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Preserving India's Grasslands: Challenges and Solutions



  Jun 06, 2024

Preserving India's Grasslands: Challenges and Solutions



Overview of Grasslands

From the lofty Himalayas to the montane Shola forests of the Western Ghats, and from the arid Thar Desert to the fertile floodplains in the east, grasslands once covered nearly two-thirds of India. These ecosystems, dominated by grasses with scattered woody plants, are rich in biodiversity, hosting 260 to 500 endemic species, many discovered in the last two decades. They are home to rare birds like the Great Indian bustard and animals like the one-horned rhinoceros and swamp deer, supporting pastoral communities that graze their livestock.

Threats to Grasslands

India’s grasslands are under threat from agriculture expansion, tree plantations, invasive species, and ill-informed policies. These activities degrade grasslands, reduce plant diversity, and increase invasive species. Tilling land damages the underground buds of grasses, dense tree cover blocks sunlight, and invasive plants outcompete native grasses.

Research Findings

A recent study conducted across seven districts in western Maharashtra, published in the Journal of Ecology, highlighted the extent of grassland degradation. The study found that agricultural lands had the least plant species diversity and the fewest native plants, while tree plantations and fallow lands were dominated by invasive species. Old-growth savanna patches, on the other hand, supported a higher number of species and contained 21 indicator species, demonstrating their conservation value.

Historical Context and Policy Impacts

British colonial policies classified grasslands as “wastelands,” allowing their conversion to agriculture, tree plantations, and other developmental projects—a practice that continues today. Although India’s forest cover has increased, grasslands have shrunk by more than 30% between 2005-2015. Restoration policies and clean-energy initiatives often target grasslands, further threatening their existence.

Conservation Efforts

To conserve grasslands, it’s essential to:

1. Reclassify Grasslands: Recognize them as valuable ecosystems rather than “wastelands.”

2. Careful Restoration Planning: Ensure restoration efforts consider the specific needs of different ecosystems.

3. Increase Research and Awareness: Promote studies and evidence-based conservation strategies to protect grasslands.

Conclusion

India’s grasslands are vital for biodiversity and pastoral livelihoods. Protecting these ecosystems requires a shift in how they are perceived and managed, ensuring policies and restoration efforts are tailored to their unique characteristics.




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