Training local women to garden back the biosphere at Gurukula Botanical Sanctuary in the Western Ghats
What’s the goal?
We need to raise £7000 to train five young rural women as 'Ecosystem gardeners'. In a small corner of the Western Ghats, the Gurukula Botanical Sanctuary has been conserving the herbaceous flora of the forests. This includes instruction and practice in the cultivation of endangered plants. Trainees are provided with meals, lodging, and a stipend. After a year's training individuals (or trainees) would be expected to continue in fully-paid work at the Sanctuary for at least one more year.
We've got 60 days to raise the funds.
About the project
For the past eight years, Rainforest Concern has been working with Gurukula Botanical Sanctuary in the Western Ghats in India. The sanctuary has evolved a unique approach to plant conservation and habitat restoration, or 'gardening back the biosphere'. Based on former tea and lemon grass plantations, Gurukula Botanical Sanctuary works to conserve the herbaceous flora of the Western Ghats, which are the first plants to die when habitats are fragmented, and then to reintroduce these species to help restore the ecosystem.
The sanctuary trains young women from rural communities in conservation and horticulture and has an all women species conservation team.
Why are the plants of the Western Ghats worth conserving?
The Western Ghats, in India, are a mountain range of immense importance because of their exceptionally high levels of biological diversity. Listed by UNESCO as a world heritage site, they are also defined as one of the planets 34 global biodiversity hotspots; biologically rich regions containing high levels of species diversity that are threatened with extinction, and have lost more than 70% of their primary vegetation. The Western Ghats’ influence on climate and rainfall is critical for the millions of people who live in it on near its river catchments. The mountains have the highest human population density of all the global biodiversity hotspots and 245 million people in south India are dependent on the water from the rivers that the Western Ghats feeds.
Plant species are threatened by habitat loss, climate change, invasive exotics, population increase, infra-structure projects and extraction for the medicinal plant industry.
Why train local women?
Many women are underprivileged in India and this is especially true in rural areas. Although the state of Kerala, where Gurukula Botanical Sanctuary is situated, has some of the highest literacy rates for men and women, still, women often perform hard tasks, are paid less and generally are not encouraged to pursue education, as they are mostly expected to look after family. In addition, in the area around the sanctuary another issue is lack of employment and failed agricultural economies (resulting in the emigration away from the area for young people).
To date, the Sanctuary has trained around 100 conservation gardener-assistants, so far, all of them local women. But we need help to carry on.
The bulk of the conservation work at GBS is conducted by a small group of 'ecosystem gardeners', whose skills in designing and executing experiments have been critical to establishing the plant gene pool. Generally, gardeners have no visible place in conservation strategies, yet without a pool of skilled conservation gardeners increases, habitat restoration efforts are less likely to succeed.
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Gurukula Botanical Sanctuary's track record
Gurukula Botanical Sanctuary’s track record is considerable. This is the largest repository of native species in the region, with over 40% of the Western Ghat flora under conservation cultivation. The ex-situ conservation programme with 2000 species is complemented by forest restoration on 63 acres. In addition to conserving plants, the work of GBS supports the local forest ecosystem, securing habitats for birds, amphibians, insects, rare mammals. It is estimated that the land at Gurukula Botanical Sanctuary has amongst the highest diversity of amphibians for any unit area in the Western Ghats. By providing steady employment for 30 years, as well as training opportunities for the most underprivileged members of our local community, GBS has addressed a key problem of livelihood and income generation for the local community. In 2006, GBS won the prestigious Whitley Award for Nature.