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Re-Emergence of Ecotourism in Kerala- Connecting Communities Through Conservation

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Re-emergence of Ecotourism in Kerala-

Connecting Communities through Conservation

Authors:

1. Venugopal C.K. Assistant Professor, KITTS

2. R. Babu Assistant Professor, KITTS

Introduction

Ecotourism which emerged as a buzzword in the late 1980s, in other words is responsible travel to undisturbed natural areas which will help conserve the natural environment and enhance the wellbeing of the local people (TIES – 1990). Recognized as an appropriate tool for achieving sustainable development, the catch phrase simultaneously performs three important functions. They are a) Strengthening conservation efforts by providing financial support b) Enhancing economic benefits to the aboriginal people and other local community and c) Enriching visitor’s experience in the destination where the buzzword is being implemented and promoted properly. Keeping in mind the importance of developing ecotourism, such zones are being developed in the protected area networks across the world. Experiences show that the cost of maintenance of the global network of protected areas will be around USD 50 billion per year and the top 25 World Biodiversity Hotspots require USD 500 million per year (Gossling, S; 2002). As the revenue from government is insufficient, the protected areas are in the need of ecotourism for generating sufficient income to meet their maintenance costs in order to achieve financial sustainability. Western Ghats, in India, is one of the biodiversity hotspots in the world which is home for endemic plants and endangered animals. This backbone, the 1600 km long mountain range is considered as the principal ecotourism site in the country.

Ecotourism in Kerala

Forest with its endemic plants and majestic animals has always captivated man. The forests of Kerala which are blessed with this abundance stands out in the Indian peninsula. Western Ghats is home to diverse flora and fauna. Today the state has established 21 protected areas (16 wild life sanctuaries and 5 national parks) – (shown in Table 1 and Table 2) spread over 1736.88 sq.km that provide a natural advantage for developing ecotourism. Keeping this in mind, Government of Kerala has formed a separate wing for ecotourism with the aim of exploring, developing, and promoting ecotourism destinations with the support of local communities in the identified areas. This initiative took off by the launch of Thenmala ecotourism in Kollam district as India’s first planned ecotourism destination. In addition, the Department of Ecotourism, Government of Kerala has identified 56 spots for promoting ecotourism in the state. Considering their indigenous knowledge in the sustainable ecotourism practices, aborigines and other local communities living in and around protected and other forest areas are being by inducted into Eco Development Committees (EDC) in the protected area networks and Vana Samrakshna Samithi’s (VSS) in the other forest areas.

The Eco Development Project

India Eco Development Project was initiated by Government of India in 1996 aimed at reducing the dependency of local community on forest and to conserve the biological diversity of protected areas with the support of World Bank and Global Environmental Facility (GEF). As part of this initiative, 580 EDCs were formed involving 75,000 households in the selected areas. Considering the biological value of Periyar Tiger Reserve, the India Eco Development Project was launched by the Department of Forest and Wildlife in 1996 in this reserve (Project Performance Assessment Report, World Bank, 2007). The major objectives of this project are following;

• Improve the capacity of protected areas management to conserve biodiversity, increase collaboration of local people and increase opportunities for local participation • Reduce the negative impact of local people on biodiversity • Develop more extensive support for eco - development • Ensure effective management of the project • Prepare future biodiversity projects

After launching India Eco Development Project in Periyar Tiger Reserve, ecotourism has received significant attention among local people, tourists, service providers and other aid agencies in the state. Considering the significance of ecotourism in the forest areas, steps are being taken to spread this concept into other protected and forest areas of this state. As a result, EDCs and VSS were formed in the network of protected and other forest areas involving local people. For assisting EDCs, a local level institutional mechanism is developed what is known as Community Development Fund (CDF) in which a particular portion of employee’s salaries are retained, deposited and utilized for purposes like availing loans and to meet unforeseen needs of the local community. The members Self Help Groups (SHGs) are also included in the ecotourism practices as a supportive group while considering the women empowerment in the state.

The Benefits of Ecotourism

Though the State of Kerala has a number of ecotourism destinations, Periyar Tiger Reserve at Thekkady and Thenmala in Kollam district stands out. According to the Department of Forest, Thekkady received a total of 452791 visitors during 2002 / 03 while 133483 tourists are visited Thenmala / Palaruvi (as on 30.09.2008) which shows the increasing trend in tourist arrivals compared to previous years. Moreover, according to Thenmala Ecotourism Promotion Society (TEPS) as on August 2008, the revenue generated from ecotourism for 2007 – 2008 is estimated as Rs.16,72,711/-. Since 2005, the ecotourism initiatives of Kerala has been attracting financial support from the central Government which totals up to 1389.7 lakhs while the state plan allocation for ecotourism development is Rs. 150 lakhs as on 31.10.2008 (Directorate of Ecotourism, GOK).

