Wildlife conservation and community livelihoods are often at odds with each other, but some organisations and individuals have found a way to tie the two together. We made a list of some initiatives which help communities become more economically resilient while also contributing to the conservation of wildlife and natural resources. The next time you shop for any of these curios and crafts, you’ll know your rupee is supporting a worthy cause.

SHEN by NCF

The initiative: SHEN is a women-led handicrafts collective initiated by the Nature Conservation Foundation (NCF), an organisation that works on wildlife research and science-based conservation, and the Snow Leopard Trust, the largest and oldest snow leopard conservation organisation in the world. 

Add More Images
Income from these handicrafts helps offset the economic losses from livestock predation. Photograph: Munmun Dhalaria

The story: SHEN is located in one of the least densely populated areas in the country: Spiti in Himachal Pradesh. SHEN, which means “snow leopard” in Spitian, was set up in 2013 for two very interesting reasons. First, a study which showed that the women in Spiti had greater negative attitudes towards predators such as wolves and snow leopards than men in the region did, perhaps because they were more attached to their livestock. Second, the recognition that traditionally, women hadn’t played a very active role in conservation in the region. Today, the women of SHEN make and sell handicrafts for income generation, the money from which makes up for economic losses due to livestock predation.

Add More Images
Woollens for a worthy cause. Photographs by Munmun Dhalaria

The products: While SHEN sells most of their products at exhibitions and crafts festivals, you can buy their signature woollen socks or ‘snugglers’ online. They have a wide variety of colours and patterns, and they’ll cost you ₹825 a pair on Footsy. You can also check out their Facebook page here

Dastkar Ranthambore

The initiative: Dastkar Ranthambore is a combined initiative of Dastkar and the Ranthambore Foundation, two non-government organisations that were set up in the eighties. Dastkar was established in New Delhi to help rural artisans use their craft-making skills for employment and economic self-sufficiency. The Ranthambore Foundation, based in Sawai Madhopur in Rajasthan, works towards the conservation of tigers and their habitat. 

Add More Images
The products from Dastkar Ranthambore often feature a distinctive tiger motif. Photographs courtesy Dastkar Ranthambore

The story: When Ranthambore National Park was created in 1981, communities who were once dependent on the park for wood, water and farmland had to be resettled. Recognising the challenge ahead, the Ranthambore Foundation approached Dastkar in the late 1980s to find a solution together. They set up what we now know as Dastkar Ranthambore, a women’s enterprise working on various crafts such as patchwork, block printing, tie and dye, sequinning and pottery.

Add More Images
Type caption for image (optional)
Add More Images
The sale of these handcrafted products has provided communities near the national park with an alternative source of income. Photographs courtesy Dastkar Ranthambore

The products: You can shop directly from their site and follow updates on their Facebook page here.  

Hand-braided rag toys (₹100 - 260), cushion covers (₹220 - 450), quilts (₹2,650 - 5,800), wallets and purses (₹130 - 360), table linen (₹300 - 730), kitchen accessories (₹210 - 610). 

SOS Organics

The initiative: Based in Chitai Pant village, near Almora in Uttarakhand, SOS Organics Foundation is a non-governmental organisation that has been working to integrate the needs of people and the environment, by encouraging farmers to practice natural mixed farming methods and providing them with livelihood opportunities. 

Add More Images
Farmers in Uttarakhand are now encouraged to grow indigenous, low-input crops on their land. Photograph courtesy SOS Organics

The story: Amrita Chengappa moved to Uttarakhand in 2002 and thought of starting an enterprise to provide meaningful employment opportunities in the area. In her own words, “Villages in the Himalaya are being abandoned due to the lack of livelihood and a decline in agriculture, so we decided to create a sustainable project using local herbs and plants to create value added products, that in turn would encourage farmers to grow rainfed low-input crops.” Not only has SOS Organics built a name for its high quality eco-products today, but they also do a lot behind the scenes to ensure the sustainable use of natural resources. They work with farmers who typically have very small landholdings, and equip them with the skills and knowledge to grow indigenous low-input crops such as apricot, lemongrass, Himalayan nettle, amaranth, barley, soy, red rice, herbs and spices. Because of such initiatives, communities no longer rely solely on forests for fodder and fuelwood, reducing the need to harvest large amounts of wood from the forests.

Add More Images
Himalayan Crystal Salt Lamps come in a variety of shapes and sizes. Photographs courtesy SOS Organics

The products: Most interesting is the Himalayan Crystal Salt Lamp, which helps clean up the air in your home as well. 

Himalayan salt lamps (₹1,250 - 1450), natural cosmetics (₹120 - 440), herbal infusions (₹80 - 140) , organic health foods (₹110 - 130), forest honey (₹160), seasonings (₹120 - 140), beeswax candles (₹110 - 160).

