized groups. With help from the project, they have come to recognize a nature-based sustainable alternative income source and use it to their benefit.

The residents of Khar have incorporated sustainable harvesting and processing techniques into their Himalayan nettle production chain. Today, Khar is on its way to becoming a nettle fiber production hub. Mufflers, stoles, suits and other articles of clothing, as well as purses and bags are some items the community in Khar produces. These products have been exhibited at national and international trade fairs and are considered an excellent souvenir option. At the 5th International Herbal Trade Fair held in Bhopal, Madhya Pradesh, India, nettle products from Khar caught the attentions of some of the state’s highest dignitaries as well as local people and tourists. Local framers were mesmerized by the idea of producing valuable fabric with something that grows abundantly in local surroundings. They were keen on learning about nettle processing and applying the same techniques to yield fabric from the Himalayan nettle, locally pronounced as “Bicchoo Ghas” in their area.

In a way, the otherwise unnoticed, remote mountain community of Khar has been able to establish its identity through its use of biological resources. Perhaps, in the near future, people will come to visit Darchula to learn more about the place and the people. 

Apart from nettle production, tourism presents one of the highest potentials for income generation in Darchula. Sustainable community-based tourism, with a focus on adventure and cultural tourism, needs to be promoted in the district. As a part of the Api Nampa Conservation Area, the landscape is rich in biodiversity and offers numerous opportunities for various touristic activities like trekking, rafting, and mountaineering. However, owing to its remoteness and unfamiliarity, the landscape at present does not attract many tourists. On the other hand, the area’s remoteness has conserved its authenticity increasing its value and attraction as a possible tourist site. There is a lot of potential to be fulfilled here.

Also important in this regard is the fact that Darchula district in Nepal and Dharchula in Pithoragarh district of the state of Uttarakhand in India together form a gateway to the sacred Mount Kailash and Lake Mansarovar (also a Ramsar Wetland Site) in the Tibet Autonomous Region of China. Thousands of people visit these pilgrimage sites from all around the world to pay homage every year. Often, devotees visit these districts to get the feel of the sacred landscape, the “Kailash Dham”. And for someone like me, the thought of crossing a bridge over to step into a different country is quite exciting. 

For tourists, purchasing nettle products from the source itself might present a fascinating idea. Natural attractions like Om Parvat, Adi Kailash, Jauljibi (confluence of the Kali and Gori rivers), Mount Api (7132m), and Mount Nampa (6757m) are invaluable in attracting tourists on both sides of the Nepal and India borders. 

This interesting relationship between biodiversity and tourism is something to think about. How many of the readers knew about Khar before reading this blog? I wrote about Khar because of how the community there has been able to work successfully with Himalayan nettle. Most of you know Darchula as a remote district of Nepal and relate it with beautiful mountains like Api and Nampa. You think of rivers Kali and Gori when you hear about Pithoragarh. All these are part of the earth’s natural wealth, its biodiversity.  Apart from everything else, today on the occasion of the International Day of Biodiversity, we are celebrating our identity- a recognition bestowed by nature!