Women in Biodiversity Conservation

Bio-diversity is an indication of varied biological wealth. This wealth provides communities with food, medicine, raw material for housing and a wide range of goods and services, and genetic resources for agriculture, medicine and industry. However, habitat alteration and destruction, pollution, improper land husbandry, erroneous agricultural practices, erosion of traditional knowledge about managing biological resources, lack of community initiatives and a lack of appropriate local legislation have destroyed the biological resources in our eco-systems.

Biological resource conservation is necessary to ensure human survival and well-being. The local/indigenous communities had knowledge systems, and a culture that conserved life forms and the physical environment. Such knowledge systems and culture have got eroded due to external influences. There still exists a rich, latent pool of indigenous knowledge within local communities, which has to be tapped for the recovery of ecosystems. Though indigenous knowledge has great potential for such a recovery, it should be augmented with modern conservation management techniques. This is necessary because the nature of current human activities and its effect on ecosystems is different and on a larger scale as compared to the times when indigenous knowledge systems were developed. It is thus obvious that biological resources of the village community can be managed successfully, only if appropriate ecological management systems are developed by the local people themselves.

IIRD has been involved in environmental restoration and biodiversity conservation for the past decade in a backward part of Marathwada region in Paithan taluka in Aurangabad district of Maharashtra. An integrated approach to rural development and environmental restoration has been adopted to promote multi-functional land use. Community based bio-diversity conservation programmes are being carried out in 45 villages of the taluka through an interactive and participative learning process. IIRD in association with the women’s groups builds community awareness on environmental issues. Cionsequently, the communities have undertaken ecological restoration programmes in their villages.

Women’s Involvement

An important aspect of these community-managed eco-development initiatives is the involvement and leadership of grassroots women. Besides being the providers of life, women also nourish and sustain life. Traditionally it was the woman, who played an important role in conserving life forms. This has been increasingly ignored due to gender inequalities, and now it is the woman who bears the brunt of environmental degradation and her declining access to biological resources around her village. Therefore, in these community managed systems, the capacity of women to nurture life is brought to the fore and rejuvenated.

Organic Agriculture and Biodiversity Conservation

As part of agro-biodiversity conservation, the community was educated about the the adverse effects of chemical fertilisers, toxic pesticides and herbicides, hybrid seeds and mono cropping on health and the environment, and the potential for environmentally sound development through the management of locally available resources. Agriculture with minimal use of external inputs was shown as an alternative to the destructive chemical agriculture. Mostly the downtrodden women were encouraged to take up organic farming on their marginal land, and related eco-development activities like tree planting, nursery cultivation and micro-watershed programmes. Over the years, about 1240 acres of farmland have been brought under eco-friendly farming practices by the women farmers. Though this is just a small part of the vast areas still under conventional agriculture, thee are confident that a progressive transformation of the remaining area is also possible. These women farmers use indigenous and traditional seeds to grow crops like wheat, pulses, cotton, millets, vegetable and fruits. Indigenous herbs are conserved through kitchen gardens and hedgerows for their medicinal and pest repellent values, respectively.

Furthermore these organic farmers have taken the prime responsibility to revive depleting indigenous livestock and poultry for soil fertility management and animal traction. The women’s groups through their savings and credit management programmes provide various forms of financial assistance to enable the trained farmers to raise native livestock. Native breeds of cattle such as Red Kandhari and Devani have been successfully introduced. The low-income farmers were enabled to venture into sheep and goat husbandry, as a result of which, native breeds such as Jamunapuri, Osmanabadi, Sirohi and Beetal have been introduced. Backyard poultry was also encouraged among landless women who were supplied with native poultry eggs and chicks for hatching and raising.

Environment Councils and Pariyavaran Sevikas

In order to strengthen community initiatives for environmental enrichment, women’s Pariyavaran Samitis (environment councils) have been formed in the villages. These Samitis capacitate their Pariyavaran Sevikas (environment animators) through an intensive three-year training programme on biodiversity conservation issues, in IIRD. The Sevikas, capable of field documentation and community research on bio-diversity conservation issues, have become effective resource persons for their communities.

Role of the Pariyavaran Sevikas

The trained Pariyavaran Sevikas along with the Samitis and women’s groups evolve and implement ecological recovery plans in participation with the community and adapted to their village conditions. They have multiple responsibilities.

  • Conducting and documenting village-wise surveys of existing practices, traditional uses of biological resources, extinct and threatened indigenous species of flora and fauna, eco-problems and development issues.
  • Maintaining village-level community registers containing comprehensive physical and biological data – of soil, water, air, climate, flora and fauna, to enable the community to understand the wealth, as well as depletion of their resources. Community ecological recovery and conservation plans are prepared based on these records.
  • Conducting community extension and demonstration programmes on identification, selection and traditional preservation techniques of local seeds, to counter the increasing threat to farmers’ ownership of seeds, arising from the promotion of patented seeds and hybrid mono-culture varieties. In addition, they maintain village seed registers, and manage seed exchange programmes between organic farmers, the community and farmers of neighbouring villages, initiated to meet the challenge of seed scarcity.
  • Instilling values and positive attitudes among the young for eco-conservation, which is crucial for the long-term sustainability of community initiatives, through environmental education programmes in primary schools.
  • Promoting income generation activities to sustain the environment restoration programmes.
  • Organising and conducting weekly Paryavaran Samiti meetings and monthly village workshops on eco-development and bio-diversity conservation to, review activities, discuss emerging issues with the community, and formulate appropriate village-level action plans.

Income generation

To sustain a variety of the eco-management and bio-diversity conservation activities the Sevikas promote ecologically sound income generating activities for these eco-management groups. Some of the on-going activities are listed below.

  • Seed banks for native crops have been formed in two nodal villages, Tondoli and Karkin.
  • Plant orphanages for threatened plant/tree species are being promoted.
  • A market system replete with standards and local certification of organic produce of these women farmers was formed. An urban outlet for organic products, has created a consumer support system for these women and their sustainable land use activities.
  • The women have set up waste recycling centres producing compost, vermicompost etc. This provides employment for them, and valuable manure for the organic farmers
  • Breeding centres for local varieties of livestock and poultry are being managed successfully by women.


The conservation efforts of these Samitis continue under varying ecological constraints, on farms as well as on community lands,  using in situ and ex situ techniques. Ecological management models have been developed for different eco-systems such as – adjoining denuded forest areas, cropland, adjoining shorelines of water bodies, hill slopes and flat terrain. These models are used in our training programmes.

Our experience indicates that women-headed community based biodiversity conservation programmes are effective and successful. Capacity building of local Pariyavaran Sevikas has ensured the continuance of community-based conservation activities. The involvement of women is narrowing down gender inequalities, and enabling them to re-establish their traditional role of environment managers and conservators. This is leading to the rise in position, strength and income levels of women.

Though inroads have been made in evolving conservation management technologies through grassroots groups with women’s leadership, there is much more to be done in this sphere. Major constraints like the eco-cidal policies of the government, extensive promotion of conventional chemical fertilisers, pesticides and conventional agricultural practices, and lack of healthy market systems to foster biodiversity conservation, have to be overcome through vigorous lobbying and promotion of sustainable community based development activities.

Judith Daniel


PO Box 562, Kanchan Nagar

Nakshatravadi, Aurangabad 431002


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