Airavat - People for Elephants

The initiative: In 2015, Wildlife Research and Conservation Society (WRCS), a Pune-based NGO, helped set up self-help groups for women in Karnataka to produce and market elephant-themed handicrafts. 

Add More Images
Airavat's work has gone a long way towards fostering a more sustainable relationship between elephants and the local community. Photographs courtesy Airavat

The story: The Siddi community is an Afro-Indian tribe that has been living deep inside the forests of Uttara Kannada in Karnataka, where human-elephant conflict is a frequent and unfortunate reality. Every year between August and January - what the farmers called ‘elephant season’ - the community would do whatever it took to safeguard their sugarcane and paddy fields from elephants foraging for food, be it building beehive fences or setting up trip alarms. WRCS realised that the relationship between elephants and people needed to change, and it was with this intent that they set up Airavat, which has gone a long way towards building sensitivity within the local community for elephant conservation. They have recently started a similar initiative based on owls, under the name Athena, which hopes to combat negative attitudes about owls as bad omens as well. 

Add More Images
Type caption for image (optional)
Add More Images
The NGO now hopes to combat negative attitudes against owls as well. Photographs courtesy Airavat

The products: The women of Airavat’s self-help groups create everything from keychains and wall hangings to cushion covers and bags - as long as their crafts depict elephants in some form or fashion. Airavat and Athena products aren’t sold online yet, but you can write to prachimehta@wrcsindia.org if you’re interested. You can also find their products at the Sarai at Toria near Panna Tiger Reserve in Madhya Pradesh, as well as at various craft fairs and exhibitions.   

Wine bottle bags (₹150), jute bags (₹300), cushion covers (₹400), cotton tote bags (₹200), keychains and wall hangings (₹60 - 180).

Kalandar Rehabilitation Program at Wildlife SOS

The initiative: Wildlife SOS was started in Agra in 1995 with the holistic belief that providing sustainable alternative livelihoods and education to communities dependent on wildlife and natural resources would aid in wildlife protection. The Kalandar rehabilitation program is an apt example of how this can work effectively. 

Add More Images
Kalandar women learning embroidery and stitching. Photographs courtesy Wildlife SOS

The story: The Kalandar community is a nomadic tribe that has been “dancing” sloth bears for a living for the past 400 years. In 1996, Wildlife SOS realized that poverty and a lack of education meant that this community had no alternate means to a livelihood. Through education, skill training and seed funds for micro-enterprises, the community is now engaged in carpet weaving, tailoring, soap making and jewellery making. Wildlife SOS works with over 3,000 Kalandar families across Rajasthan, Madhya Pradesh, Haryana and Uttar Pradesh.

Add More Images
Livelihoods and conservation don't have to be at odds with each other. The sale of these scarves helps make communities less dependent on the natural resources around them. Photographs courtesy Wildlife SOS

The products: You can write to info@wildlifesos.org for more details about products and sales.

Sequinned Kalandar bags (₹1,500), elephant-themed keychains (₹250), felt keychains (₹100), silk scarves (₹1,200 - 1,500), t-shirts (₹500).

Uravu

The initiative: The non-profit enterprise Uravu, based in Thrikkaipetta village in Wayanad, Kerala, works with traditional artisans, women’s groups and indigenous communities to create sustainable employment and livelihood alternatives for them. It functions as a wing of the State Bamboo mission under the Department of Industries.  

Add More Images
Bamboo is a resource that is abundant in Wayanad. Here, producer groups craft products with bamboo. Photograph courtesy Uravu

The story: Bamboo is often called ‘green gold’ - in addition to being one of the world’s fastest growing plants, it has diverse uses, from handicrafts and construction to medicines, water filters and even bamboo-reinforced car parts. Uravu’s vision is centred around this key resource of the 21st century which grows locally, naturally and abundantly in Wayanad. Uravu helps producer groups by equipping them with bamboo processing skills and other value addition techniques. They also cultivate bamboo groves for regeneration, establish micro-enterprises and provide market linkages. Today, Thrikkaipetta is called the “bamboo village”, a classic example of a creative and self-reliant community which has found a livelihood solution while regenerating the local bamboo resource base.  

Add More Images
Bamboo is one of the world's fastest growing plants, and clearly, it can be put to a plethora of uses. Photograph courtesy Uravu

The products: Bamboo lamp shades (₹450 - 1,800), bottle holder (₹350), corporate gifts such as pens, folders and desk clocks (₹120 - 400), home decor (₹70 - 350).

Have a look at the rest of this products here - you can contact uravu.india@gmail.com for further queries as well. 

Ghost of the Mountains

The initiative: Kalpavriksh, a non-profit that has been working on environmental and social issues since 1979, has been publishing this children’s book as part of their environmental education initiatives. Half of the books are sold in Ladakh by the Snow Leopard Conservancy which advocates community-based stewardship of the snow leopard. The proceeds from the sale of the books in Ladakh are ploughed back to snow leopard conservation. 

