Koshi Tappu Kanchenjunga Biodiversity Education Livelihood Terra-Studio (KTK-BELT INC) aims to catalyse new models of biodiversity conservation and environmental learning in eastern Nepal. Central to KTK-BELT’s mission is its concept of a “Vertical University” comprising the 8,000 metres of elevation between Koshi Tappu Wildlife Reserve and Mount Kanchenjunga. KTK-BELT hopes to provide a framework for local farmers to become “professors” of this living classroom, sharing indigenous knowledge while also conserving threatened species and landscapes.
Established in 2014, KTK-BELT possesses a skilled team of scientists, designers, project managers, environmental lawyers, chartered accountants, and administrative field staff. The organisation has approximately 40 professional staffs on the ground and has previously implemented projects involving land purchase and establishment of new Indigenous Community Conservation Areas (ICCAs).
KTK-BELT’s Vertical University concept is designed to deepen place-based skills in sustainable technology, craft, and medicinal plants, and seeks to conserve and activate local knowledge while also creating sustainable livelihood opportunities. KTK-BELT does this through establishing “Learning Grounds” governed by a diverse local board and monitored by the Social Welfare Council (SWC) of the Nepal Government.
Each Learning Grounds owns its own biodiversity-rich conservation land base, which it holds in perpetuity in order to prevent ecosystem fragmentation and deforestation. Farmers and Youth Fellows run and administer the Learning Grounds and build capacity through peer-to-peer, upstream-downstream collaboration.
WLT and KTK-BELT partnered in 2022 to establish a 31,284 ha ICCA in Nepal’s eastern Siwalik Foothills. This will form part of a network of ICCAs in a biodiversity corridor that stretches throughout KTK-BELT’s Vertical University. The target landscape comprises thick, old-growth forests in the foothills of the Churia region, at the juncture where the Terai lowlands first rise to the Middle Mountains ultimately leading to higher Himalayas. It also touches the Char Koshe Jhadi in South, an eight-mile government forest that has migratory elephant populations.
Because of its transitional location, this is a place of high biodiversity. It also has over 80% forest cover with large community forests that were established and safeguarded by the Rai, Limbu and,Magar indigenous groups of the region. However, unsustainable development is threatening the region. WLT and KTK-BELT’s project will implement landscape-level conservation to protect against habitat loss and degradation.
Without the proper intervention, our project area would likely become progressively degraded by the expansion of roads, encroachment of unsustainable agriculture, unsustainable harvesting of non-timber forest products, poaching of species, and illegal mining. To protect against these threats, the Yangshila ICCA will be managed and operated by local indigenous communities, with legal and technical support from local municipalities, KTK-BELT and other partners. WLT funds will support land acquisition, reserve management (through 13 forest guardians) and restoration activities.
This ICCA is located in a region expected to harbour more than 1,500 plant species with three IUCN Red List species: Cycas pectinata (Vulnerable), Dalbergia latifolia (Vulnerable), and Pterocarpus marsupium (Near Threatened). It is also a key habitat for orchids and edible mushrooms, and forms the only significant area of tropical evergreen forest dominated by Sal Trees left in Nepal. Indian Pangolin (Endangered) and Chinese Pangolin (Critically Endangered) are both found here, as well as Leopard (Vulnerable), Yellow Monitor Lizard (Endangered) and three Critically Endangered vultures.
To achieve its goal of a Vertical University, KTK-BELT operates in 6 key project sites that support conservation, education and livelihoods in eastern Nepal.
To support conservation, KTK-BELT is creating an online, geotagged database of species and an indigenous knowledge portal. Keystone species research has so far focused on pangolins, with KTK-BELT developing a strategy to promote education and deter illegal trade. Our partner is also helping communities to plant staple crops; establish fruit, nut and spice nurseries; and revive groundwater springs.
KTK-BELT plans for its Vertical University to have six major campuses, and local communities are now being engaged in the stewardship and design of the 22 Learning Grounds. Environmental education is already being provided to local schools, with programmes focusing on outdoor education; plant trails integrating permaculture farms and community forests; and raising awareness about local issues such as poaching and gender discrimination.
The BELT Fellows programme will recruit, train and build capacity for 60 youth fellows to lead in various areas of KTK-BELT’s project, helping them to gain skills including design, IT, environmental policy and eco-tourism. The BELT Farmers programme provides on-site training, technical expertise and much more, obtaining in exchange a commitment from participating farmers to manage their land for conservation.
Board Chair/Co-founder: Rajeev Goyal