India: Ecosystem management

Sustaining the Ecosystem for Water, Wildlife and Community in India

In Gujarat India, freshwater availability has been critical since 1970. Ambuja Cement Limited (ACL), a Holcim Group company, operates the Ambujanagar plant. In the region where the plant operates, excessive over-withdrawal and intensive land use have reduced the ground water and a serious increase in water salinity.

The plant developed its rehabilitation plan taking into account wider biodiversity conservation goals and societal needs. The multi-faceted approach resulted in capturing freshwater in the region, improving degraded areas near the Gir forest, creating important habitats and ecosystems in the closed quarries and developing a mangrove forest. This was only possible by working with several local stakeholders including local communities, forest departments, NGOs, and authorities. An additional outcome has been the strengthened relationships with these stakeholders.


Site description:

The Ambujanagar cement plant has three closed and six active quarries. The facility is located between the Arabian Sea and the Gir Protected Area. The Gir Protected Area is the habitat for the last surviving population of the Asiatic lion, a globally threatened species. The plant is also located in a Coastal Regulation Zone which suffers from salinity ingress.

Objectives:

The prime objective of the project was to undertake rehabilitation activities to both mitigate impacts of the extraction and our operations and respond to the needs of the local communities.

Considering the ecological sensitivities of the region, ACL adopted a landscape approach; taking into account the wider conservation objectives in the region. Thus, the scope of the rehabilitation activities was widened to include areas outside the quarries. Due to the water stress in the area, particular focus was given to improve the water management in the region.

Ambujanagar worked with local communities, natural resource management experts, NGOs and local authorities to develop the objectives. The Ambuja Cement Foundation (ACF), the Corporate Social Responsibility wing of ACL, has been instrumental in delivering on the outcomes.

Activities:

The rehabilitation activities focused on the following key issues:

Capturing and preserving the freshwater: ACF implemented several measures to improve water management in the area, primarily through rainwater harvesting, and converting the closed quarries into artificial lakes and wetlands. 165 dams and small barriers have been built across the direction of water flow, to reduce the velocity in shallow rivers and streams to avoid runoff. Other measures include interlinking rivers and streams, construction of percolation wells, renovation and deepening of ponds and runoff diversion systems which contribute to the capturing of rainwater and recharging of existing farmers’ wells.

Quarry rehabilitation through planting trees: Different species of trees have been planted as part of the restoration of the mined-out areas and surrounding zone. The company is also planning to grow Jatropha as a source of bio-fuel in the coming years. On the periphery of the Gir forest, on large barren tracts of degraded land, the Holcim is collaborating with the forest department for undertaking plantation activities.

Conserving of the flora and fauna of Gir: Under the ‘Mini Gir project’, a variety of tree species native to the Gir Forest are being planted in the closed quarries. The Ambujanagar plant also supported the conservation of the Asiatic lion (Panthera leo persica), an endangered species. Lion cubs have been known to slip into drinking water wells in the Gir Forest and drown. ACF along with forest officials have provided a simple solution by constructing bunds or protection walls and covering for wells, preventing the cubs from falling into the well.


Protecting coastal zones through mangrove development - Since 2009, the Ambujanagar cement plant and Surat grinding unit, have been working with the Gujarat Ecology Commission (GEC) to develop a mangrove area near Surat. The state authorities have given 150 hectares to the company to develop mangroves along the Gujarat coast. Planting of three native tree species was done in three phases from November 2009 to February 2010. A density of 3,000 plants/ha has been maintained in the project. Regular monitoring is conducted by GEC in collaboration with the Surat plant for mangrove development and maintenance.

Sustaining local livelihoods: All initiatives and activities under rehabilitation ensure active community participation and generate livelihood. Local people are employed for activities such as pit preparation, watering, tree planting, nursery development and construction of water harvesting structures etc. A medicinal garden has also been developed in a nearby area, which is managed by local people. Some former pits are reclaimed for fodder cultivation to provide feed for the farmers’ cattle. The water management and mangrove plantation projects have also improved the livelihood for local people by helping to increase agricultural crop yield and also by increasing the fishing yield respectively.


Results:

The water management program has raised the water table by eight meters, controlled the water salinity problem and made quality fresh water easily available to the communities around. Wells, previously dry for at least seven months a year, now contain water all year round, which has made it possible for local famers to take two crops per year.

By March 2012 ACL had rehabilitated approximately 330 hectares and planted nearly 275,000 trees. Barren and degraded land near the Gir forest has been planted with native trees.

Local employment opportunities have been generated through all activities and initiatives with benefits for the livelihoods of local people.

The artificial lakes and wetlands have become breeding grounds and visiting spots for a large number of migratory birds including Pelican, Heron and Flamingoes.

Fish population has increased and Mugger crocodiles (Crocodylus palustris) have also been recorded. Many visitors, primarily children from ACL schools and families pay frequent visits to this site.

The mangrove density of 3,000 plants/ha has been maintained, which will provide multiple benefits such as flood protection, supporting marine life and climate regulation.

In 2011, ACL achieved its target to become water positive. This approach has helped the company to strengthen the relationships with all local stakeholders which has contributed to securing its license to operate in the future. The achievements of the ACF have been recognized by authorities. The Government of Gujarat is exploring implementing similar water harvesting models elsewhere in the state on a large scale, with advice from the ACF.

Best Practice:

This project has helped to demonstrate the importance of taking into account the needs of the local communities and how they may be affected by the state of the environment and its resources. By taking a wider landscape view, the plant can contribute solutions to the conservation challenges in the region. The work illustrates that effective partnerships with local government, NGOs and communities etc. is valuable for successful planning and execution of a rehabilitation project.