Wednesday, August 26, 2009

JICA Submits Sikkim Interim Report

GANGTOK, August 25: The Japanese International Cooperation Agency (JICA) in its interim report has projected a two hundred percent increase in the operation of the State Forest department during the implementation of proposed ‘Integrated Project for Sustainable Development of Forest Resource in Sikkim’.
The JICA had recently submitted its interim report of the preparatory study on the proposed project for Sikkim after two and half months of active consultations with local stakeholders and forest officials.
The JICA study team leader Dr. Toshifuma Serizewa in his overview of the project component during the interim report opined that the operation of the project executive agency is likely to be doubled or tripled for the conservation and sustainable use of forest resources of Sikkim.
The overall objective is to contribute to the enhancement of environmental conservation and reduction of poverty in the State of Sikkim, said Dr. Serizewa. The purpose of the project is to promote conservation of biodiversity and forests and improvement of the livelihood of forest fringe communities in Sikkim, he said.
The project component entails conservation of natural resource versus community development and joint forest management by the Forest department and forest fringe communities.
In order to justify the project components, Dr. Serizewa pointed out that Sikkim is the centre of Eastern Himalayas which is a global biodiversity hotspot while there is inadequate technical capacity and information base of the Forest department to conduct forest and biodiversity management.
“We need to update topographical and land use maps, inventory and monitoring of biodiversity and investigations of impacts of grazing on alpine ecosystem”, said the study team leader. He also recommended redefinition of land use and enhancement of the Protected Area Network and its management. Another component of the project is to facilitate the inscription of Khangchendzonga Biosphere Reserve in the World Heritage List.
A major component of the proposed project pointed out by the JICA study team was ecotourism which is a very new initiative under the State Forest department.
“Sikkim has tremendous potential for ecotourism and there is great enthusiasm to develop the form of tourism. However there are challenges relating to understanding the nature of ecotourism and ecotourism facilitation, business and infrastructure”, said Dr. Serizewa in the interim report. He suggested lobbying for better tourism operating conditions in Sikkim especially in regard to permit issue. He also suggested establishment of an Ecotourism Marketing Board and implementation of marketing strategy for ecotourism promotion of Sikkim.
Continuing with the thrust on ecotourism development, Dr. Serizewa recommended in the interim report for development of high quality ecolodges at four selected sites in Sikkim. He also recommended development of trekking routes, adventure tourism areas and linking of existing tourism initiatives with market intermediaries.
The JICA study team leader also called for formulation of handicraft strategy including design, improvement, production, sales and provisions of training. It may be added here that a Singapore consultancy firm has also made similar suggests to the State government to use Directorate of Handicrafts and Handlooms for production of small scale attractive traditional products for tourists.
Dr. Serizawa also gave ten years for capacity building of JFMCS, EDCs, PSSs and NGOs on tourism and training of local community members to become ecotourism managers.
In the JICA interim report, the study team has also pointed out that sustainable joint forest and biodiversity conservation, management and utilization by Forest department and forest fringe communities are not properly implemented due to over restrictive regulations of use of forest and biodiversity resources, lack of resource use information and distrust between them.
“People’s participation is necessary for joint forest management and biodiversity conservation. Our observation is that policies are restrictive and we have to come up with some ways for sustainable use of resources”, said Dr. Serizewa.
Recommending establishment of committees for the above purpose, Dr. Serizewa pointed out that there are 200 such committees established in Sikkim and new committees must be established as per the guidelines suggested.
“Once funds and resources are available from the government through this loan, the activities of the committees will increase but these activities must be sustainable. Hence, the activities must be carefully designed”, said Dr. Serizewa.
Recommending organizational strengthening of State Forest department, the JICA study team said that the overall capacity of the department has room for substantial improvement. Now it (capacity) is okay but if the operation is doubled or tripled, the current human resources must be utilized properly”, said Dr. Serizewa. He recommended rationalization of tasks and resources by the Forest department.
With the cost estimates and the amount of loan component for the proposed project being worked out by the preparatory study group, Dr. Serizewa also underlined the need for designing fund raising modules in the project