The Banni grasslands in a time of change: Ecological and socioeconomic resilience in a coupled human-natural system
The Banni grassland of Kutch has been significantly transformed in the past few decades by Prosopis juliflora, an introduced nitrogen-fixing tree that has invaded almost half of the Banni. To some, this exemplifies successful ‘wasteland reclamation.’ But Prosopis has replaced native trees and grassland, altered habitats for birds and animals, and reduced grazing areas for livestock. Prosopis has also spawned a parallel charcoal economy, profoundly affecting pastoralists’ livelihoods and cultures. In the process, it has created tradeoffs between charcoal-based livelihoods and pastoralist livelihoods, between carbon converted to charcoal and carbon sequestered, and between livestock and wildlife. This project, funded by USAID’s Partnership for Enhanced Engagement in Research (PEER) Programme, aims to develop a predictive understanding of the Prosopis spread with climate change and to evaluate the extent to which it is possible to remove Prosopis and restore Banni’s grasslands. The project addresses questions such as whether it is ecologically feasible to restore these grasslands or whether Prosopis has transformed them irreversibly; also, whether it is socio-economically feasible to completely restore grasslands, or whether charcoal-based livelihoods are here to stay. To this end, the project is also developing a systems dynamics model of the Banni that could serve as a decision support tool to share with stakeholders to evaluate alternative management options and their implications for the ecological and socioeconomic resilience of Banni.