Balkhila Model Forest

In a nutshell

The Balkhila River Basin is situated in the upper part of the Ganges river basin in northern India. Descending steeply from a 4000m altitude, it is one of the many fragile basins in the Himalayas. The Indian Himalayan Region is threatened by changing land use, pollution, unprecedented glacier melting, floods, landslides, water scarcity, deforestation and biodiversity loss. This results in a widespread concern among the local communities in the region over declining fuelwood, fodder and water availability and the situation is further deteriorating due to climate change and associated problems.

Indian Himalayan Region, more than ever, requires a landscape management approach that considers the vulnerability of the region and the need for environmental protection. Balkhila Model Forest has been created to enhance resilience and to build adaptive capacities among local stakeholders through landscape based adaptation and mitigation strategies, as well as the promotion of sustainable livelihood options.


Balkhila Model Forest primarily consists of forests, cultivated lands, pastures, water bodies, snow and settlements. There are five different types of forests that are home to a wide diversity of flora and fauna. The watershed shelters 25 villages and Gopeshwar-Chamoli towns and is home to the well-known Chipko movement.

The resource utilization is nature-based and the economy of the villages is primarily agrarian. Agriculture in the area is mostly dependent on rainfall due to inadequate water facilities, and mainly confined in depressions, along gentle slopes and valley sides wherever the water sources and soil conditions are favorable. People of the area are self-reliant for their food grain needs. There is remarkable increase in the agricultural fields by conversion of scrub and low-density pine area. The main crops grown are rice, wheat, a variety of pulses and millet and main vegetables are potatoes, pumpkins, cucumbers and eggplants.

Communities extract fodder, fuelwood, timber from the forests, and over the last few decades the pressure on the forests has increased substantially. The land is further getting fragmented, biodiversity is dwindling and there is an increasing trend on emigration of young people in search of jobs and livelihoods.

Village communities in the region have been involved in community forestry management known as Van Panchayats (VPs), which are community managed forest areas carved out of civil protected forests. People in the region depend highly on VPs’ forests to draw fodder, fuelwood, timber, NTFPs, etc. There is a strong need to strengthen the power of VP’s and their elected members for better management of natural resource and rural livelihoods. A strong Van Panchayat can serve as the backbone of a village, if it contributes sufficiently to the sustenance of the households. Its effective functioning can lead to the formation of newer commons.


A roundtable on resilience to water issues in the Indian Himalayas has been created and is being used as the Model Forest multistakeholder’s platform.  It brings together government agencies, NGOs, research institutions, civil society organizations, and other important stakeholders already working on a variety of issues in the Indian Himalayan Region.

Partner organizations of the roundtable are:

  • International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN)
  • Uttarakhand Forest Department
  • GB Pant Institute of Himalayan Environment and Development (research organization)
  • Dasholi Gram Swaraj Mandal (DGSM, local community groups)
  • Environment and Health Foundation of India

Various not-for-profit organizations of Balkila River Basin such as Uttaranchal Youth And Rural Development Centre (UYRDC) and Pan Himalayan Grassroots Development Foundation (working community development) collaborate with Model Forest partners to implement the programme of activities.

The roundtable has four work fields:

  1. Diversity and networks – of the economy, livelihoods and nature;
  2. Sustainable infrastructure – using portfolios that combine appropriate design and operation of engineered infrastructure and the ‘natural infrastructure’ of river basins;
  3. Self-organization – through participatory governance and with adaptive institutions;
  4. Learning – from better information and capacity building.


Strategic goals:

  • Enhance community resilience to climate change, by re-thinking of roles, responsibilities and relationships among institutions, combined with participatory planning that integrates community priorities, watershed management, innovation in livelihoods and biodiversity conservation.

Key actions in place to reach these goals:

  • Foster strategic alliances with all stakeholders;
  • Capacity building programs for communities;
  • Introduction of innovative local solutions;
  • Better management of natural resources involving communities;
  • Scale up local livelihoods generation opportunities; and
  • Improve market linkages.

Expected impacts:

  • Increased climate resilience of the community to climate change impact;
  • Reduced pressure on forests and biodiversity benefits;
  • Improvement of food security and livelihoods benefits;
  • Empowered communities in the landscapes with improved skills and knowledge; and
  • Strengthened community institutions.

Learn more about Balkhila Model Forest :

Biogas for better forests and livelihoods: Experience from Balkila Watershed in Uttarakhand, India (IUCN News)

Local women’s group trained in community nursery management in Uttarakhand, India (IUCN News)

IUCN organises community workshop on organic farming for farmers in Uttarakhand, India (IUCN News)

Revival of Traditional Watermills in Indian Himalaya  (IUCN News)




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