Our local partner is CHIRAG, a small but outstanding indigenous development organisation. We focus on the forestry component of their holistic programme: CHIRAG is also active in the ﬁelds of community health, education, agriculture and income generation initiatives. Since 1997 we have funded the reforestation of around 4,000 acres (1600 hectares) of degraded hillside, together with providing adult training and environmental programmes in schools. Success has depended on motivating and inculcating new skills and attitudes amongst the villagers, especially the women who are the main user group.
Villagers participate in all aspects of forest development from initial project planning through to planting out the trees and their ongoing management. All tree seedlings are produced in small home or village nurseries to supply the 12,000 or so we currently need for outplanting each year. In addition Chirag is experimenting with Direct Seed Sowing: that is the sowing of those species with larger seeds such as oak, chestnut & bauhinia, directly into the soil as opposed to planting out trees as saplings. This is proving highly successful and reduces the cost per surviving tree by approximately 65% - to around 7 rupees (8 pence sterling).
All beneﬁts from the forest, such as wood collection and grass cutting, are kept within the community and any payments are made to locals rather than to outside contractors. Biogas technology, which creates gas from cow dung for cooking, has been introduced to provide an alternative to wood fuel and so reduce pressure on the forest. Likewise solar cookers and other fuel efﬁcient stoves are being promoted.
Our project is situated in the Himalayas in north-central India, close to the border with Nepal. Work is at an average elevation of 5,000 feet (1,500 metres) in the lower reaches of this great mountain range. Forest resources in the region are essential to local livelihoods - in particular for fuelwood and the browse and forage needed for livestock on which their agriculture depends. Destruction of the forest is causing erosion, soil impoverishment and interference with natural water courses.
The increasing pace of human intervention and deforestation in the Himalayas is potentially devastating. It could lead to the gradual choking off of the life support systems on which local inhabitants depend and that of the many millions in the Ganges Plain below for whom forest survival in the hills is integral to the proper regulation of water ﬂow and the containment of ﬂash ﬂooding.
The programme has covered over 200 villages to date. New villages have become involved which are situated in particularly challenging areas surrounded by steep arid hillsides. The ﬁrst step towards restoring such areas to forest is to focus on revegetation and to establish ground cover by planting shrubs and grasses. Certain pioneer trees are also useful at this stage including the rugged Jacaranda tree, more generally planted as a garden or street side ornamental. Small check dams, contour pits and other measures help prevent water run-off and increase the moisture level in the soil. This prepares the site for the subsequent planting of the more useful and important trees that will form the core of the eventual forest.
There is an acute and growing water crisis in the Himalayas. Climate change with glacier retreat and extreme weather events are compounding the problems caused by increased demands from a rising population. Deforestation has undermined the capacity of the soil to retain water and release it gradually: this leads to erosion, soil compaction and ﬂash ﬂooding. Chirag is extending its work in ecosystem management and the protection of water courses with tree, shrub and grass planting. It has mapped all springs over a large area of its operations and has to date completed rejuvenation activities with over 200 of them through its participatory groundwater management programme with local villagers.