‘Forests meet the clouds’ in India: Give back to nature

Donna Crane
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Last of two parts
TreeSisters is a global network of women who donate monthly to help provide funds for the restoration of tropical forests as a collective expression of planetary care. As a feminine leadership and tropical reforestation organization, they exist to call forth the brilliance and generosity of women everywhere and channel it towards the trees. Their goal is to make it as normal for everyone to give back to nature as it currently is to take nature for granted. They have begun a journey of moving from planting a billion trees in a year.

Lauriane Cayet-Boisrobert continues her report on the Khasi Hills, in northeastern India.

“The Khasi Hills is certainly one of the most picturesque places in the Meghalaya. It is a complex landform of rolling uplands, rounded hills, as well as steep slopes and deep valleys.

“The Khasi Hills is one of the wettest place in Asia. The word ‘Meghalaya’ translates to ‘the abode of clouds’ in Hindi and Sanskrit. Because of their high altitudes, forests literally ‘meet the clouds’, which explains why they are called ‘cloud forests’. They even live up to its name to the point of hitting rainfall records. Heavy rainfall contributes substantially to the river flow, which is essential to the Ganges-Brahmaputra-Meghna river basin which Indi and Bengal depend upon greatly.

“Forests cover about 75% of the Khasi Hills, with east Khasi and west Khasi respectively covered at 63% and 75%. This is impressive when compared with England’s green and pleasant lands only including 10% forest cover. The largest forests blocks are in the northeastern part of the Khasi Hills. Forests vary from tropical moist deciduous (generally low elevations below 1,200 meters and lower annual rainfall), to fragments of subtropical evergreen (cloud) forests, or subtropical semi-evergreen forests, persisting as sacred groves or confined to gullies, steep slopes, depending on the altitude and location. Forests found above 1,000 meters are a mix of broad-leaved and needle-leaved trees. Subtropical pine forests found above 1,200m have been planted as secondary forest (not climax forest). (Standing stones close to Mawphlang sacred grove, East Khasi Hills.

“Arising from a diverse topography and climatic conditions, the Khasi Hills are home to a luxuriant variety of plants, some of them only be found in this area, such as pitcher plant Nepenthes khasiana, an insectivorous endemic plant in threat of disappearing due to habitat loss. The Khasi Hills alone are endowed with 75 orchid genera, represented by 265 species. These hills are considered the center of diversity for several primitive tree genera such as Magnolia and for families such as Elaeocarpaceae.”

“The Mawphlang Sacred Forest is one of the most famous sacred groves in the Khasi Hills. The Khasi people value their forest for their role in protecting springs, stream beds and conserving wildlife. They house ancient stone monoliths and are linked to similar traditions across India and can be found all around the world.

“According to World Wildlife Fund (WWF), more than 110 large mammals are found, such as endangered tiger (Panthera tigris) or clouded leopard (Pardofelis nebulosa). Most of the bird life is only found here or restricted to South Asia.

“The Meghalaya is not only a high biological and ecological value forest, it is inhabited by outstanding indigenous tribes with high social or cultural values, namely the Khasi tribe, who are the most represented, as well as the Jaintia and the Garo tribes. Traditionally property and tribal office is passed down through the female line, mother to youngest daughter, though the management has been in the hands of the men and increased conversion to Christianity impacts these traditions. These tribes have been governing the forest lands held by centuries-old, traditional forest management system. The Meghalaya tribes traditional cultivation ways include shifting agriculture (‘slash and burn’) in and around forests and terrace cultivation (bun cultivation) in the valleys and foothills, in order to improve soil fertility, to conserve soil moisture and prevent and soil erosion.

“The Khasi Hills forests are today being intensively degraded and cleared to make room for shifting cultivation, timber extraction by rotational felling and developmental activities. Between 2000 and 2006, forest loss has even exceeded five percent per year in East Khasi Hills. Today, one-third of the Khasi hills area is found barren and shrubby, used to grow crops, mostly appearing in brown tones on GoogleMaps.

“Broad-leaved forests represent the original primary vegetation of the region, but today they are only present in small pockets confined to gullies, steep slopes and 10 sacred forests/groves (set up for religious purposes). Nowadays, pine forests and grasslands dominate the landscape. They are signs of past deforestation or forest degradation. They are called ‘secondary-growth forests’ because they regenerate naturally after significant removal or disturbance of the original forest cover,” Cayet-Boisrobert wrote.

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