Ramya Ravi, Siddhartha Krishnan and Ankila J. Hiremath
Ashoka Trust Research for Ecology and Environment (ATREE), Royal Enclave, Srirampura, Jakkur Post, Bengaluru, Karnataka, India
Banni is a ~2500 km2 arid grassland in Western India. It is one of the largest natural grassland systems in the Indian sub-continent. Banni is historically home to Maldharis (Mal~livestock, dhari~owners), a traditional pastoralist community, wellknown for their animal husbandry practices and milk economy. Banni adjoins a large salt-marsh desert system, the Rann of Kutch. Concerns over rising salt-water ingress and desertification in Banni led to the introduction of Prosopis juliflora (hereafter, Prosopis), an invasive tree native to the Americas. Since its introduction in the 1960s, Prosopis has spread to about 60% of the grassland. This has prompted local stakeholders—the Maldharis and NGOs—to call for its removal. However, using a combination of quantitative and qualitative methods we find that Banni is in a state of ‘novel’ dependence on Prosopis for economic and cultural uses. Almost 70% of Banni’s residents are dependent on income from Prosopis charcoal for their sustenance. Charcoal income is a source of primary and secondary income among Banni’s people as a result of prevailing social stratification. For individuals with small-to-no livestock holdings, charcoal is a primary source of income that helps reduce income-related vulnerabilities, while for individuals with large livestock holdings, charcoal is a source of secondary income that helps in business expansions and in furthering political interests. In fact, for both these groups, income from charcoal has led to herd expansion, resulting in an upsurge in the local milk economy. This intricate network among Banni’s people, of primary and secondary charcoal-dependents, has formalized the charcoal economy in the region. In addition, 60% of all homes are made of Prosopis. Prosopis is also used in shelters for livestock, in groundwater harvesting systems, and for local rituals. Almost 95% of fuelwood used comes from Prosopis. In addition to their steady use among the locals, honey, pods, resin, and wood collected from Prosopis also have a sizeable market demand. With such multi-layered dependencies, the removal of Prosopis is now contentious among the various social classes of Banni.
Our work demonstrates the importance of interdisciplinary research even in the context of ecological problems like invasions. The dominant narrative that shapes invasive species management policies focuses on the origins of these species, their negative impacts on native species, and the value that we place on historical states prior to invasion. Just as importantly, narratives about invasive species must also focus on ‘novel’ cases where these species have become a part of the landscape due to people’s economic and cultural dependence on them.