Phaltan – Grassland Restoration Project

Background :Phaltan is located in the Satara district of Maharashtra. It lies in the rain-shadow region and experiences low and irregular rainfall and high temperatures.

Thus it is a semi-arid drought-prone region. These conditions are not conducive to cultivation. Bajra is the main kharif crop in the area. Dams and canals are built for irrigation, cash crops are cultivated. Horticulture prospered in this area as it has demand in the international market.
The climatic factors mentioned above are, however, favourable for the growth of grasses. The region was once known as the grass bowl of Maharashtra. Shepherd population prospered here. After the monsoon, the shepherds migrate to the wetter tracts in Konkan. The animal manure was used as barter for necessities such as grasses and salt with the farmers.
But uncontrolled grazing and trampling by livestock have deteriorated the grassland resources. Good fodder grasses were slowly replaced by grasses with low nutritional value. In some areas only scanty grass cover can be seen.
The soil compacted by continuous trampling has lost its water holding capacity. Due to loss of ground cover, the exposed soil is subject to erosion by wind and the occasional heavy downpour. The soil has become coarse and shows high mineral content but no humus. The once productive land has now become moonscape.

Objectives:

1.    To study natural regeneration of vegetation in the semi-arid part of Maharashtra after due protection is given to the land
2.    To study the regeneration of indigenous grass species with a view to test the availability of good fodder.
3.    To improve soil quality by application of eco-friendly measures
4.    To plant and introduce a variety of plant species indigenous and endemic to semi-arid areas with a view to conserve biodiversity
5.    To develop grassland research and study centre for the benefit of students.
6.    To   create wetland conditions to attract waterfowl and regenerate wetland flora

Project Site:
Upland at Vinchurni near Phaltan 

Project Site before Restoration Project Site before Restoration

Methodology:

An initial survey of the land was carried out in July and August 2001. The survey revealed that the soil was rich in minerals but poor in nutrients and humus content. The dominant grasses were poor fodder. Among the existing vegetation, there were 6 tree species and 7 shrub species. The fauna included 6 butterfly species and 29 bird species.


Management Measures:

  • Electric fencing of 20 acres (including 2 barrages) of the total 40 acres land was done to strengthen protection and eliminate grazing and cutting vegetation. The remaining 20 acres were left open and grazing was allowed here.
  • Mulching was done by spreading waste material from a nearby goat farm and grass at some places inside the fenced area to provide biomass to soil and initiate microbial activity.
  • Water collected behind the two existing barrages. A layer of clay was spread on the bed to enhance water retention capacity.

Formation of Wetland Formation of Wetland

  • Saplings of some indigenous fruit-bearing species like Aegle (kavath), Phyllanthus (avala), tamarind and other plants like khejadi were introduced. Some marsh plant species were also introduced. In the drought period experienced during project implementation, the saplings had to be watered.
  • Weeds like Parthenium and Alternanthera were removed manually.


Results:

The protection of land facilitated the emergence of monsoon herbs and growth of grasses. The importance of controlled grazing was proved as fodder grasses re-emerged due to protection that are otherwise rapidly consumed by livestock. Now about 22 species of grass are recorded in the project area. 

Profuse Growth of Grasses Profuse Growth of Grasses 

The saplings showed vigorous growth.

Zizyphus Zizyphus 

The grass cover offered ideal shelter for breeding and birds like spot-billed duck, quails and small mammals like hare built their nests in the project area. Other animals like monitor lizard and wolf were also seen frequently. About 40 species of birds are now noted in the area. The area is rich in insect diversity.

Joker Joker 

The waterbodies attracted waterfowl like egrets, herons, kingfishers and waders. There was no regeneration of aquatic vegetation due to the scarcity of these plants in the vicinity of the project area.

Wetland Wetland 

During the drought, vegetation in the surrounding area dried out leaving no fodder for the livestock. Only the protected project area still showed good grass cover. The people were allowed to graze their animals inside this area.


Discussion:

The project suggests management alternatives for land in dry regions with a view to conserve biodiversity characteristic of this region and to provide the basic necessities like fuel, fodder and other produce to local people. The stress is on cultivation of plants like grasses and shrubs that can grow well in severe dry conditions as an alternative to cultivation of water intensive crops through irrigation.

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