A Himalayan Difference An Update On The Balipara Foundation’s Efforts

First published in Sanctuary Asia, Vol. 44 No. 2, February 2024

By Bhavya Iyer

The Balipara Foundation of Natural Resources is an Assam-based organisation involved in community-based conservation at the grassroots level. Founded by social entrepreneur Ranjit Barthakur in 2007, the Foundation utilises the unique concepts of “Naturenomics™ï¸ (Nature + Economics) and Rural Futures to create socioeconomic mobility through habitats”. Working with communities in the Eastern Himalaya – particularly in Northeast India – the organisation helps equip them to become the stewards of their natural resources. The Balipara Foundation works across three key thematic areas, Rewilding and Agroforestry, Research, and Forums centred on the theme of ‘Ecology is Economy’.

Under the theme ‘The Great People’s Forest 2030’ , the 11th conference by the Eastern Himalayan Naturenomics Forum was held “to drive actions for restoration-linked climate resilience programmes in the Eastern Himalayan region, creating holistic well-being for ecosystems, wildlife and people in the region”. Photo Courtesy: Balipara Foundation.

The Balipara Foundation established ‘Rural Futures’ as a framework for restoring forests and farmlands, which centres local communities through community-based forest management and habitat restoration, training, and generation of livelihoods and income through agroforestry. The goal of their various programmes is to help communities, particularly on the forest-fringe, become self-reliant, and ensure their basic needs are met for improved quality of life.

Over the years, the Foundation has been involved in many different projects and ventures, including publication of books on NaturenomicsTM, conducting a conference on ‘Asian Elephants in the Wild’, launching the Eastern Himalayan Botanic Ark, an ex-situ conservation centre and nursery for native plants, rewilding through Rural Futures, a study to document and conserve wild fungi in collaboration with the Kunming Institute of Botany, a Rural Futures Fellowship through which youth are introduced to community conservation practices, rewilding, and regenerative agriculture over an 18-month long training programme, and the Balipara Foundation Awards to recognise grassroots conservationists making a difference in the Northeast. The Foundation has restored over 3,000 hectares of forest and positively impacted the lives of over 16,000 people.

Under the theme ‘The Great People’s Forest 2030’ , the 11th conference by the Eastern Himalayan Naturenomics Forum was held “to drive actions for restoration-linked climate resilience programmes in the Eastern Himalayan region, creating holistic well-being for ecosystems, wildlife and people in the region”. Photo Courtesy: Balipara Foundation.

11th Eastern HimalayaN Naturenomics Forum 2023

With the aim of sharing the immense work they are doing and the principles of Rural Futures and Naturenomics, the Foundation has been conducting various fora bringing people together to discuss relevant issues, including the Eastern Himalayan Naturenomics™ Forum. This Forum is a place for practitioners to share case studies and conservation stories, brainstorm solutions for pressing problems affecting people and biodiversity, and spotlight community heroes and the work they are doing.

On December 18 and 19, 2023, the 11th iteration of the Eastern Himalayan Naturenomics Forum was held in Guwahati, Assam. The theme of the conference was ‘The Great People’s Forest 2030’. The intention was “to drive actions for restoration-linked climate resilience programmes in the Eastern Himalayan region, creating holistic well-being for ecosystems, wildlife and people in the region.” The forum focused on four key aspects – data, people, governance and policy. The Forum brought together people from across different sections of society and change – government, businesses, civil society, academia and grassroots communities. The forum is transboundary and cross-cultural in nature, bringing together people of several different nations – India, Nepal, Bhutan and Bangladesh, among others.

The conference was composed of plenary sessions on rewilding different landscapes, followed by sessions on ‘Action for People and Nature’. Day One featured sessions on ‘The Great People’s Forest Opportunity’ with renowned environmental activist Vandana Shiva present, ‘How is AI and Technology Being Leveraged to Accelerate Ecological Innovations?’, ‘The Power of Youth’, and ‘Unveiling New Horizons and Reflecting on COP28’.

Day Two featured fascinating talks and discussions on ‘Sports as an Enabler for Climate Neutrality’, ‘Harmonising Ecosystems: Land, Forests and Conservation of Asian Elephants’, and ‘Why Nature Capital Investment’. A Youth Corner was held to engage with students, which featured a fun session on understanding the Greater Adjutant Stork with Purnima Barman, the pioneer of the Hargila Army. The programme of events ended with the Balipara Foundation Awards on December 19.

The forest guards of Panbari Camp receiving the Rangers award. Over the last 10 years, the Balipara Foundation Awards, has honoured 136 recipients for their work in restoring and preserving natural domains. So far, Rs. 50,00,000 has been invested in upscaling existing solutions, and thousands of hectares of land have been restored and conserved. Photo Courtesy: Balipara Foundation.

11th Balipara Foundation Awards

The Balipara Foundation Awards, first held in 2013, were instituted to recognise, award and highlight societal entrepreneurs, who are working towards natural resource management and biodiversity protection at the grassroots level, in the Eastern Himalaya. The Awards aim to recognise and reward the visionary work done by Earth Heroes, individuals and organisations in preserving nature and involving communities.

