Ida and I, after a month-long wrestling match with Indian bureaucracy, have finally been able to go out into the field. Yesterday we went on our second trip to the Irula community of Bhangalapadugai, a village of around 45 households that has been severely affected by elephant intrusions in the last decade. The village is located about a 11/2 hour drive and 1000 meter elevation drop from Kotagiri. On our first visit we heard harrowing stories of near escapes from elephants and trampled crops. Three people have died in recent elephant attacks, a severe blow to such a small community.
Yesterdays visit was conducted as a joint venture between the Livelihoods/Environmental Governance and Conservation programs with the purpose of discussing the conditions, technical details, and eventual financial support toward the setting up of strategic elephant fences around the most exposed farmland in the area. Needless to say there were a lot of feelings invested in the meeting, considering the heavy losses inflicted by the animals. The meeting was held at the local Keystone-supported production center and a number of farmers attended. Women did attend but it was clear who held decision-making power. The gender dynamics of rural life in this part of India and how Keystone works with gender issues would be interesting to explore further, but I will leave that subject for now.
When it comes to these types of challenges the need for a holistic approach which cross cuts programmatic and thematic areas is apparent. The meeting therefore provided a positive insight into Keystones capacity and willingness to contribute with solutions to a marginalized community in order to come to terms with a massive problem in a sustainable way.
Other short updates: It has rained for five days straight, the fog is so thick that we invented a new game – “cow or Gaur” – when walking past bovine shadows in the mist, my clothes are getting moldy, the rats in my room have replaced the community alarm as my wake up call. Finally, tomorrow is Diwali so hopefully we can go somewhere to escape this rain cloud that we are literally living inside of right now. Despite the severe lack of dryness I am loving the Nilgiris and all it has to offer.