- The grasslands in Tamil Nadu’s Tirunelveli and Thoothukudi districts are being converted into agricultural land, real estate, and tree plantations.
- Poor recognition of grasslands and insufficient land-use records makes the conversion easier.
- The access for pastoral communities reduces, the habitat degrades and the habitat’s potential to store carbon is ignored.
- Accurate maps of grasslands can help in protecting them, evaluating their carbon storage potential, protect community rights and plan conservation efforts.
The green and brown grasslands of Tirunelveli and Thoothukudi districts in Tamil Nadu sustain lives. The nomadic pastoral communities such as the Konars graze their livestock on these rangelands. The semi-arid habitat also hosts diverse plant and animal life such as the Madras hedgehog.
Classification of these grasslands as ‘wastelands’ and poor documentation of community lands have made it easy to convert them into farmlands, real estate, and tree plantations. It has made it difficult to protect the rights of the migrating pastoralists whose access to these lands gets cut off.
But as grasslands get sidelined, their role in tackling climate change gets underestimated and ignored.
Grasslands, just like forests, are important carbon sinks and crucial for carbon sequestration. While forests store most of their carbon above ground in trunks or branches; grasslands store them mostly in their dense network of roots and the soil. Grasslands are estimated to contain roughly 12% of terrestrial carbon stocks.
Nature-based solutions including restoration of grasslands are considered the cheapest and quickest nature-based measures to mitigate climate change, in addition to reducing carbon emissions.
But to plan conservation and restoration of grasslands, it’s essential to identify where they are and recognise them in official land-use classification. According to a study published in the International Journal of Remote Sensing, the official land use management maps of Tamil Nadu do not capture the fragmented grasslands in Tirunelveli and Thoothukudi. Using a different mapping technique, researchers found 14% of the total area of two districts covered with grasslands, while the government maps showed none.
According to the Wasteland Atlas of India 2010, Tamil Nadu lost 974 ha of open scrub and 926 ha of pastureland between 2003 and 2006, much of it occurred in the districts of Tirunelveli and Thoothukudi. Similarly, grassland habitats across India and the world are degraded.
Accurate maps of grasslands can help in carbon storage valuation, plan conservation, and restoration work. It can also help address community rights and facilitate the sustainable use of grazing lands.
Banner image: A member of the Konar community, traditional pastoralists who migrate in Tamil Nadu’s grasslands. Photo by Nantha Kishore.