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To save mangroves, Kutch's camel breeders take to the internet

Have collected Rs 70,000 through crowdfunding, need over Rs 2.5 lakh to take on industries

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Highly-endangered Kharai camels gather at a mangrove — KUUMS
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The Camel Breeders Association in Kutch has taken to the internet to wage a battle to save several acres of mangrove. Realising that they will need financial assistance to fight a legal battle against the Kandla Port Trust, which has leased several acres of land (a considerable part of it is mangroves) to to private parties for setting up salt manufacturing units, the association has sought financial help through crowdfunding.

In January 2017, several Maldharis reported mangroves being uprooted by private companies on land leased to them for salt manufacturing. The companies illegally destroyed four square km of mangrove forest by blocking creeks and erecting embankments to keep tidal waves from coming ashore. This blockade killed the mangroves making it easy for the machines to uproot them.

Investigations by a government committee set up by the district collector revealed that this was in violation of Coastal Regulation Zone (CRZ) Act, following which the association moved the National Green Tribunal (NGT), which ordered a stay in the matter.

Mahendra Bhanani, who is associated with the camel breeders, said the Maldharis, who rear camels, rely on the mangroves for fodder.

"The mangroves form 80 per cent of the food source of the Kharai camels in Kutch. Several companies that were leased this land were found to be destroying the mangroves and we had taken up the matter with both the district administration and the NGT," said Bhanani.

He said a report prepared by the forest department — after a committee was setup by the collector to look into the issue — also found large scale destruction of mangroves by private companies.

"The destruction was not limited to the land leased to them. What we have found is that the companies ended up ravaging mangroves even beyond the land that was leased to them," said Bhanani.

The legal battle that the association has waged will cost them money and so they have taken to the internet to gather funds. "We are a small organisation with limited resources. This is the first time we are using crowdfunding to help finance our fight. We did not know about it until an organisation suggested the idea to us," said Bhanani.

The organisation funded its initial fight to save the mangroves through the money it got by selling camel milk to AMUL. It has so far gathered around Rs 70,000 through crowdfunding on Milaap but needs to gather Rs 2.5 lakh for its cause.

Pankaj Joshi, Executive Director, Sahjeevan, one of the organisations supporting the camel breeders said that mangroves are not just essential for the camels and the pastoral communities but support a large variety of ecosystems. "This community has waged the fight to have access to resources that they have used and taken care of for years," said Joshi.

THE ASSOCIATION

Camel Breeders Association of Kutch (Kutch Unth Ucherak Maldhari Sangathan — KUUMS) is made up of 380 members from various pastoral communities of the region.

THE KHARAI CAMELS

Only 3,000 of the Kharai camels are believed to be surviving in the country. A highly threatened species, they live in the mangroves and destruction of their habitat and source of food pose a big threat to their existence.

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