The Future Earth South Asia Webinar was held over a span of two days on March 11 and 12, 2021, organized by Future Earth South Asia, Divecha Centre for Climate Change, and the Future Earth National Committee India. The webinar was inaugurated by Dr. K. VijayRaghavan, the Principal Scientific Adviser to the Government of India, and comprised a total of lead talks by 4 community practitioners, a panel discussion featuring 9 scientists, policymakers and practitioners, and 3 thematic sessions by 9 speakers in total. The themes covered by the sessions included community practices of conservation of village commons, water and biodiversity, and waste management; bridging the gaps between science, policy and practice; food security in the Indian Himalayan Region; health risks associated with air pollution and water contamination; and the water-energy-food nexus. A total of 452 individuals registered for the event. 150 participants attended the first day’s session and 105 attended the second day’s session.

Screenshot of Guests, Speakers, Panelists and Organizers of the Webinar on March 11.

Lead Talks on Best Practices

Issue of ‘Commons’: Reflections from Village Commons and work done by the Foundation for Ecological Security (FES), presented by Mr. Jagdeesh Rao Puppala, Founder and Curator, FES 

Over 205 million acres of land in India are classified as commons, and nearly a third of India’s population depends on these commons to meet various needs. Village commons continue to be highly degraded and places of poverty—this crisis has persisted since development models perceive commons as wastelands, and rural communities as being incapable of managing their own resources.

Issues that need to be addressed in this region are:

  • Poverty, inequity and ecological health of commons
  • Governance – Improving governance with local communities 

FES addresses these issues through coordination and collaboration between various agencies and institutions. It also focuses on systems thinking, and using approaches that are distributive, pluralistic and regenerative.

Case study of Springshed Development at Soi Village (Arunachal Pradesh) by EB Project Nature, presented by Egam Bassar

The Himalayan mountain region is observing the drying up of many rivers and springs-the drying up of 734 springs which has led to water scarcity in villages of Arunachal Pradesh. Deforestation has found to be the main cause of decrease in the water table in the region.

The project began its operation by constructing 1000 Rain water harvesting structures with the aim of recharging the springshed in the region. Over the following years, a few visible outcomes have been improvement in springshed and the value-addition of forests (orchid gardens, eco-trail and eco-tourism, planting of indigenous multi-purpose trees). The project also saw significant impact on state policy: The Catchment Area Protection Act is being developed with an emphasis on springshed conservation, other water policies and water supply projects are also increasingly considering springshed management. 

Water issues in Thar desert, presented by Kanupriya Harish, Executive Director, Jal Bhagirathi Foundation

Kanupriya Harish shed some light on the problems faced by communities in the Thar desert. In Rajasthan, 88.7% land area is prone to drought. 74% of villages face water quality problems. Water scarcity leads to no livelihood, no education and affects women and girl children disproportionately. 

The institution focussed on education and women empowerment while supporting local communities to strengthen rural and traditional water conservation technology. The institution also facilitated community water harvesting and storage. Jal Bhagirathi Foundation has reached around 500 villages and has revived 20,000 water harvesting structures, and harvested 4000 million litres each year by working with the communities. 

Issues related to waste management in the Himalayan region, presented by Priyadarshinee Shrestha, Team Lead, WWF-India, Kanchendzonga Landscape

The Zero Waste Himalaya project has been attempting to flip the narrative of the Himalayas as being clean and pristine, since waste management is becoming a major challenge in the region. There are higher costs involved and access issues for waste collection and management, accompanied by limited land availability and many policy gaps. A waste audit study conducted by them identified 97% of the total waste as plastic waste, 58.3% of which were multi-layered. In 2018, a campaign called the ‘The Himalayan Cleanup Drive’ was carried out, in which 12 mountain states participated. The project continues to conduct more studies on the waste situation in the region. They aim to advocate for extended producer responsibility, promote sustainable waste management pilot projects, and also advocate for relevant policy changes.

Panel Discussion on Bridging the Gaps between Science, Policy and Practice

  1. Real-World Problems are Multi-Faceted: There is a need to develop holistic solutions which address all aspects and streams of a particular real-world problem. We need to think beyond the political causes of solutions to all problems, and look at their social and scientific aspects. 
  2. Importance of ‘Boundary Organizations’ and ‘Catalysts’: Currently there are not enough structures that inform policymakers about technological interventions. Communication is vital to bridge the gap between science, policy and practice, and to connect various spheres of knowledge and synthesize information from them. The path of research to policy becomes effective if it comes through a practitioner’s perspective. Boundary organizations and ‘catalysts’ who understand both perspectives are important to solve these complex issues.
  3. Understanding Tradeoffs through Collaboration: Collaboration between different stakeholders is important in the context of problem solving. All stakeholders need to comprehend crucial trade-offs. Symbiotic relationships between academicians and policy makers need to be established.
  4. Research Focus on Local Issues: In India, there is a lack of institutions that look at the local issues, but most of them focus on the global issues. Funding support is required to do more research and look at the local problems. One would also need a policy to mandate this, at a national level. Both the basic science research to develop understanding of the subject, and science that solves real-life problems is needed. It is important to find a suitable balance between these two areas. 

Thematic Sessions

  1. Sustainable Agro-Ecology in the Indian Himalayan Region (IHR): Experiences, Challenges and Solutions: In this region, currently there is a loss of various crop varieties. Even though many superfoods such as quinoa have come up, it is still reductionist in approach as they don’t address the issues such as the lack of seed banks, community participation, and consumer awareness. There is a presence of gender inequality among the communities, and there is a need to amplify the voices of women and build networks of solidarity through community participation and safeguarding common resources. 
  2. The Air We Breathe, The Water We Drink: Health Risks associated with Air and Water Pollution: There are around 79,16,000 premature deaths in Asia due to air pollution. Air pollution affects the central nervous system, cardiovascular system and causes diabetes. 90% of the air pollution comes from energy, agriculture and transport sectors. Around 16% of India’s groundwater is over-exploited, and arsenic is one of the major contaminants. Exposure to arsenic can result in clinical manifestations including cancer and keratosis. In India, 22 out of 35 states are endemic to fluorosis. Fluorosis affects the Gastro-intestinal tract and the urogenital system. 
  3. Turning Challenges into Opportunities: Working the Water-Energy-Food Nexus: In this session, the speakers talked about “healthy plate”, and how a meal balanced in fruits and vegetables is central to the idea of nutrition. Also talked about India’s agriculture, which accounts for 20-25% of total energy consumption, and the challenge here was that the energy transition talks elsewhere does not necessarily deal with agricultural energy transitions in India, and this needs to be addressed.