UNU-IAS Students Conduct Fieldwork in India, Focusing on Biodiversity Governance

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  • 2014•06•10     Dehradun

    MSc fieldwork in India

    Students conducting data collection in communities next to the Ganga River.

    In May 2014, UNU-IAS students in the Master of Science in Environmental Governance programme conducted a fieldwork assignment in Rajaji National Park, India. The assignment was organized by UNU-IAS in collaboration with the Wildlife Institute of India (WII) in Uttarakhand. After one semester of preparation, the students spent 10 days in the field collecting and analyzing empirical information to address a series of research questions prepared by UNU-IAS and WII faculty, as part of the students’ research methods course.

    Rajaji National Park covers over 820 sq km across the Dehradun, Haridwar and Pauri Garhwal districts of Uttarakhand. It is representative of the ecosystem at the junction of the Himalayan foothills and the beginning of the vast Indo-Gangetic Plain, which supports the livelihoods of around one billion people. The park is also at the northwestern species distribution limit of the Asian Elephant and Royal Bengal Tiger.

    During their fieldwork, the students analyzed a variety of critical environmental governance challenges that the park faces:

    • managing human settlements inside the park, namely the semi-nomadic Gujjars who are buffalo herders and the more settled Taungya cultivators;
    • fragmentation of habitats as a result of large infrastructure developments, including a hydroelectric power station canal, railway lines, state highways, high-voltage power transmission lines in the park, and industrial and residential developments near the park;
    • proliferation of alien invasive species such as the lantana camara plant;
    • demand from surrounding cities and villages for biomass resources within the park such as fuel wood, thatch grass and cattle grazing areas;
    • scarcity of water during the summer months and floods during the monsoons;
    • forest fires during the dry summer months; and
    • human–wildlife conflicts including human and domestic animal deaths due to elephants and large carnivores, crop raiding by herbivores, and the rising population of rhesus macaques.
    msc fieldwork india 2

    Students interviewing the Van Gujjars (buffalo herders).

    The students had the opportunity to interact with a wide range of people during their stay. After returning to Japan, they will produce a report to inform WII and the park’s management on ways of improving governance to mitigate human–nature conflicts within and around the park.

    The objective of the fieldwork was to engage students in selected critical issues related to biodiversity governance in a rapidly changing, emerging economy. Students were required to conceive and execute a research plan and make linkages with biodiversity governance and policy processes for their assigned topic.