In 2017, the Balipara Foundation launched its first habitat restoration project in Udalguri district as the culmination of a decade of learnings in the conservation sphere. Udalguri district was chosen as a pilot for this project because of its centrality to an Asian Elephant habitat corridor stretching from Assam to Arunachal Pradesh and crossing over into Bhutan. Rampant habitat loss in the region had exacerbated human-elephant conflict, with serious consequences for both communities and for elephants in the region.
But more vitally, long before Balipara Foundation had begun engaging with communities in the region, a coalition of community members had come together to form the Bhairabkunda Joint Forest Management Committee in 2005 with a view to reforesting the Bhairabkunda Reserve Forest. Decimated by flash floods in 1989, the forest had become a wasteland of rubble and boulders displacing the wildlife in the region. The Bhairabkunda JFMC began with the ambitious aim of restoring the forest’s 22 square kilometres. Over time, they went on to form six additional JFMCs to carry out afforestation activities across the region. Together, they restored over 750 hectares and planted over 1.5 million trees to create a unique man-made forest. Their self-organized action won them awards and accolades – with justification, for 35 men and women across 29 communities to come together to recreate a mini-forest is no mean feat.
The first phase of this project was launched in 2017, under their aegis, partnering with them to build alternate livelihood opportunities through habitat restoration, organic products and ecotourism. With their help, and with the investment support of the SBI Foundation and Axis Bank Foundation, the Balipara Foundation launched a programme to create 300,000 natural assets and create INR 2.5 million in income for the communities. Upon maturation, this restored forest (of 1500 hectares) would then provide a per capita income of approximately INR 150,585 annually.
In 2019, we launched the second phase of this project to plant [tk no. of trees] natural assets and create INR [tk million] rupees in income for the communities. Till today, communities involved with this project have earned [tk income] and planted over [tk trees] across [tk hectares]. The second phase of this programme was launched in 2019 and as of today the programme has created 409,360 natural assets, created over INR 7 Million income for communities and impacted over 10,000 people.