The eastern region of Nepal comprises one of the world’s 34 global ‘biodiversity hotspots,’ with more than 6,700 species of vascular plants, 180 mammals, and 800 bird species, including many species that are endemic or found nowhere else on earth. It contains the tributaries that feed into the trans-boundary Koshi River. It is also a region that is rapidly changing from economic pressures, haphazard urbanization, and increasingly severe impacts of climate change. The 6 million farmers in the region must work together to synthesize adaptation strategies and conserve local habitats, such as the Tamur river and the Char Koshe Jhari national forest, which underpin food, water and energy sovereignty at the household and community levels.
Between 1990 and 2005, Nepal lost more than 1.2 million hectares of forest or 25% of its forest cover. This was caused by poorly planned urbanization, land grabs and a lack of viable, economic alternatives to take pressure off of wild habitats. The loss of forests and habitat connectivity threatens the existence of numerous organisms of the eastern Himalayas of Nepal, threatening the livelihood of indigenous communities, particularly young people.
Local farmers have intricate knowledge of the uses of hundreds of locally found species of fauna and flora. This knowledge, assembled over generations through deep contact with the natural environment, is vital for adaptation to change. Inspired by the possibility of activating the hidden layer of indigenous knowledge held by these farmers and converting the landscape into a ‘Vertical University’ for the entire eastern region, the KTK-BELT project was launched in 2013. To harness local implementation capacity, Yangshila Permaculture Learning Grounds (YPLG), a farmers’ cooperative was created in 2013, and 100 acres of land was acquired in 31 different strategic locations to build ecosystem contiguity, provide a layer of defense against deforestation. Each plot was imagined as a ‘learning grounds’ to function as a community seed bank, agriculture research and demonstration site, and resource hub for alternative energy and conservation infrastructure.
The aim of KTK-BELT will be to create hundreds of such learning grounds, linked to the local school curricula and community livelihood objectives. We will decentralize environmental education and create field-based sensorial learning
In the aggregate, KTK-BELT will serve as an in situ conservation mechanism and means of linking upstream and downstream communities
through education, which will also help mitigate climate change impacts in the Himalayas. The belt will also serve as a bio-corridor allowing endangered fauna and
flora to thrive once again in the region. As the plants and habitats will be tagged and identified, anyone
will be able to freely walk along this corridor and learn about thousands of plants and
107 habitat types.
So far, we have generated over $200,000 to safeguard 100 acres of biodiversity-rich land harboring wetlands, old growth forest and cave systems, stretching from 180 masl to 1950 masl. Working with researchers from Cornell University, Oxfam USA, and UC David D-Lab, we have catalogued more than 600 plant species, mapped critical habitats in the region, and authored a study regarding local indigenous knowledge.
With the preliminary participatory action research (PAR) phase completed, we need funding in 2016 to create the first prototype of the 'Vertical University.' Thirty-one interconnected plots will be developed into unique 'Living Classrooms' at different altitudes to teach about 600 plant species including tropical fruits, orchids, and heirloom crops, using highly interactive design to active the indigenous knowledge that has been uncovered. The funds will be used as follows:
Rangcha Agro-Diversity Seed Bank: $25,000
Dahar Bird Conservancy: $15,000
Sikti Eco-plant trail for youth (QR-coded plant tags and signs): $15,000
Koshi Tappu Learning Grounds: $10,000
Mt. Kanchenjunga Learning Grounds: $10,000
BELT Studio Workshop: $20,000
KTK-BELT Youth Fellows Training: $5,000
Risks and challenges
The eastern region of Nepal is susceptible to land grabbing because of the resource richness and population growth in urban centers. There is a risk that as the 'Vertical University' develops, local property values will rise and farmers would feel pressure to sell their land to urban investors.
KTK-BELT has a unique, proactive strategy for confronting this risk, providing deep in-kind and training incentives for farmers to become integrated into the Vertical University as its teachers and care takers. As we have been working in the eastern region for 15 years, we have tried to understand the subtleties and nuances that drive negative land use changes.
The 'Vertical University' is also creating an innovative 'Vertical Fund' to feed revenue back towards farmers to engage in creative conservation activities and garner new income streams through eco-tourism. By safeguarding biodiversity-rich land into a public trust mechanism, the most critical environmental assets will be conserved for future generations.Learn about accountability on Kickstarter
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