Let’s Talk: Sustainability Restoring a Biosphere Reserve in India

Sustainability is the topic everyone is talking about. It’s not just at home, not just something the kids are working on for a school project but a very present topic we are living with both at home and at work. Sustainability affects us all. Whether it’s a need to reduce energy consumption, an increased focus on recycling or improving diversity at work, sustainability is a top priority.

Can you tell me more about the project you are working on?

I grew up in the Nilgris Hills in south India as part of the Badaga tribe. This is a very special place that is recognised as a UNESCO Biosphere1 Reserve. There are a huge number of species there from flowering plants to tigers, elephants and bison. In fact over 500 species of birds alone. We lived there sustainably for some thousands of years. Today less than 7% of the original grasslands remain due to loss from logging to establish tea and coffee plantations. A few years ago I started looking at the impact of climate change and found the statistics quite shocking. The figures showed that less than 10% of the original ecosystem still remains today. The damage has been caused by large scale logging of hardwoods, non eco-friendly development for tourism and clearing of land for tea plantations. Not only has the vegetation cover been destroyed, but also the deep layers of soil it helped build over thousands of years have been shaved off completely in parts.

I decided to undertake some courses to understand the big picture on the climate impact of development and what was driving the damage. It left me itching to do something real so that I could give back to the area in which I had grown up. I had some ancestral agricultural land, which is located next to a tiger reserve, so decided to give that land back to nature. I wanted to do it in a scientific way and help by giving a hand to encourage a more rapid restoration of the natural, native forest that had existed before.

“A few years ago I started looking at the impact of climate change and found the statistics quite shocking”

How did you go about doing this?

First, I enlisted the help of a local ecologist. For the last 10 years, he has been involved in researching the biodiversity and understanding the various socio-ecological pressures that face the landscape. We worked on creating a micro island of native biodiversity on my land. The idea was to give nature a helping hand and some space, rather than trying to grow everything from scratch through human intervention. We then planted a carefully selected collection of native trees, shrubs and grasses to help recreate the native ‘shola’ ecosystem. We faced a lot of challenges such as protecting saplings from grazing by deer or bison and from extreme weather conditions till the forest took hold.

When did this project all being and what have you noticed so far?

We started five years ago and although it will take years for the land to fully recover we are already seeing the plants thrive and wild animals return. What really made me happy was when I could see the animals returning. We had built a pond to conserve the rainwater and a family of elephants had come to enjoy a bath there and used up all the water - that was brilliant! The tussock grasses we had planted have taken hold very well and are able to now withstand grazing by bison and deer. We’re also seeing sloth bears visiting in search of fruit so it is becoming a thriving ecosystem again.

What does it mean to you?

I’m doing it because I can and I don’t rely on the land to survive. I have a career that allows me to do this. I could be making money from using the land as agriculture or tourism but instead I have chosen to give back to nature and restore the land. I’m now helping to create some economic models to expand the restoration, through things like eco-tourism and carbon credit capture so that the local community can benefit economically from restoration. This would make a major difference because many people are currently selling their land to developers in the absence of any other income. My advice to others is always do whatever you can do. When I first started it was just about the aesthetics and I wanted to hear the birdsong again but I’ve since realised the importance of nature and humanity and a need for us to redefine that relationship.

“NTT has supported me by encouraging me and giving me a platform to tell others about the work we are doing”

How has NTT reacted to all this – have they supported you?

NTT has supported me by encouraging me and giving me a platform to tell others about the work we are doing. I have also been working with Connected Conservation which is a non for profit organisation that resulted from a pilot project between NTT and Cisco to halt rhino poaching in South Africa. They have deployed technology to manage human/animal conflict in a number of reserves in Africa and they have been supporting me in exploring ways to bring this technology to my community. I’ve now joined the Green Software Foundation and am part of the Green Business team at NTT DATA so I‘m happy that the NTT Group is doing more in this area.

Gadhu Sundaram

Gadhu first joined Caritor Inc 25 years ago which was later acquired by Keane and subsequently acquired by NTT DATA. Having relocated to the UK in 1999, Gadhu joined NTT DATA where he set up his home office in Edinburgh, Scotland. Gadhu now works as part of the NTT DATA UK R&D team which is focused on finding new potential start-up partnerships, developing IP and running innovation workshops with clients to showcase NTT technology. Gadhu spends most of his time in technology due diligence when not in India helping to restore a little piece of natural history.

If you want to learn more you can visit: www.jadeshola.com

1Biosphere Reserves are defined by the World Heritage Convention as: areas of terrestrial and coastal ecosystems which are internationally recognized within the framework of UNESCO’s Man and the Biosphere (MAB) Programme, World Heritage Centre - World Heritage Sites and Biosphere Reserves (unesco.org)

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