South Asia Bioregionalism Working Group

Lifescape. Illustration by Ashish Kothari

About Us

The South Asia Bioregionalism Working Group, is a voluntary network of members reimagining an ecoregional and bioregional governance for South Asia. It was initiated at a Democracy Vikalp Sangam (Alternatives Confluence) in October 2019. Our ecologies in the region are contiguous and so is the culture, which the group aims to highlight through documentation, dialogues, and action.

Why did this group come into being?

At the Democracy Vikalp Sangam (Alternatives Confluence) organised in October 2019, there was some discussion on the need to re-conceptualise political boundaries from an ecological and cultural perspective. What, for instance, would decision-making look like if river basins, or mountains, or other contiguous ecosystems and the cultures associated with them (including, for instance, nomadism) were to be the focus? Could political constituencies correspond to a river basin, or a lake and its surrounds, or a mountain range? Such inquiries could be considered for regions within a country, or between current nation-state boundaries. There has been a realisation, in particular, that re-imagining the possibilities flowing from such inquiries, then working to create a movement for the realisation of such possibilities for South Asia as a whole, and also linking these processes to peace, are urgently necessary tasks. With the risk of climate chaos increasing rapidly, the well-being of people and nature in this region depends on society, state and markets working from a bioregional perspective. Hence the idea of creating a group that could work on these themes, issues, and questions.

Experience over the last many decades indicates that current political and administrative boundaries, both within and between countries, are often not suitable for decision-making that indeed leads to ecological sustainability and livelihood security. Existing political and administrative boundaries often cut across contiguous ecological and/or cultural landscapes, thereby disrupting the natural movement of wildlife and genes, as also the historical movements and links of communities (especially nomadic ones). So the idea is to rethink/relook at existing political and administrative boundaries, and consider transboundary or borderless or reconstituted approaches that respect Eco-Bio-Cultural linkages and contiguities.  There is a need to understand, conceptualise, and advocate for such bioregional approaches, including to consider human-wildlife dimensions.

Below the Volcano. Illustration by Ashish Kothari

What is a bioregional approach and what does this entail?

In the global context, the terms ecoregions and bioregions have different meanings, connotations and perspectives. This working group largely agrees with the bioregional approach, as it seems more inclusive of both ecological and socio-cultural dimensions; the group intends however to create its own definition of bioregionalism that is inclusive of South Asian perspectives.

The bioregionalist perspective[3] opposes a homogeneous economy and consumer culture with their lack of stewardship towards the environment. Such a perspective seeks to:

  • Ensure that political and administrative boundaries match ecological boundaries and are also sensitive to cultural contiguities and biocultural landscapes.
  • Highlight the unique ecology and cultural attributes of bioregions.
  • Encourage consumption of local foods where possible.
  • Encourage the use of local materials where possible, as well as the promotion of the security of sustainable livelihoods and of living in harmony with the bioregion.
  • Encourage the cultivation of native/indigenous plants of the bioregion.
  • Ensure equity in accessing, using and sharing of production and services, including the responsible custodianship of nature and natural resources.

A bioregional approach would be a radical departure from existing policies and governance systems that tend to focus on the commodification and exploitation of natural resources — water, land, or flora and fauna — for human economic relations. A bioregional approach also rejects competition between peoples and nations, and emphasises responsible and equitable uses of (and relations with) ecosystems that sustain life on the planet.

What are the intended outcomes of the group?

The group intends to generate and strengthen the following: 

  • Knowledge creation and awareness of a bioregionalist approach to democratic decision-making in South Asia. Understanding and highlighting traditional/local systems of decision making and their ecological connections; revitalising democracy by re-situating ecology in individuals’ lives.
  • Advocacy to integrate a bioregionalist perspective into policy, governance, socio-ecological-political structures, and community thinking.
  • People-to-people communication/collaborations across current political and administrative boundaries.
  • Efforts at envisioning, and working towards, the dissolving or porousness of current political and administrative boundaries where they are inappropriate or violative of bioregional principles, and their replacement by bioregional governance, for example – systems constituted around river basins that cut across current nation-state boundaries, as an ultimate goal. 
  • Support systems for communities, movements, and groups working on the ground.

In order to attain the above goals, the working group intends to establish or strengthen collaboration with several existing forums, such as the Rights of Rivers South Asia process, the West Himalaya Vikalp Sangam process, the South Asia Vikalp Sangam process, the Pakistan-India People’s Forum for Peace and Democracy, the People’s SAARC, Community Conserved Areas in South Asia, amongst others.

What strategies and actions will the group use?

