RANWA (Research and Action in Natural Wealth Administration) is a small NGO (Non governmental i.e. voluntary organisation, VA) Registered as a Public Charitable Trust at Pune, Maharashtra, India. Its objectives include environmental research, education and activism.
RANWA activities include :
Research : Documentation of plants, animals and human influence in Maharashtra, especially western region, particularly Pune district.
Education : Nature trails for general public and school children alike for introduce them to nature, especially plants, birds and butterflies.
Action : Plantation of local plant species, supporting environmental agitation, awareness campaigns.
Monitoring Forest Health
Yogesh Gokhale and colleagues found out that the forest biomass has doubled during last six decades and no species have been lost at Mahabaleshwar and Bhimashankar forests near Pune. This became evident from the records of the forest department, which included 5 yearly girth measurements of all the trees in preservation plots about an acre in size. The forest growth was prompted by abandonment of shifting cultivation and departmental felling, forces that restricted these forests earlier. However, in forests subjected to firewood extraction for tourists suffer from regeneration failure, unlike those harvested for the use of only the local people.
This understanding generated under the Indian Institute of Science (IISc) biodiversity monitoring project (WGBN- Western Ghats Biodiversity Network, Url: http://ces.iisc.ernet.in/hpg/cesmg/pew/wgbn.html) has been well received in popular media and even Forest Department. The plots will be revisited during 2001 for millennial monitoring.
Atlas of Maharashtra Biodiversity
Utkarsh Ghate, Shonil Bhagwat, Vivek Gour Broome and Yogesh Gokhale recorded distribution of nearly 600 woody plants in the state, particularly Vidarbha and Western Ghats, based on study visits and literature survey under the Biodiversity Hotspots Conservation Programme (BHCP) of World-wide Fund for Nature-India (WWF-I) and flexible grant from the Max Muller Bhavan. This helped in suggesting to the Forest Department areas for conserving more or unique diversity within limited efforts. This includes Bhamragad- the south-eastern corner of Vidarbha, recently declared a wildlife sanctuary. Ongoing work includes upload this information on web including in the form of an atlas and bibliography, besides similar information generated by Sanjeev Nalawade about vertebrate fauna of Maharashtra, with initial assistance from Econet.
Sacred Forests and Trees
India has a long tradition of conserving forests by dedicating to deities. Utkarsh Ghate studied such sacred groves in Western Maharashtra for Forest Department. Through the Biodiversity Conservation Prioritisation Project (BCPP) of WWF-I Yogesh Gokhale studied those allover the country where they continue despite manifold pressures today. Yogesh is involved in translating his experiences into a live demonstration project under a Central Government scheme. Recently, Shonil Bhagwat studied plant and animal diversity of sacred groves in the Kodagu district in southern Western Ghats. Protected from centuries, Sacred groves often host the oldest, largest, rarest trees from an area as well as many birds, mammals rare outside.
Fig trees, considered sacred, critically support animals, by yielding fleshy fruits all the year. Commonest fig trees like Banyan, Peepal etc., are worshipped and protected by people. Utkarsh Ghate has studied distribution of these keystone species in the Western Ghats with suggestions for their conservation.
Shonil Bhagwat had also studied biosphere reserves under the BCPP for evaluating and suggesting conservation efforts friendly to people and development. Ongoing work includes exposition of the value these traditional conservation methods by Utkarsh Ghate to managers of formal protected area (PA) system that has largely triggered resource conflicts between villagers, government and industries. These lessons greatly enriched the BCPP.
PEOPLE’S BIODIVERSITY REGISTER
To further the human-nature relationship, Yogesh Gokhale and colleagues have pioneered recording of folk knowledge and practices of conservation of biodiversity, beginning with Supegaon in Phansad wildlife sanctuary, Raigad district. Such people’s biodiversity registers have now become popular allover the country, as tool to stake people’s claim of prior knowledge for sharing benefits from its commercial exploitation such as through Intellectual proprty rights (IPRs) amidst globalisation. Further, such benefit sharing arrangement has now been also included in the Biodiversity Bill due for enactment soon.
Besides long term monetary benefits, such participatory nature documentation and planning can also help in decentralised resource management through the Panchayat Raj institutions. Utkarsh Ghate is currently advising the National Innovations Foundation (NIF) and its associates at the Indian Institute of Management (IIM), Ahmedabad (Url: http://nifindia.org). Utkarsh Ghate and Yogesh Gokhale have published nationally and internationally on this issue, from the IISc platform.
Cities host majority of literate naturalists, who spend resources to search remote forests, ignoring wildlife in the backyards! However, without preparing legally respectable publications or mass movement, they only lament against destruction of urban biota by unscrupulous urban development. To gradually change this trend and build public opinion, RANWA conducts weekend nature trails termed ` Nisarga parichya’ i.e. `Know the Nature’. Dr. Ajay Dixit, and experts including botanist Dr. S. D. Mahajan or wildlifer Prof. Sanjeev Nalawade lead the show once or twice a month.Plant Introduction Programme. Expert - Prof. S.D. Mahajan. These stalwarts guide over two dozen enthusiastic participants to common and interesting plants and animals from in and around Pune. This includes hills like Law College, Parvati and botanical gardens like Fergusson Collge, Pune University etc. Several students especially from Garware and Modern colleges, besides Pune university participate enthusiastically and even guide others about ants, fishes, snails and mushrooms.
Earlier, RANWA members including Ketan Latkar, Anand Gijare, Rahul Khalate, Vijay Barve conducted several indoor training programmes at Balbhavan, Balshikshan, Kataria and other schools. The focus then was on slide shows, talks and snake handling shows.
Earlier, RANWA conducted several nature education camps at remote places like Bhimashankar, Dandeli, Annamalai in the Western Ghats. Participants were introduced to plants, animals like birds, mammals, snakes and lizards, butterflies etc. Participantion to such camps and trails is open to all, benefiting diverse people with varied age class, sex and educational/ professional background. However, to generate local action, focus on local education has been increased recently.
Earlier Ketan Latkar, Milind kothawade opposed reckless cutting of forest undergrowth in the Western Ghats, to prevent soil erosion. RANWA volunteers, notably Milind Kothawade, Utkarsh Ghate, Yogesh Gokhale, Shonil Bhagwat, Vivek Gour Broome, participated in struggle against unsustainable developmement projects such as the dams on river Narmada. RANWA helped in organising cycle rallies to spread anti-pollution message. Shantanu Dixit, Shashank Karekar, Milind kothawade, Bhushan Sathe earlier contributed greatly to collection and planting of trees and Bamboos along city gardens, hillocks and even in Mulshi taluk to help NGOs Vanrai and Jeevan. This included homestead nursury raising of seeds collected from roadside trees. Seeds were then also sold to BAIF (Bharatiya Agro Industries Foundation) to help RANWA corpus.
Currently, Ajay Dixit has been popularising planting of local trees, including seed distribution and nursery, contrasting exotic trees promoted by government, despite their low value to local animals. Raghunandan Welankar and Vivek Gour Broome cultivate traditional rice varieties on their farms.