Bringing people together to sustainably manage their forest landscapes in Asia.

Model Forests and Sentinel Landscapes: Living Laboratories for Practical Results

Kodagu Model Forest partners with CIFOR’s Sentinel Landscapes program for long-term research benefitting forest-dependent communities in India

Agroforestry systems influence much of the Western Ghats landscape and economy. Coffee, pepper, cardamom, tea and rubber have long been cultivated in and around forested areas there, including tmedium_IMG_4446he district of Kodagu, home to Kodagu Model Forest. Kodagu is one of the ‘hottest hot spots’ of biodiversity in the world. Yet pressure on the land and forests is strong, commensurate with the challenges of securin
g and improving the livelihood of inhabitants. In some areas, only small tracts of forest land remain, such as sacred groves or private holdings. Forest loss is affecting biodiversity conservation, spurring human-wildlife conflict, and threatening water quality and supply.

Ecological research has been ongoing in the region for some 40 years to address a multitude of issues ranging from the quality of shade grown coffee to documenting traditional ecological knowledge of local stakeholders to exploring changing tree rights.  Given its rich history, the Western Ghats region was selected as the first landscape in South Asia to participate in the Sentinel Landscapes program.

The Sentinel Landscapes initiative was launched in 2012 by CGIAR Research Program Forests, Trees and Agroforestry, led by the Center for International Forestry Research (CIFOR), the World Agroforestry Centre (ICRAF) and their partners. The research program uses a landscape approach to combine long-term ecological research with long-term socio-economic research to effect positive change for forest-dependent and farming communities across the region. The collection of both biophysical and socio-economic data over a large yet specific area will allow for assessing long-term trends with a view to informed policy and land use decisions.

The Western Ghats Sentinel Landscape covers the districts of Kodagu, Chamrajanagar, Nilgiris and Waynad, and was built on the premise of inclusive partnerships, participatory governance and an integrated landscape approach to sustainability. Kodagu Model Forest joined the International Model Forest Network in 2004. Including The Model Forest as a partner in the Western Ghats Sentinel Landscape brought clear advantages. For example, partners were already well advanced in undertaking research into a payments for ecosystem services (PES) pilot program for Kodagu and influencing PES is an objective of the Sentinel Landscapes Initiative locally.

“Model Forests are designed to act as long-term ‘living laboratories’ for both biophysical and social science research, which is also what Sentinel Landscapes are about,” said Peter Besseau, Executive Director of the IMFN Secretariat. “Kodagu Model Forest participation in this initiative will bring valuable insight, particularly around questions regarding PES and local land use.”

“[Indian and international] partners have been working with local communities, promoting socially just environmental conservation and sustainable development for a long time in Kodagu,” said Dr. Claude Garcia, lead for the Sentinel Landscapes program in India on its first two years. “We are now joining hands to learn how these landscapes evolve, and how forests, trees and agroforests contribute to the livelihoods of local people.”

Dr. Garcia added that the lessons to be drawn from the Sentinel Landscapes initiative will be of interest to the global community as the knowledge generated is expected to help society meet some of its most pressing challenges – the environmental and social impacts of land use and climate changes  –  through better policy and practice.

The work in Kodagu Model Forest and the rest of the Western Ghats Sentinel Landscape will provide lessons and opportunities for south-south exchange, including potentially through other Sentinel Landscape sites of the International Model Forest Network, possibly affecting the livelihoods and resilience of communities worldwide.

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