Renowned French public financial institution — Agence Française de Développement (AFD) — undertook a five-day visit (15 March – 19 March 2022) in Assam to take stock of the developments and progress of its ongoing project — working to build healthier ecosystems and happier communities — in the state. While interacting with members of the local communities, the visit was aimed at instilling a better understanding of conservation efforts and propagating ways to avoid human-animal conflicts in the region.
The five-member mission team, including members of AFD international and India, Project Director Pavan Kumar, IFS, Addl. PCCF, and a group of management consultants, visited different sites and interacted with the beneficiaries of the Phase-I and II of the Assam Project on Forest and Biodiversity Conservation across Dibrugarh, Digboi, Jorhat, Kaziranga and Guwahati. The project, which started in 2012, is now in its second phase with an inclusive vision that keeps local communities at the heart of conserving wildlife, plants and ecosystems.
The mission visit kicked off with the inauguration of plantation sites and interaction with the Joint Forest Management Committees involved in raising plantation in the reserved forest areas of Jokai, Dehing Mukh and upper Dehing to reiterate the importance of rehabilitating the green cover of the state.
“Under Phase-II, plantations would be raised on about 12,500 hectares in priority sites across Assam. Of the total, more than 77 hectares have already been covered. The key focus areas of the project are mainstreaming gender perspectives into the work packages of the Forest Department and ensuring that the benefits of the ecosystem services percolate through to the vulnerable communities,” the Project Director said.
The team visited the Kaziranga National Park, the recently notified Dehing Patkai National Park, and a few of the adjacent eco-development committees — Gelipung in Dehing and Tamulipathar in Kaziranga — to assess the sustainability of the alternative livelihood trainings imparted in Phase-I and how that helped the project beneficiaries, especially women, reduce their dependence on forest resources through the opportunities of convergence.
The team also visited different artificial highlands and held discussions with the forest guards at the anti-poaching camps to get an idea of their existing knowledge and the skills required to protect the wildlife at the parks. The project looks at assessing the competencies of the frontline workers, and subsequently, bring technological and infrastructural upgradation to increase their efficiency on the ground.
A part of the mission also focused on an upcoming Indo-Pacific initiative between the AFD, the Assam Forest Department and the ONF International — a subsidiary of the French National Forest Office (ONF). The AFD had granted Rs 2.50 crore in kind to the state government to carry out an exchange programme for forest officials of France and Assam to similar landscapes and increase the abilities of forest officials in wildlife management.
On the fourth day of the mission, the delegation visited the Wildlife Rescue Centre at Kaziranga — a joint initiative between the Assam Forest Department and a local civil society organization — to understand the scope of such an initiative that would in turn help them set up similar units in relevant protected areas of the state to help animals in times of needs, especially floods.
“The mission has been a great success. We would continue to work towards achieving the biodiversity targets, promoting local and resilient livelihoods, introducing innovative technologies in forest management and encouraging collaboration among communities and governments through the project,” Team Leader, Emmanuel Fourmann of the Agriculture, Rural development and Biodiversity division, AFD Paris, added.