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The Timbaktu Collective

The Timbaktu Collective

Anirudh Nair reports on the Timbaktu Collective, a community-based NGO established in 1990, which has been working with about 21,000 marginalised families, towards an ecological revival in the drought-prone Anantapur district of Andhra Pradesh.

The Timbaktu Collective began by restoring the 32 acre agro-forest land of Timbaktu and working for the upliftment of the community. It has subsequently expanded its eco-restoration and community empowerment initiatives.
Photo Courtesy: The Timbaktu Collective

Initiated in 1990, the Timbaktu Collective aims to promote sustainable development in the resource-stricken region of Anantapur district of Andhra Pradesh. Beginning with the restoration of Timbaktu, a 32-acre agro-forest habitat and intentional community, the organisation initiated programmes for natural regeneration, the financial empowerment of women, and alternative education in 1992. With a staff strength of around 130 individuals, the Collective works with more than 21,000 families in 172 villages including those affected by chronic drought, unproductive land, unemployment, and poor infrastructural facilities across four mandals of Anantapur.

In Timbaktu, soil and plants are protected from grazing by small ruminants and cattle through a combination of social fencing and in a few small patches, fences made from steel and thorn bushes. Tree felling, which used to be common, has stopped. There is a restriction on hunting and trapping as well.The community initially put a lot of effort into putting out forest fires, which are a regular feature of the summer months. As a preventive measure, the community now creates firelines before the onset of summer by deliberately burning four-and-half to six metre wide grids spread across the hills. Active restoration as well as ensuring natural regeneration along with more than two decades of protection and low disturbance mean that existing plants and grasses now propagate themselves. Organic farming is conducted in a five-acre plot of land adjacent to Timbaktu with access to better water supply. Kitchen gardening and bio-intensive gardening is also practiced. In addition, underprivileged children attending a residential nature school have an hour-long gardening session every day.

The children engage in biodiversity regeneration activities. Photo Courtesy: The Timbaktu Collective

The work in Timbaktu, which began as an experiment, is now the inspiration for all eco-restoration efforts that the Collective is undertaking as part of a community-based, ecology restoration and biodiversity conservation programme known as ‘Kalpavalli’. A 9,000-acre expanse of previously barren and degraded revenue waste land has been transformed into a vibrant savannah grassland ecosystem actively protected through a system of community forest watchers. The Kalpavalli Community Conservation Area now serves as a critical biodiversity reserve and wildlife corridor with assessments carried out over the past few years revealing the presence of 22 mammalian species including the Indian grey wolf, blackbuck, leopard, sloth bear, hyaena, 123 bird species and 28 species of reptiles and amphibians. A cooperative of tree growers comprising 10 village-level forest protection committees was established in 2008. These committees undertake livelihood enhancement interventions for locals by overseeing the seasonal harvest of grasses, date palm fronds, wild berries, tamarind leaves, fruits and maintenance of large grazing land for small ruminants. The catchment area of two watersheds that provides irrigation to 10 villages were rejuvenated as well. The possibility of setting up a community-owned ecotourism enterprise that can generate revenue through camping, fishing, stream walks and birdwatching is now being considered.

Timbaktu and Kalpavalli today serve as models for dryland regeneration. “Why should we work in an ecologically-rich area? We are working in a place like this because everything is marginalised – the people, soil, climate – in every which way you look there is marginalisation. However, the challenge is to make a place like this sustainable. It is so easy for it to become completely barren, without money, culture, soil, trees, etc. The challenge is to make life, the economy, and the ecology sustainable. Yes, it is difficult, but it is necessary work,” said C.K. ‘Bablu’ Ganguly, Chief Functionary, The Timbaktu Collective.

A community-based ecologically restored land as part of the Collective’s ‘Kalpavalli’ conservation programme. Photo Courtesy: The Timbaktu Collective

In 2010, wind energy company Enercon began installing wind energy farms within the conservation area based on improperly-conducted public approvals. The tree growers’ cooperative and the Timbaktu Collective approached the National Green Tribunal (NGT) for compensation from the loss of biodiversity due to the construction of roads to transport the wind mill components, which had a significant impact on the flora and fauna of the region. Despite the National Green Tribunal’s decision ruling in favour of the petitioners stating that Rs. 50,00,000 must be paid to the State Pollution Control Board and Forest Department so that it could plant trees in the conservation area, the project is today run by a wholly-owned Indian subsidiary of Enercon and the Forest Department and State Pollution Control Board have not undertaken any quantifiable restoration activity as per the court directive.

The Collective’s list of ongoing programmes are as follows:

* Kalpavalli (eternal source of abundance): Community-based natural regeneration.

* Organic Agriculture

* Chiguru (new bud): Running the Nature School, for underprivileged children and implementing the Mogga Project, which focuses on outreach to children and youth via a community resource centre, village-level children’s clubs and spaces, leadership and cultural training, ecology awareness camps and more.

* Enterprise Development: Support to nascent rural business enterprises.

* Militha (inclusion): Promoting the rights of people with disabilities.

* Gramasiri (wealth of the village): Enhancing livelihoods of landless labourers.

* Swasakthi: Financial empowerment of rural women.

Pointing out the lack of a clear legal framework defining the control of village commons resting with the village community, Siddharth Rao, Director – Ecology, The Timbaktu Collective, said, “The government needs to recognise community-conserved areas as being important. We are working towards creating a model that actually works.”

The Collective also promotes organic, sustainable and traditional farming practices among small and marginal farmers, who are engaged in the cultivation of nutrient-rich and climate change-resilient millets, pulses and oilseeds. A cooperative was setup in 2008 in order to enable farmers to gain control over the agriculture value chain and improve their returns.The producer-owned-and-managed business enterprise today markets its produce under the brand name ‘Timbaktu Organic’.

Local women are among those benefitted by the Collective’s women empowerment efforts. Photo Courtesy: The Timbaktu Collective

Going ahead, the Collective aims to scale up livelihood generation activities within the Kalpavalli Community Conservation Area and work more intensively within each of their programmes to expand stakeholder benefits. Sanctuary readers can assist the Timbaktu Collective in their awareness campaigns and explore internship, volunteering opportunities within the ‘Kalpavalli’ programme as well as other opportunities for on ground wildlife work and collaborative research.

Contact: www.timbaktu.org/contact/

The Timbaktu Collective, Chennekothapalli village, Anantapur District, Andhra Pradesh – 515101.
This e-mail address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it ; This e-mail address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it
Tel.: 08559-240149

Source: First published in: Sanctuary Asia, Vol. XXXVIII No. 2, February 2018.


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