Rural women better managers of natural resources

GIZ, Country Director, Nepal, Dr. Thomas Labahn (centre) with Yeshey Dorji and ICIMOD Director for Programme Operations Eklabya Sharma, during the publication launch
(Pic Courtesy: Nabin Baral / ICIMOD)

Women in the Greater Himalayan regions are more involved in conservation, preservation and use of landraces of cereals, legumes, vegetables, forest plants, and herbs to meet their livelihood and cultural needs.

This is stated in a study, published by the International Centre for Integrated Mountain Development (ICIMOD).

The publication, titled ‘Gender and Biodiversity Management in the Greater Himalayas’ was launched by the German Society for International Cooperation’s (GIZ) Country Director Nepal, Dr. Thomas Labahn on 14 October, during the opening conference of Bhutan+10, in Thimphu.

The publication presents six case studies by various authors, carried out in Bangladesh, Bhutan, India and Nepal on gender aspects of biodiversity conservation and management in the greater Himalayan region. The study focuses on women’s role in knowledge of and strategies to manage biodiversity resources in different ecosystems such as agriculture and forests.

Two of the six case studies are compiled by Yeshey Dorji from Bhutan titled ‘Women’s roles in wild yam conservation and use in Bhutan’ and ‘Women’s crucial knowledge in yeast production in Bhutan’.

Analysis of the case studies showed that, as a strong conservation measure, indigenous women in central and western Bhutan collectively harvest wild edible tubers only from mature wild yam creepers that are more than eight years old. It is an initiative by rural women to organize themselves to conserve forests near their villages and protect them from outsiders collecting wild yam tubers.

The women also avoid felling or wounding trees that carry wild yam vines and consider such practices to be inhumane.

This, the study states was because, institutional and policy measures in the country are “not always effective in engaging community men and women in forest management in general, or in protecting plants and herbs with high cultural food value in particular”.

One of the findings of the study implied that women’s greater involvement in local biodiversity management makes them more knowledgeable on the conservation, production, harvesting, processing and use of native forest and agricultural species.

The author, Yeshey Dorji in his case studies stated that beliefs in local deities positively influenced conservation practices. He cited an example of the homemade wine by Bhutanese women that is used to appease local deities and for celebrations.

Household women make local wine with yeast, which requires plant materials collected from the biodiversity. The study stated that women’s knowledge of plants and herbs within such processes is both nuanced and important.

Even so, one of the key findings of the study revealed that despite their conscious involvement in biodiversity management, mountain women in the region still face skewed power relations and remain disconnected from agriculture extension services, policy information, social recognition and decision making bodies.

Based in Kathmandu, Nepal, ICIMOD serves as a regional knowledge hub to the eight member countries of the Hindu Kush Himalayas which comprises Afghanistan, Bangladesh, Bhutan, China, India, Myanmar, Nepal, and Pakistan. The centre aims to assist mountain people to understand the implications of globalization and climate change on the stability of fragile mountain ecosystems and the livelihoods of people in the region, adapt to them, and make the most of new opportunities, while addressing upstream-downstream issues.

ICIMOD works to develop an economically and environmentally sound mountain ecosystem to improve the living standards of mountain populations and to sustain vital ecosystem services for the billions of people living downstream now, and for the future.

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