Foundation for Ecological Security
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|Rajasthan, Andhra Pradesh, Karnataka, Orissa, Madhya Pradesh, Gujarat, North eastern region|
The Foundation for Ecological Security (FES) is a registered non-profit organisation based in Anand, Gujarat, India working towards the ecological restoration and conservation of land and water resources in ecologically fragile, degraded and marginalised regions of the country, through concentrated and collective efforts of village communities.
FES has been involved in assisting the restoration, management and governance of Common Property Land Resources since 1986. The organisation uses a holistic approach to resource management by “intertwining principles of nature conservation and local self-governance in order to accelerate ecological restoration, as well as improve the living conditions of the poor.”
Most of FES’ efforts are concentrated in the dryland regions of the country; however the landscapes worked on are as diverse as scrub lands, tidal mudflats, dense forests, ravines, grasslands, farm fields and water bodies.
Registered under the Societies Registration Act XXI 1860, the Foundation for Ecological Security was set up in 2001 to strengthen the “massive and critical task of ecological restoration” and improve the governance of natural resources in India.
According to their website the mission statement of the organization is, “As ‘ecological security’ is the foundation of sustainable and equitable development, the Foundation for Ecological Security (FES) is committed to strengthening, reviving or restoring, where necessary, the process of ecological succession and the conservation of land, forest and water resources in the country.”
Given its presence at various levels of governance – from villages and districts to the state and national level – FES is well poised to voice local concerns on regional, national and global platforms.
FES works towards centre-staging ecological agenda alongside priorities of economic growth, reorienting progress from the standpoint of conservation and social justice, and presenting local visions and voices at both local and global levels. Working from a systems perspective, efforts are aimed at three fundamental dimensions (and their interfaces) of rural life: ecological restoration, local governance, and livelihoods.
FES uses a holistic approach to resource management that includes securing legal rights for rural communities, strengthening village institutions, restoration of the degraded landscapes and improving the long-term sustainability of natural resources.
Ecological Restoration and Livelihoods
Most contemporary initiatives on livelihood promotion do not take into account the threshold limits of ecosystems and instead push for an exploitative trend that is obviously untenable in the long run. FES, however, strives to highlight the threshold limits of the given agro-ecological system so as to aid communities in determining consumption levels within the ecological capacity of the area, by highlighting natural resource-based livelihood options that are ecologically sound and economically rewarding.
FES’ work with land, water and people is governed by a deep understanding of interrelationships – inter-relationships between natural and human systems, between different ecosystems within a landscape, and between different elements within an ecosystem, as also the inter-linkages between Commons, livestock and agriculture.
The organisation’s efforts focus on strengthening systemic drivers (such as soil, moisture, nutrients, pollinators and biodiversity) and the natural inter-linkages between various elements of the farming system, while parallelly aiding village communities in strengthening community institutions for local self-governance and in this way, adding to the resilience of both rural landscapes and people’s endeavours.
Strengthening Village Institutions
FES works through local self-governance institutions to promote the judicious management of natural resources, partnering with village communities committed to restoring ecosystems and landscapes, and crafting suitable institutional spaces which safeguard the interests of the poor.
In various parts of the country, alongside community institutions, FES joins hands with civil society, academia, local elected representatives and government functionaries to promote informed stewardship and concerted action towards restoring ecological health. FES also leverages funds available under Rural Employment Guarantee Programmes and channels their effective utilisation to restore degraded landscapes and revitalise local self-governance institutions.
FES has considerable experience in building capacities of representatives of village institutions, Panchayats, government and non-government officials, who can steer development processes at the village level in areas of local governance and stewardship of natural resources. In 2011, FES initiated Prakriti Karyashala or rural colleges to assist communities and local self-governance institutions in shaping and translating their visions of local development and filling the gaps in knowledge, leadership and skills. The Karyashala offers programmes to Village Forest Committees along forest fringes in Rajasthan and Orissa, to village institutions integrating MGNREGA and managing Commons in Rajasthan and Andhra Pradesh, and on watershed associations planning to monitor hydrological changes and craft usage regulations in Andhra Pradesh.
Common Pool Resources
FES is one of the largest organizations focused on giving India’s rural poor rights to common land (“the Commons”). Commons in India have been continuously projected as 'wastelands' and diverted for alternate uses such as biofuel cultivation, corporate contract farming and industrial zones. While more than 90% of India’s population depends on the Commons for their livelihood, few have formal rights to these resources. To challenge the growing threats that Commons face from their reallocation, over exploitation and encroachment, FES launched the ‘Commons Initiative’ in 2009. The Initiative aims to build strategic collaborations and bring together practitioners, decision-makers and scholars for a long-term campaign that would influence policy and programmatic action on Commons in India. In this regard, FES works towards representing landless communities, organizing long-term leasing arrangements and securing tenure with State governments.
