Alternative livelihood in the Nilgiris: Reversing the “Vicious Cycle” of Poverty and Environmental Degradation

Poverty and environmental degradation share a direct relationship. The poor, in order to survive, consume nearby ‘natural capital'. As a result of this, their asset depreciates, thereby further plunging them into poverty, which in turn leads to worsening of the state of natural capital on which their survival depends. Therefore, although the poor are rarely the principal creators of large scale environmental damage; they often bear consequence of it and are caught in a downward spiral of increasing impoverishment and environmental degradation.

                                                            …. Low assets →  low income  →  no surpluses

                                     →  the poor consume nearby ‘natural capital’ in which they are stake-holders  

                                                                              → even lower assets ……


The rural people living in the Nilgiris Biosphere Reserve face similar situation where natural capital losses due to deforestation are estimated to be around INR 800,000 – 1,200,000 per hectare whilst the economic gains are estimated to be only around INR 50,000 – 100,000 per hectare.

Preliminary research was undertaken to provide two examples of sustainable alternative livelihood for the Nilgiris Biosphere Reserve which can help end this vicious cycle. The local corporators lease land ‘patta’ to local farmers to grow cash crops of grains. Employment for tribals is seasonal and at very low rates and when the land goes fallow, the next ‘patta’ is allocated. Therefore this system is highly unsustainable and causes huge environmental losses.
The two alternatives were formed counter this:

Alternative 1: Eco-restoration – Degraded land to be restored by clearing/removing unviable tea bushes. It will then be restored and nursery maintained for medicinal plants and herbs, floriculture, and nursery sales. All this will be done by employing local village people.

Alternative 2: Eco-tourism or cultural tourism: Since the Todas have a unique & complex ancient culture, a separate pantheon, an evolved mythology, a “Village Homestay” model can be implemented along with promotion of sales of handicrafts. Alternatively, “Built Tribal Home” model, that is, construction of Five Huts “for tourists only”, and maintained by one Toda village, where in the proceeds can be shared among the village and investors in a fair manner.
The suggested sources of funds to finance this initiatives include – Government of India , institutional & philanthropic and microfinance.

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