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17 Jul 2017 | Blog

Seeking Connection

Brij Rathore

5 mins Read

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We finally stood up. Our eyes were closed, our hands held in a circle. Our ears were pricked up to the tune of singing cicadas. Only the call of the cuckoo punctuated their song. We allowed ourselves two minutes to soak up the music. We pressed each other’s palms to reinforce our bond and acknowledge the bridge we had built between us as multiple stakeholders who had come together at the International Centre for Integrated Mountain Development (ICIMOD) Knowledge Park in Godavari on 5 June 2017. We had congregated seeking to connect with nature and commit ourselves to the cause of nature and people on the occasion of World Environment Day.

Situated south of Kathmandu Valley, under the peak of Phulchowki (2,782 m), the Godavari landscape is rich with music. It requires you to do more than just listen with your ears. Its forests are home to an estimated 270 bird species, of which 17 are endangered. Godavari is simply a birder’s paradise. It is listed as an important bird area (IBA). It is also a haven for other creatures. Mahendra  Limbu, a  butterfly expert, will  spare no effort to drive home the point that over 50% of the total butterfly species in Nepal is found in Godavari, and the endangered endemic subspecies, the  great hockeystick sailer is now restricted to these pockets. No less significant is Godavari for damselfly and dragonfly. Karen  Coniff, an expert on odonata, has extensively documented damselfly and dragonfly and sees the area as a hotspot for these insects. There is so much more that the Godavari landscape holds. With some 653 plant species and 22 species of mammals, the richness of the area’s biodiversity can hardly be overemphasized. Cultural and sacred elements are interwoven in the ecological fabric of Godavari. We could see this at the Godavari Kunda, a sacred spring marked by a neat line of shaivite shrines, Buddhist monasteries and shrines dotting the  landscape including at Phulchowki and Shanti ban Buddha, among others. Do we need more for elements of nature to connect?

All is not well with nature’s music at Godavari, though. Rabi Silwal, principal of St Xavier School, talked of the blaring music and heaps of waste generated by picnickers who make merry at picnic spots in forests managed by local community forest user groups. An increasing number of picnickers who come to the Godavari forests have little time to connect with nature’s music. They barely venture beyond their own music and speakers, dances and drinks, and junk food. Can the picnickers be made to listen to a bit of nature’s music when they choose to come to the landscape? Shyam Lama, Chairman of Daile Danda Community Forestry User Group (CFUG), ponders over the question during the landscape journey. Nature does not produce waste, but we do. In the absence of adequate waste management, the burning of waste is so rampant that it now lists high on the agenda of multiple stakeholders.

You come to Godavari for pure water. Godavari water has its own music. This music is what makes it a valuable resource for locals and for people in Kathmandu Valley. As many as 12 water factories operate in the landscape, helping fulfill the valley’s huge demand on water. The ever-increasing demand, including the over drafting of water in Lalitpur and Kathmandu, poor water management, water source pollution, and inadequate focus on water recharge areas has affected the waterscape in Godavari and adjoining areas. Water stress has hit the habitat of invertebrates, including the dragonfly and damselfly, bemoans Karen Coniff. Coherence amongst multiple institutions related to water governance, backed by comprehensive mapping of springs and their recharge areas for effective water management, was listed as priority area for collective action.

Nature has ample scope for green jobs. Newly elected Chair of Godavari Municipality Ward 3, Bal Mukund Ghimire, pointed out that a major priority for him was to explore eco-tourism products built around the rich natural attributes of the Godavari landscape. This would mean moving away from the business as usual tourism development scenario. The Nepal Tourism Board and the Department of Tourism will be willing partners in helping make this happen. Mahendra, our butterfly expert, holds that along with birding, the landscape has immense potential for butterfly tourism, some of which is already being realized. Can the collective will of stakeholders develop a tourism enterprise in the Godavari landscape that befriends nature, creates livelihoods for locals, and brings unique value to visitors, tourists, and picnickers?  It would, however, mean that more orthodox and conventional ideas about boosting tourism are let go.

The forested landscape in Godavari comprises of reserve forests, community forests, the national botanical garden and herbarium, the ICIMOD-managed Godavari Knowledge Park, forests within institutional spaces, and trees on farm bunds. The recovery of forests within the Godavari Knowledge Park, the eco-restoration of degraded forests by community forest user groups, and a vibrant botanical garden are all good success stories. However, ecosystem services provided by the Godavari landscape—water, carbon, pollination, and others—are yet to be fully documented and their status ascertained. Ward Chair Bal Mukund wants to know more about floristic diversity of the Godavari area, particularly in areas managed by community forest user groups. He is particularly interested in those species that can be sustainably used for the benefit of locals. Pankaj Rathuri,  CEO of Dabur Nepal, feels that enrichment planting with  species of timur, tejpat and lapsi in community forests  can be a means by which to enhance local livelihoods and incomes through public-private partnership. The sustainable management of CFUG forests calls for  effective control of forest fires and invasive species. Loss of spiny babbler from the Godavari landscape is being attributed to the clearing of bushes and shrubs from CFUG areas. Sustainable management of forest under CGUGs will therefore require concerns of biodiversity conservation to be included in the operational plan. Bird Conservation Nepal is actively working towards this. Many of these actions also find high priority on the agenda of forest department.

The ICIMOD Knowledge Park has been playing an important role in disseminating technologies for the wellbeing of people, within the Godavari landscape and beyond it. ICIMOD has now taken up the role of connecting the dots to engage in interdisciplinary and inter-sectoral conversations where multiple perspectives come into play is realizing the vision of  Hamro Godavari, Ramro Godavari (Our Godavari, Beautiful Godavari). The willingness and ownership exhibited by multiple stakeholders in seeking to connect with elements of the landscape and the issues thereof, auger well for a meaningful journey in times to come.

Connecting people to the music in nature and connecting stakeholders to each other to ensure that the music continues to play for generations to come is what the  Godavari  Landscape Journey is all about. Let the Godavari music play on.

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