Over these 10 years, 136 recipients have been awarded for their work restoring and preserving natural domains; Rs. 50,00,000 has been invested in upscaling existing solutions, and thousands of hectares of land have been restored and conserved. The Awards are given across eight categories to recognise the contributions by people working for the benefit of nature and communities: the Rural Futures Rewilding Award, the NaturenomicsTM Award, Green Legal/Journalist Award, Food for the Future Award, Forests Guards & Rangers Award, Green Guru Award, and the Lifetime Service Award. All recipients of the Awards are provided a fund to help upscale their work, enhancing the impact of their efforts.

The 11th Balipara Foundation Awards were held on December 19, 2023 in Guwahati, Assam. The awardees were a diverse group of people, communities and organisations carrying out inspiring work to conserve natural resources and uplift communities of the Eastern Himalaya. The NaturenomicsTM Award was given to the Women’s Welfare Society, Tripura, and Silluk Village, Arunachal Pradesh. The Lifetime Service Award was given to Dr. Anwaruddin Choudhury, for his decades of research and conservation efforts. The Rabindranath Barthakur Memorial Lecture was held during the Awards ceremony, with award-winning actor, Padma Bhushan Victor Banerjee addressing the audience. He eloquently spoke of environmental and social issues plaguing the world today, saying “We do not inherit the Earth from our ancestors, we borrow it from our children. The world is everyone’s. Every creature from the tiniest insect to the massive elephant, and us, descendants of Neanderthals, own this planet, every square inch of it. No government, no municipal body, can override our ownership. We have become silent witnesses and connivers with those who are robbing us of our precious land to set up disgraceful manufacturing units to satisfy our newfound cravings for “fair and lovely” immortality.” The late Anne Wright, a guiding light and mentor for many, including the Balipara Foundation, was honoured at the awards by Dasho Benji Dorji, a leading environmentalist from Bhutan, in the presence of Anne’s daughter, Belinda Wright.

Inspiringly, of the 24 awards, 14 were given to women for their contributions to preserving this ecologically diverse region. Neela Gurung of Nepal received the Rural Futures Rewilding Award for her work in restoring rhododendron forests, personally planting over 50,000 rhododendron trees, and promoting tourism through her sustainable homestay, the Shikhar Lodge.

Dr. Anwaruddin Choudhury received a Lifetime Service Award for his decades of research and conservation efforts. Photo Courtesy: Balipara Foundation.

Silluk Village in the East Siang District of Arunachal holds the distinction of being the only Zero Waste village in the state, a feat they have achieved by waste management measures and spreading of environmental awareness among the community by the Swachh Silluk Abhiyan. The Women’s Welfare Society of Tripura works to empower artisans championing the use of locally-abundant bamboo for making products, benefitting thousands of artisans, most of whom are women. Both these communities received the NaturenomicsTM Award.

Choki Wangmo of Bhutan received the Green Journalist Award for her dedicated climate reporting and environmental journalism, shedding a light on climate change among the Bhutanese people. Biswajit Goyari of Assam received the Special Recognition Award – Green Entrepreneur, for his tireless efforts to support and empower People with Disabilities (PWD).

The Awardees spanned the length of the Eastern Himalaya, and cumulatively have an immense impact on the conservation and restoration of nature in the Northeast. Supported by these Awards, their work will undoubtedly reach even further. Gratitude Remarks by the founder of the Balipara Foundation, Ranjit Barthakur, concluded the event with a stirring call to action, stating, “People have forgotten that the Himalaya are the Third Pole of the world – there is the North Pole, the South Pole, and the Himalaya. The Himalaya must be promoted as the Third Pole that needs to be protected immediately.”For more on these events and the work of the Balipara Foundation, visit the links below for more details!

EHNF 2023 : Insights Document:
Balipara Foundation Awards 2023: https://mailchi.mp/baliparafoundation.com/balipara-foundation-awards-2023-celebrating-our-earth-heroes-13941034
Rabindranath Barthakur Memorial Lecture by Padma Bhushan Victor Banerjee: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=DrhNBQ6xIks&list=PL-LuHptNxLrkkdqtxGcnzm235pOdVn8tn&index=6
Cinema, Theatre, and the Stories of People and Nature by Adil Hussain and Padma Bhushan Victor Banerjee:
10 Years of Balipara Foundation Awards: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=yHhPnIv05Mg&list=PL-LuHptNxLrkkdqtxGcnzm235pOdVn8tn&index=3
Gratitude Remarks by Ranjit Barthakur: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=A7rG6KYtLMM&list=PL-LuHptNxLrkkdqtxGcnzm235pOdVn8tn&index=5

Bhavya Iyer is a wildlife biologist and nature writer interested in conservation, environmental policy and carnivore ecology. She is an Assistant Editor at Sanctuary Asia, and a member of RewildEd, which works to bridge the people-nature gap through education.


join the conversation