Concerns for conservation
One can reach a Chepang settlement at Jawang in Jogimara-2 after a two-hour trek from Mauwakhola along the Prithvi Highway in Dhading district.
Thoguh Jawang is just seven kilometers far from the highway; the folks of Chepang community are forced to live a tough life for six months just by consuming tubers, wild roots and nettle.
Poverty and illiteracy are synonymous to the Chepang people and are living a hapless life for years and years. But, lately the rays of consciousness are entering the Chepang community.
The members of Chepang community, who used to pass most of their time either by consuming alcohol or by engaging in disputes over petty issues, have devoted themselves to conservation of bio-diversity. They have reached a conclusion that they should conserve the vegetations, herbs, forests, wildlife and environment for their future generation. The youths have united in conservation drive by establishing Jana Ekta Club while conservation literary classes have been offered to adults and senior citizens of the community. Similarly, the people of old generation are keen to hand over the knowledge and skills to the new generation.
Santu Chepang of Jawang is sixty-one year old. He recalls his experiences of staying in jungle for many days in search of wild tubers. Time has changed so is the perception. Nowadays, Santu himself is offering suggestions to Chepang youths to conserve the wild tubers. Asked how he came to know the importance of conserving wild tubers, Santu said, “Sirs coming from the city taught and we learned it.”
A bio-diversity conservation area is separated inside the community forest near the Chepang community where the locals are paid a special attention regarding whether or not they have destroyed the valuable plants. With the initiative of locals, old materials relating to Chepang arts and conservation have been collected in a community building established in the center of Jawang village. The locals have translated conservation measures in practical life as well. Now, they are self-conscious in each and every step for the conservation of wild tubers. “We have started sowing wild tuber seeds aiming to conserve bio-diversity,” local Shankharam Chepang said.
The locals are gradually knowing that wild tubers, herbs and wildlife can exist for longer only in the presence of forests. So, in a bid to conserve their forest on their own, the Chepang folks have been demanding that the forest officials handover the forest to the Chepang community. Local Birkha Bahadur Chepang said, “Chepang people cannot thrive sans forests. So, Chepangs themselves should move ahead for forest conservation.”
The discriminatory tradition of saying as a community living with the support of wild tubers, roots to Chepang but consuming wild tubers and roots is their compulsion to live a life. That’s why; they were hesitating to make public their foods– which they were consuming from generations back. Now, they have once again united for its conservation after knowing that the wild tubers were highly-nutritious food items. The Chepangs own very few pieces of land as the immovable property and also keep buffaloes, goats and some animals too. But, lately they have switched to sowing wild tuber seeds and planting herbs by quitting maize, millet, buckwheat and paddy cultivation. They also plant Amriso, Nigalo and some other plants to stop possible landslides in the terrace land.
Central member of Nepal Chepang Association Jitendra Chepang says, “They have started using chemical and liquid fertilizers for soil improvement. The idea of improving Khoriya and food security should be taken ahead simultaneously under the conservation campaign in Chepang community.”
They have shown genuine concerns for recordkeeping of biodiversity. They have prepared a list of grains and cereals consumed from years back. Even they have conserved medicinal herbs that are used during stomach pain, high fever and the wooden utensils and clothes portraying their cultures. The Chepangs had enlisted a total of 105 species of food grains, cereals and herbs at a biodiversity exhibition programme held some months back.
A stone quarry is being run for three decades on the bank of river at the distance of some two kilometers from Jawang village. The expanding size of the quarry is making adverse effects on environment and forest. The houses were cracked while blasting the rocks and agricultural production was declining as well as the people of nearby areas were prone to respiratory related diseases due to environmental pollution. The Chepangs are uniting to stop the expansion of stone quarry, thanks to consciousness of conservation.
Chairperson of Jana Ekta Club Bir Bahadur Chepang says, “Expansion of stone quarry has affected the biodiversity conservation. Our village will inundate if the quarry was expanded in the same manner. So, we have launched a campaign to shift the quarry from here.”
During the spring season, the Chepangs leave for forests in search of wild tubers due to food crisis.
Birkha Bahadur said that the wild tubers and roots are not available like before due to rising deforestation. “We hardly manage two square wild tubers and roots after wandering the whole day in the jungle.” Forest yam is hardly found as it is liked by most of the villagers. It is more nutritious than others as well. The forest yam is on the verge of extinction due to rapid deforestation.
Ten different biodiversity conservation groups have been formed with a view to conserving biodiversity and considering the directives of the agricultural diversity conservation programme. Former Executive Director of RIMS Nepal, Rishi Bastakoti says, “The groups are provided trainings on conservation skills, integrated destructing worms management, capacity building and empowerment and literacy classes.”
Bastakoti added that the training programmes have brought about positive changes in biodiversity campaign through rising activeness of Chepangs. They have also prepared conservation blocks at Dukrang, Jawang and other areas inside the community forest for biodiversity conservation. By doing conservation block, they have preserved medicinal herbs and their traditional tastes like wild tubers and roots. They have also preserved asparagus and other medicinal herbs too.
According to a Standard Format provided by the Ministry of Forest and Soil Conservation, the task of recordkeeping of 38 different food items is completed with the support from RIMS Nepalby incorporating information on the site of growing, their characteristics, area of covering, price, time for harvesting and others.
The total population of Chepang living in Dhading, Makawapur, Chitwan, Gorkha and other district is estimated around 80,000. This community is relying on forest and forest products since the beginning of its existence. Until 60-70 years ago, they had to lead a life based on tubers and roots. But, later some of them switched to agriculture and farming, reducing dependency on forests. But, they were found of engaging in deforestation for Khoriya.
The main problem facing Chepangs even today is managing their two squares meal. So, the authorities concerned should pay attention to manage a decent life of Chepang and side by side preserve the flora and fauna. Professor of Botany at Tribhuvan University Ram Prasad Chaudhary says, “Conservation programme should be linked to livelihood of locals. Conservation programme will be effective by doing so.”