The Kotagiri slopes – region forms the eastern part of the district bordering the Sathyamanagalam hills to the east, Coimbatore district to the south and with Ooty, Coonoor taluks to the west & Southwest. There is lot of difference in the geography, the Kotagiri taluk is differentiated as the eastern slopes of the upper plateau. These slopes comprises large tract of contiguous forests located in steep slopes at altitude ranging from 1600 to 300m above sea mean level. The upper area land use mostly comprising of tea estates and other vegetable cultivated fields where the altitude varies from 1500 to 2000 meters MSL. The location is as such that the region receives moderate rainfall compared to the other parts of the district. The variation is from 800mm to 1500mm which is less towards to the eastern side of the region.
The vegetation types of this region are several like the Montane shola forests & grasslands, Evergreen, Semi Evergreen, Moist Deciduous in the middle escarpments and Dry deciduous towards the lower slopes and finally scrub jungle towards the extreme eastern slopes. All these forests are classified under the reserve forests and have special protection status. Streams flowing down stream with many perennial and some seasonal flows during rains in these slopes with riverine vegetation present. In the upper reaches, there are lots of wetlands which contribute to the water supply for the downstream communities from the hills. The forest cover of this taluk is nearly 50% compared to the other taluks of the district.
The main indigenous communities of this taluk are the Todas, Kotas, The Kurumbas, The Irulas and the Badagas, besides them are the Sri Lankan repatriates who are scattered throughout the taluk and the other settlers like Tamils, Malayalis & the business people. The major land holdings are with the private estates and the small farmers mainly cultivating mono crops like the tea & coffee with horticulture species like fruits etc. Few valleys are known for vegetable cultivation in this taluk like the Nedugula, Kukalthurai valley etc.
Major issues of this taluk are application of fertilizers to the tea fields & vegetable crops thus spoiling the soils, exotic forest plantations like eucalyptus and acacia, fragmentation of reserved forests which are now actually acting as connecting corridors for the wildlife migration. The human wildlife conflict in the fringe areas of the forest community dwellers is a constant challenge for management. There are more than fifty tribal settlements in these slopes where most of their dependencies are on the forest resources like the Ntfps and are marginalized with very little livelihood options etc.
Keystone started a plethora of activities in these slopes from the year 1994 for the conservation and the livelihood options for the adivasis. The major activities are as follows:
Bee conservation initiatives
The Minor Research Programme (MRP) study in bee colony management has strengthened the theory of lack in pollen and nectar may rule brood rearing pattern. This understanding correlates colony management before honey flow and after honey extraction. This approach and application resulted in higher honey production from Konavakarai valley in 1998-2000. Also the ratio of colony absconding.
The Apis cerana queen rearing programme initiated from Konavakarai apiaries has been a pioneering effort in the queen rearing & breeding approach. This resulted in large scale reduction of wild colony capture and consequently, conservation of feral populations.
Sustainable and Hygienic wild honey collection systems
Learning and understanding of wild honey collection (Apis dorsata, cavity cerana collection-kieekambu), indigenous knowledge, social, cultural linkages amongst Kurumba honey hunting are eye openers for today’s widened activity through out NBR. The field trials, attempts and results on sustainable & hygienic collecting practices programmed our entire knowledge. Building apiaries in the villages and bee boxes in the village households, revival of honey hunting practices with the honey hunter families.
Bee Research – Part of the Darwin project survey of bee nests and its distribution pattern was studied and information about bee biodiversity studied.
Revival of Diverse traditional Farming system: The most diverse millet farming system is revived on the Konavakarai and Vagapani slopes, conserving traditional seeds of food crops, community seed bank actions had begun from Kotagiri region. Revival of Mannukaran : a mean of reviving seed, practices, governance and rights over diversity.
Reclamation of fallow lands to the adivasis, village perimeters, cleaning of fallow land for cultivation, reintroducing millet cultivation and traditional farming, organic farming concept, compost making training etc, participatory guarantee systems, seed support, seed bank, soil and moisture conservation through trenches, stone & vegetative bunding, gulleys, water harvesting structures, polyline tanks for irrigation and drinking, hose pipes for irrigation and domestic use etc. Revolving funds started for the eight farmer’s groups in these slopes for food security and nutritious food. Publication of the `Choice of Grain’ is an example for appropriate land use methods.
The largest farmer’s group activities in diverse farming, organic initiatives, PGS formation, largest coffee cultivation & extension are part of conserving bird, insect and animal diversity & density.
Production cum value addition centers (Resource centers)
Two value addition centers are in this taluk namely, the Banglapadigai & Semmanare PCDs. These centers process bees wax for making candles, make candy out of Nellikai, and make other produces like pickles, beds from silk cotton etc, besides collecting honey. They supply to the Green Shops and as well as sell to other shops of their own network. The income from these centers is a benefit to the village groups who are part of the production centers. These PCD groups have their own self sustaining models in terms of financial transactions etc.
From the conservation angle, the resource assessment and the availability of resources was mapped and the quantity which can be harvested was again emphasized with the harvesting practices & protocols.
Most of the drainage of the streams is towards the south east and north east directions connecting to the main two river basins, the Bhavani and the Moyar which ultimately join the Bhavani Sagar reservoir, there are many wetlands on the upper plateau which are crucial for the hydrological cycle of this taluk. Many wetlands are unprotected except for the one inside the forests. Few wetlands have been studied for management purposes and been recommended to the HADP for management practices.
Documentation of physical and chemical parameters of the wetland water was completed. Fresh water bio-indicators and aquatic life forms documented for wetlands protection and conservation purpose etc. Potability tests for water quality conducted for many water sources.