Studies and Analyses
FES undertakes studies to help locate its work in the larger context and designs pursuits that are both grounded and technically rigorous, while providing a sound basis for influencing policy. The studies are designed to engage local communities in search of suitable solutions and build on their knowledge for informed community-level action for ecological restoration, natural resource management and institution building. A comprehensive framework has also been developed to study ecological, social and economic issues in representative locations and to monitor changes over a period of time in order to upgrade the effectiveness of our work at the village and landscape level. FES has a well developed Geographic Information System (GIS) and Remote Sensing Facility that supports these studies with spatial information, representation and analysis. In 2010, FES launched Indian Biodiversity Information System (IBIS), a web-based modular and searchable portal to provide reliable species-level information on a single user-friendly platform. Catering to a wide range of stakeholder groups, ranging from amateur wildlife enthusiasts to serious researchers, conservationists and educationists, IBIS aims at becoming a crucial tool for achieving conservation goals in the subcontinent.
As of March, 2013 FES works with 28 districts in 7 states of the country engaging with 5323 village institutions and protecting around 4,71,521 hectares of revenue wastelands, forest lands and Panchayat grazing lands creating a difference in the lives of 28,95,024 individuals. The central theme of work done by FES revolves around intertwining principles of nature conservation and strengthening village institutions so as to directly improve the living conditions of the poor and the marginalised. FES support Panchayats and their subcommittees, Village Forest Committees, Gramya Jungle Committees, Water Users Associations and Watershed Committees. Regardless of the form of the institution, FES strives for a future where local village communities determine and move towards desirable land-use based on principles of conservation and social justice.
Networking and Collaborations
FES collaborates with several practitioner and academic bodies engaged in ecological restoration, community institutions and rural livelihoods.
In collaboration with Collective Action and Property Rights (CAPRi), FES seeks to advance common interests on collective action and property rights of communities through developing effective advocacy, communication, and training materials.
FES collaborates with different universities: Washington University, St. Louis, to study subjects related to systems dynamics, energy conservation, coupled human and natural systems; Clemson University, USA, on hydrological studies; University of Michigan, Ann Arbor, and University of Illinois, Urbana-Champaign, and Indiana University, Bloomington, on forest resource institutions and climate change.
FES anchors the Rainfed Livestock Network (RLN), a consortium of NGOs which works to highlight issues related to livestock rearers in rainfed areas of India. FES is also a member of the ‘Future of Conservation’ consortium, and Revitalization of Rainfed Agricultural Network.
FES is currently a member of the World Conservation Union (IUCN), International Land Coalition (ILC), International Association for the Study on the Commons (IASC), International Society of Ecological Economics (ISEE) and its Indian chapter, the Indigenous and Community Conserved Areas (ICCA) Consortium, and the UN Economic and Social Council (UNECOSOC).
FES has been supported by many funding partners over the years, including Arghyam, Concern Worldwide, The Duleep Matthai Nature Conservation Trust, Fondation Ensemble, Ford Foundation, Department of Rural Development (Government of Andhra Pradesh), Department of Rural Development (Government of Gujarat), Department of Rural Development (Government of Andhra Rajasthan), Grow-Trees, Hilton Foundation, Irrigation and Command Area Development (I&CAD) Department (Government of Andhra Pradesh), ITC – Sunehra Kal Initiative, National Bank for Agriculture and Rural Development (NABARD), Omidyar Network, Royal Bank of Scotland Foundation, Rufford Small Grant Programme, Sir Dorabji Tata Trust and the Allied Trusts (SDTT), Jamsetji Tata Trust (JTT), Sir Ratan Tata Trust (SRTT), Water and Sanitation Management Organisation (WASMO), UNDP-GEF Small Grants Programme (SGP), and GIZ.
FES was a recipient of the Skoll Award for Social Entrepreneurship in 2015, and Jagdeesh Rao was honored during the awards ceremony as part of the Skoll World Forum in Oxford, England on 16 April 2015.
On the World Day to Combat Desertification (17 June) the Foundation for Ecological Security was awarded the United Nations Convention to Combat Desertification (UNCCD) instituted Land for Life Award 2013 for its work on assisting village communities in sustainable management of common lands in India.
The Foundation for Ecological Security (FES) is also the recipient of the prestigious Elinor Ostrom International Award on Collective Governance of the Commons for the year 2013, for outstanding contribution to the practice of Commons governance.
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