FES empowers communities to restore ecosystems and enhance livelihoods through partnership-led conservation initiatives.
“Commons” comprise of community pastures, community forests, uncultivated or 'wastelands,' and water bodies that all members of a community can access and use. Along with providing basic needs such as food, water, fodder and livelihoods to rural communities, they also provide essential ecosystem services such as carbon sequestration, groundwater recharge and ecological restoration. Approximately 200 million acres, or nearly a quarter of India's lands are Common lands, half of which have deteriorated over the past fifty years. Degraded lands contribute significantly to climate change (accounting for ~25% of the world's greenhouse gases) and the resulting adverse socio-economic impact on dependent communities. Degraded Commons result from ineffective allocation and management of Commons due to by insecure tenure rights of local communities on these lands. This unfortunate phenomenon is also known as the ‘Tragedy of Commons’.
Disenfranchised rural communities, inadequate capacities of local governance bodies and gaps in policy mechanisms are systemic barriers for action on Commons. While significant public resources or around USD 4 billion are spent annually for the restoration of Commons in India, institutional investments are required to support these financial investments to create community assets and sustainable livelihoods.
Founded in 2001, Foundation for Ecological Security (FES) is working to change the status quo from the 'Tragedy of Commons' to the 'Promise of Commons' - where communities are empowered to have access and effectively manage Common lands and water bodies and employ environmentally sustainable livelihoods practices on them.
FES intervenes, both directly and through partnerships with government and Non-governmental organizations (NGOs), to protect and restore ecosystems and enhance livelihoods through four core interventions:
It leverages policy work, technology platforms and deep community ties to scale its impact. FES brings together diverse stakeholders - civil society organizations, researchers, government, media and think tanks - to mainstream Commons management through policy action. India Observatory is FES’ open-source IT platform that provides access to data, technology tools, and analytics to field teams, government officials, implementation partners and the general public to enable local decision making for restoration activities.
Over the last 20 years, FES has strengthened the stewardship of more than 8 million acres of Commons and impacted over 15 million people in 11 out of 28 states of India. Impact studies show that the interventions have led to marked improvements in carbon stock, soil health, groundwater tables and higher resilience of rural livelihoods to the effects of climate change:
The impact outcomes have resulted in the conservation, restoration and sustainable use of terrestrial ecosystems (SDG target 15.1), fair and equitable sharing of the benefits of natural resources (SDG target 15.6) and improved education, awareness-raising and human and institutional capacity on climate change mitigation and adaptation (SDG target 13.3)
Villagers have seen the tangible benefits of FES’ interventions: “We have gained so much. Earlier, everything was dried up, but now, we have started getting fruits, flowers, water, grass. We use the water that is now flowing in the jungle for agriculture. It is a great improvement”
FES aims to improve the management and governance of over 30 million acres of Commons (i.e. one-sixth of India's Common lands) over the next five years.