Ankila J. Hiremath1, Mihir Mathur2, Kabir Sharma2, Nirav Mehta1, Ramya Ravi1, Madhura Niphadkar1 and Abi T. Vanak1
1Ashoka Trust for Research in Ecology and the Environment (ATREE), Bangalore, India
2DESTA Research LLP, New Delhi, India
In complex social-ecological systems, ecological changes caused by invasive species can also have unexpected socioeconomic and cultural consequences. Decisions on management of the invasive species must, therefore, take into account its varied impacts and the way in which it is perceived by multiple stakeholders involved. The Banni, once India’s largest sub-tropical grassland, is one such social-ecological system. Banni, in western India, lies adjacent to the Rann of Kutch, a large salt desert. It has historically been home to traditional pastoralist communities, the Maldharis. In the 1960s, Prosopis juliflora (hereafter, Prosopis), a species native to the Americas, was introduced to Banni, ostensibly to check the ingress of the salt desert. Prosopis has now spread across more than half the Banni, replacing grasslands, reducing fodder availability, and harming the milk economy for Banni’s pastoralists. In response, Banni’s resident communities have developed a parallel wood-charcoal economy based on Prosopis. The growth of the charcoal economy has led to unforeseen consequences, including – and paradoxically – the intensification of milk production.
We developed a system dynamics model of the Banni, which brings together the inter-linked biophysical and socioeconomic components of the system (e.g. Prosopis and grassland area, livestock, biomass for charcoal, livelihoods, and rainfall). The model was developed through a participatory process. Workshops were conducted to elicit information, trends, stories, model structures, and mental models from the Maldharis of Banni as well as from researchers. The model is intended to serve as a learning tool that can help people gain insights (rather than forecasts) regarding alternative future scenarios for Banni. The model simulates the overall behaviour of the system, from 2018–2030. We used this model as the basis for a user-friendly ‘insight-builder’ tool. This tool – an Android App with pictures and interactive graphics – provides a way for stakeholders to explore the implications of potential management scenarios under different ‘What-if’ conditions, such as different management regimes of Prosopis and climate extremes (e.g. recurrent droughts). It gives the user the option to choose scenario parameters to simulate outcomes. The App could have greater outreach as compared to the system dynamics model. Through the App, we aim to engage with stakeholders to envision possible future scenarios for Banni and build consensus on the decisions that could lead to management that is consistent with the priorities of Banni’s communities as well as official land managers.