The ecotourism initiative in Kerala has become as an alternate tool for providing livelihood to the marginalised community members in terms of employment, income generation and training. Guards, guides, and drivers etc are the major employment generating areas in the ecotourism destinations. The employment opportunities for the local community members have not only increased their level of income but also facilitated saving pattern among them. As ecotourism destinations are initiated in remote areas, it has provided employment opportunities to the marginalised and economically backward community members. According to Eco – Development and Tribal Welfare Wing of Department of Forest (as on 31.12.2008), a total of 39,557 community members have been employed of which 8164 people (20.64%) belong to Scheduled Caste community. The employment generated for Scheduled Tribes is estimated as 6063 (15.33%) while 23330 people (64.03%) from other community have been employed in various ecotourism practices across the state.

In addition to the socio – economic benefits of ecotourism, the Directorate of Ecotourism, Government of Kerala is taking earnest efforts in imparting various training / skill development programmes to the members of EDC and VSS across the state which enables them to acquire and update their knowledge on different concepts of ecotourism management. Kerala Institute of Tourism and Travel Studies (KITTS), an autonomous institute under the aegis of Department of tourism successfully conducted a Naturalist / Interpreters course for EDC / VSS members. This was organised in association with Directorate of Ecotourism with the aim of promoting quality eco tour guides in the identified ecotourism destination. During the course, guiding skills, first aid practices, ecotourism products of Kerala, visitor management technique, hospitality and special knowhow on endemic and endangered species of Kerala were imparted to the participants. In addition to this, the Directorate of Ecotourism is organising regional workshops in the identified regions.

All this shows that focussing more on ecotourism will be beneficial for the marginalised and ethnic communities and will help the state realise its dream of sustainable development.

Table 1
Wildlife Sanctuaries of Kerala
|Serial No |Name of Reserve |Area in Km2 |Year of Formation |District |
|1 |Periyar Tiger Reserve |925. 00 |1950 |Idukki |
|2 |Neyyar Wildlife Sanctuary |128.00 |1958 |Thiruvananthapuram |
|3 |Peechi - Vazhani Wildlife Sanctuary |125.00 |1958 |Thrissur |
|4 |Parambikulam Wildlife Sanctuary |285.00 |1973 |Palakkad |
|5 |Wayanad Wildlife Sanctuary |344.44 |1973 |Wayanad |
|6 |Idukki Wildlife Sanctuary |70.00 |1976 |Idukki |
|7 |Peppara Wildlife Sanctuary |53.00 |1983 |Thiruvananthapuram |
|8 |Thattekkad Bird Sanctuary |25.00 |1983 |Ernakulam |
|9 |Shendurney Wildlife Sanctuary |171.00 |1984 |Kollam |
|10 |Chinnar Wildlife Sanctuary |90.44 |1984 |Idukki |
|11 |Chimmony Wildlife Sanctuary |85.00 |1984 |Thrissur |
|12 |Aralam Wildlife Sanctuary |55.00 |1984 |Kannur |
|13 |Mangalavanam Bird Sanctuary |0.027 |2004 |Ernakulam |
|14 |Kurinjimala Sanctuary |32.00 |2006 |Idukki |
|15 |Choolannur Pea Fowl Sanctuary |3.42 |2007 |Palakkad |
|16 |Malabar Wildlife Sanctuary |74.215 |2010 |Kozhikkode |
|Total |1541.542 | | |

Source: Department of Forest, Govt of Kerala
Table 2
National Parks of Kerala
|Serial No |Name of Reserve |Area in Km2 |Year of Formation |District |
|1 |Eravikulam National Park |97.00 |1978 |Idukki |
|2 |Silent Valley National Park |89.52 |1984 |Palakkad |
|3 |Pampadum Shola National Park |1.318 |2003 |Idukki |
|4 |Mathikettan Shola National Park |12. 817 |2003 |Idukki |
|5 |Anamudi Shola National Park |7.5 |2003 |Idukki |
|Total |195.338 | | |

Source: Department of Forest, Govt of Kerala

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