USD 7.5 mn project to strengthen trans-border conservation in India, Nepal and Bhutan

With the total estimated cost of USD 7 mn, the five-year project on biodiversity conservation for strengthening livelihoods and resilience in transboundary landscape in eastern Himalayas, Manas and Kangchenjunga landscapes (BioCoStLi) will begin from next year.

The project will be implemented by United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP) and International Centre for Integrated Mountain Development (ICIMOD) in partnership with the lead partners, Ministry of Agriculture and Forests in Bhutan, G.B. Pant National Institute of Himalayan Environment and Sustainable Development, Almora which is a nodal Institute for ICIMOD in India, and Ministry of Forests and Environment in Nepal.

UNEP submitted the proposal to the respective governments of India, Nepal and Bhutan, and is now waiting for response.

The overall objective of the project is to strengthen biodiversity conservation and ecosystem services and improve livelihoods within the broader Manas and Kangchenjunga Transboundary Landscape through effective management of ecological integrity and socio-cultural resilience to environmental changes, facilitated by better regional cooperation and connectivity to other landscapes in Eastern Himalayan region.

The Eastern Himalayas are considered as the crisis ecoregion, biodiversity hotspot, endemic bird areas, mega diversity countries and global 200 ecoregion. The transboundary Indo-Bhutan Manas landscape and Kangchenjunga landscape contain a rich biodiversity of global significance and require a comprehensive cross-country conservation and management strategy.

The entire transboundary mega landscape of Manas – Kangchenjunga is spread across India, Bhutan and Nepal, connected by protected areas and conservation corridors. Total area of the landscape is about 32,000 sq. km. (Manas Landscape – 6,500 sq. km. and Kangchenjunga Landscape – 25,086 Kangchenjunga landscape is situated on the southern slopes of Mount Kangchenjunga, covering parts of four districts of eastern Nepal, the entire state of Sikkim and parts of north Bengal in India, and five districts in western Bhutan. Over seven million people inhabit the landscape which is rich in culture with strong interdependencies among the communities.

The Kangchenjunga landscape comprises of 19 protected areas, nine among them are transboundary in nature. But, majority of the protected areas are isolated and are smaller than 500 sq. km. in size.

In the Manas landscape, there are two contiguous protected areas, Manas NP in India and Royal Manas National Park in Bhutan. The Manas-Kangchenjunga landscape protected areas are connected by seven identified conservation corridors which are important for gene flow across the landscape. Among the major threats to Kangchenjunga landscape are habitat degradation due to deforestation and fragmentation, population pressure and demand for natural resources, human-wildlife conflicts, unsustainable natural resource use pattern, information and knowledge gap on sustainable use of ecosystem services and lack of management and cooperation policies and procedure to address transboundary conservation issues.

The Manas Transboundary landscape consists of Manas National Park in Assam, India and Royal Manas NP in Bhutan, located along the Himalayan foothills on the north of Brahmaputra Valley and belongs to tropical humid forest biome under Burma Monsoon Forest Biogeographical Province. Manas with its spectacular landscape is one among the most stunning pristine wildlife habitats in the world. The area has a unique distinction of being a natural world heritage site, a tiger reserve, a biosphere reserve, an elephant reserve and an important bird area.

The project will create a model for regional cooperation in a globally significant area, in terms of biodiversity, geography and diverse socio- economic and ecological region for replication and scaling up in a variety of situations and contexts.

The major impact of the project will be visible, in terms of enhanced regional cooperation at the landscape level with increased connectivity, greater stakeholder cooperation, improved livelihood and better governance contributing to the achievement of sustainable development goals and biodiversity targets. The project will also raise the conservation profile of the participating countries and will provide greater visibility and prestige at the international level.

The project will also build upon the ongoing initiatives being implemented by agencies such as IUCN, WWF, WTI, and WII in these landscapes. The networks, policy frameworks, data and information, networking and monitoring infrastructure developed during this project are intended to be owned and maintained beyond the scope of this program by the RMCs. An apex steering committee comprising of UNEP, ICIMOD, senior government functionaries of the line department in 3 countries, donor will be formed, which will guide and provide necessary support at various levels of the project implementation. Besides there will be advisory committees in each participating country comprising of implantation partners, subject experts, community members, local park and forest staff and entrepreneurs.

The people living in and around the Manas and Kangchenjunga landscapes, village communities, forest and management staff, ecotourism and local entrepreneurs will be the direct beneficiaries.

Indirect beneficiaries will include dependents of direct beneficiaries, policy and decision makers, tourists and entrepreneurs.

Sustainability and replicability of socio-cultural resilience and ecological integrity beyond the active project period will be ensured by institutionalizing and mainstreaming the project activities in regular programmes of the government and community groups. An appropriate mechanism in consultation with all the concerned stakeholders will be developed to have a workable sustainability model for the project.

Online knowledge sharing platform in the Eastern Himalayan region to facilitate networking among policy makers, practitioners and corporate sector on wildlife-friendly landscape management will be created. Efforts will be made to make the initiative self- supporting as for as possible, however suitable mechanism for donor and government commitment through their regular programmes and initiatives will be devised.

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