While we hope to arrive at suitable short-term and long-term strategies and actions through a process of discussion and deliberation, some initial proposed ideas include:  

  1. Literature review on bioregionalism + mapping of organisations/individuals who have done work of relevance + specific geographic case-studies/examples. 
  2. Linkage, synthesis and integration of efforts and insights from both grassroots and larger-scale conceptual processes; grassroots processes would include movements in specific sites (e.g. Pamir National Park, Western Himalayan region, Indus river basin, North east India-East Asia region); and supportive conceptual processes would include envisioning and mapping bioregions, bringing together various knowledge systems and disciplines relevant to bioregionalism, organising gatherings for knowledge sharing and collaboration.
Hanle valley from observatory hill 2 @ Ashish Kothari
Hanle Valley, Ladakh. Photo Courtesy: Ashish Kothari

Current Projects

1. Mapping Bioregions

India is divided into 741 administrative districts presently. Planning and development statistics are gathered for districts and this database then constitutes the basis for further developmental activity. With a lineage of over 200 plus years and its constant mainstream usage the district spatial system has become entrenched in our mental space erasing the historically established regional spatial nomenclature. The historical nomenclature of regions was derived from a centuries long experience of observing the spread of homogenous natural characteristics over space. It is proposed to research geographical and other literature as well as maps to delineate the historical spatial regions on the present day map of India with a view to identify the constituent modern districts of these regions. Such an exercise can overlay the present district system on the historical ecological regions which exercise could then enable ecological regeneration of these regions through the instrument of their constituent modern districts. 

The objectives are :

  1. Demarcating the historic spatial regions on a physical map of India in GIS format [using ArcGIS software]
  2. To describe the distinguishing natural characteristics of the one of the fairly large identified regions
  3. To overlay the present district boundaries on the pre-districts map to identify the modern districts constituting the old regions

Uncovering Pre-District Bioregions of India

Research Report

This monograph has, within the constraints of time and resources, identified several
Bioregions and has also outlined the possibility of these ecoregions becoming the
underpinning of developmental decisions for the group of present day districts which
overlie such regions.

Read the full report here.

2. Multi Hazard Mapping of Teesta River Basin

The Teesta River is a prominent tributary of the Brahmaputra River. Teesta River basin covers an area of 11,888 km2 spread in India and Bangladesh.  Due to high rainfall and earthquake-induced landslides, and forest fires; the sediment yield from the basin is highest in the Indian Himalayan region. Multiple ethnic groups have inhabited different parts of the basin area; thus, exposing them to different degree of challenges emanating from the events mentioned above.    

The Proposed study will utilize recent land use and land cover data (Sentinel 2), forest fire point data from the Forest Survey of India (FSI), National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA) landslide inventory, and landslides demarcated from high resolution and multi-date Google Earth images to specify different types of eco-regions in the Teesta basin. This study will also provide recent changes in channel configuration and submergence of arable land due to hydroelectricity dam by comparing the pre-and post-dam construction scenarios using high resolution Google Earth images and other ancillary data. 

Read the full report here.

3. Process Documentation

The project documents the origins, process, and key learnings from the emergent South Asia Bioregionalism Working Group from the genesis of an idea at a Democracy Vikalp Sangam in October 2019 to the coalescing of a vibrant collective of individuals and organisations interested in the possibilities of bioregionalism and working on a wide array of themes across diverse contexts in the South Asian region. The project serves in some measure as an archive, a learning resource, a systemic action-inquiry, a community building activity, and a research collaboration. The final outputs of the project will be in the form of a report, a short blog-piece, a report launch event (optional) and a short film (optional). It is hoped that the project will be useful for the short-term and longer-term work of the Bioregionalism working group, for collectives and communities of practice testing emergent strategic approaches, for networks of funders and grantees, and for researchers and educators interested in bioregionalism, collectives, process and collaborative learning, etc.  

The final report will be uploaded here soon.

4. Coastal Bioregions Paper – Understanding Coastal Geomorphology and the Adjacent Ocean

The biosphere of the earth is sustained due to the constant and consistent interactions between atmosphere, lithosphere and hydrosphere. This is a process which has continued for 4 billion years.

Through these interactions, nature sculptured and continued to mould the landscapes and seascapes on which human beings have carved out various niches for livelihood and habitation. The modern global, advanced technology-driven interventions considerably modified these niches, both at land, sea and the interfaces. Perhaps one such important interface, and a highly dynamic one at that, is what we popularly call the coastal zone.

Read the full report here.

Contact Us

For any clarifications, requests and to know more about the South Asia Bioregionalism Working Group please contact us at: [email protected]