Add More Images
Why is conservation so important? It's an important issue for children to think about. Photograph courtesy Kalpavriksh

The story: Sujatha Padmanabhan was inspired to write this children’s book after she’d spent some time in Ladakh. With the help of Madhuvanti Anantharajan’s terrific illustrations, Sujatha recounts the true tale of Rigzin, a young Ladakhi boy who lives in the Himalayan village of Ang. Rigzin uses quick thinking and compassion to dissuade the people of his village from killing a snow leopard who was found trapped in one of their houses. Despite their anger at the beast who had been preying on their livestock, they finally come around to Rigzin’s plea to save both their livestock as well as the ‘ghost of the mountains’.     

The product: You can get a copy of Ghost of the Mountains here, for ₹100. 

CHITKU

The initiative: CHITKU is a craft and design collective, organised as a self-reliant women’s cooperative comprising around a hundred women from the Tharu community, in the Terai plains of Uttarakhand.  

Add More Images
The cooperative now works with wheat and local wild grasses. Photographs courtesy CHITKU

The story: Pine needles, which carpet the forest floors in the Himalayas, are also one of the main reasons for forest fires in the summers. They also inhibit the growth of grasses that are needed as fodder for livestock. Based in Uttarakhand’s Udham Singh Nagar district, Chitku has been working tirelessly to find better uses for pine needles for over six years now, with a beautiful range of pine products. They have also diversified to craft beautiful products made from wheat and local wild grasses such as kansi.   

Add More Images
Imagine, winter 'woollens' made not of wool, but nettle. Photographs courtesy CHITKU
Add More Images
These little turtles have been crafted with fabric and pine. Photograph courtesy CHITKU

The products: CHITKU retails their products at Kilmora outlets, at crafts exhibitions and select stories in Mussoorie, Goa and Bombay. Reach out to Priyanka Tolia at priyankatolia@chitku.in if you’d like to order.  

Pine-crafted bells (₹40 - 60 a piece), turtle keyring (₹160), big turtle paperweight (₹160), dolls/angels (₹160), table mats (₹170 - 320), serving trays (₹200 - 520).

DevBhumi 

The initiative: DevBhumi Natural Products is one of the country’s first producer companies, established in 2007 and owned by over 7,000 small and marginal farmers, most of them women. Based in Uttarakhand’s Garhwal region, DevBhumi’s shareholder families are all primary producers, such as beekeepers, milk producers, spice cultivators and silk-worm rearers.  

Add More Images
The rearing of Apis cerana bees also contributes to better yield on farmers' well-pollinated fields. Photograph courtesy DevBhumi

The story: DevBhumi is promoted by the NGO Appropriate Technology India (ATI), which focuses on livelihood generation through biodiversity conservation. They do this in a variety of ways - for example, they encourage the cultivation of fodder grass by local communities to replace the biomass extraction that takes place from oak forests to meet fodder and fuelwood needs. They also promote organised dairy farming so that livestock can be stall-fed; this reduces the pressure of uncontrolled grazing on alpine pastures. However, they are known most widely for their honey, produced by rearing the Apis cerana honeybee that is indigenous to the Himalayas. In 1996, DevBhumi honey became the first honey in India to attain organic certification. The rearing of these bees, which are the best pollinators for organically grown crops, also contributes to agricultural productivity in the region.  

Add More Images
DevBhumi honey was the first honey in India to be certified organic. Photograph courtesy DevBhumi

The products: Certified organic honey (₹215 - 690), litchi honey (₹160 - 350), twin honey gift pack (₹350). 

Last Forest Enterprises

The initiative: Last Forest Enterprises is a hybrid for-profit institution started by the Keystone Foundation, which has been working with local communities in the Nilgiri Biosphere Reserve since 1993. 

Add More Images
The organisation, founded on fair-trade principles, markets several forest-based products. Photograph courtesy Last Forest Enterprises

The story: Last Forest Enterprises aims to support small-scale indigenous farmers and gatherers through the value addition of organic produce, while working towards improving biodiversity and food security in the region. Founded on fair-trade principles, the enterprise produces and markets 68 kinds of organic, forest-based or indigenous products. Their efforts have helped increase sustainable harvesting practices of forest produce by 90 percent within the Nilgiri Biosphere reserve. Almost half of the enterprise’s profits are channeled back into the community for education and development.

Add More Images

The products: Body care products (Rs 60 - 180), bags and purses (Rs 270 - 1625), essential oils (Rs 270 - 800), organic food products (Rs 50 - 250),

Aadya Singh - Independent Researcher, Writer

Aadya Singh

Independent Researcher, Writer

Aadya is an independent researcher. Through her work, she has been exploring the intersection between livelihoods, environmental conservation and skill development with a focus on Himalayan communities. In her spare time, she enjoys playing pretend naturalist, musician, photographer and writer.