The stakeholder workshop was held at the UPASI meeting hall on 14 July 2015. The workshop was attended by a large number of field staff from the Forest Department, farmers, farmer groups, concerned citizens as well as the media.
The workshop began with a presentation made by Abhishek (Keystone Foundation) on how conflict is currently being understood, and what the possible alternative perspectives to this might be. The idea of Negative interactions in the form of conflict, especially in Urban environments was highlighted. Some of the main factors adding to the problem (waste management, contention over natural resources) were highlighted as part of the presentation.
Following the presentation was a moderated open discussion which lasted for 2 hours until lunch. There were farmers present who aired their concerns, there were also farmer groups present who made their opinions and standing also quite clear. The discussion was initiated by the moderator (Samraj, Keystone Foundation) who highlighted the idea that the forests were not only the responsibility of the Forest Department, but how everyone contributed to its wellbeing, and more importantly were dependent on it (directly or directly) for their survival.
The farmer group picked up on this line of thinking, and discussed the extensive cultivation of tea in the region, and how it has been affecting the natural habitat of wildlife. He also observed that animal population had increased over the past few years, and was of the opinion that the lack of food, resources and space inside the forests were responsible for the wildlife moving towards urban areas, and increasing interactions outside the protected zones.
A representative from the Forest Department responded to these observations. He was of the opinion that given the above factors, it was the cultivation of palatable crops close to the forest fringes that had given wildlife an appetite for food available outside protected areas.
The issue of waste management in urban areas was highlighted, and was also considered one of the main factors contributing towards increasing interactions between humans and wildlife in this landscape. The citizens forum, which has taken up cleaning activities around Coonoor, also mentioned some of their work, and the main problem areas they had observed around the Coonoor town. The discussion also steered towards the contention for natural resources between humans and wildlife. Samraj pointed out that elephants were coming further up the valley in the quest for water, and more importantly easy access to water. In this context an interesting observation was made by a concerned citizen from coonoor, who opined that the accumulation of garbage in certain areas attracted wild pigs, which in turn attracted leopards who prey on the pigs. Both these animals, could be dangerous to interact with, especially considering that many points of waste accumulation are around human habitations in an urban landscape.
Some of the other issues highlighted were the need for increasing communication between different governmental agencies governing this region, as well as better planning in the development of infrastructure, taking into consideration the needs of wildlife.
Towards the end of the discussion, many farmers were supportive of co-existing with wildlife, even though they face severe losses because of them. They still opined that co-existence was the way ahead, and requested more support from the Forest Department not just in terms of compensation, but also in terms of mitigation measures which might help ease out interactions with wildlife. There was a general consensus reached at the meeting to better communicate their concerns and opinions to the different governing bodies in the region, and also think of localised means of reducing conflict.