Tribal families around Kanha National Park in Madhya Pradesh have compromised levels of education, nutrition and few paths for upward mobility. But there is immense potential to leverage these communities’ symbiotic relationship with nature to improve people’s wellbeing and enhance the local ecosystem.
Baiga and Gond communities are on the fringe of the conventional development paradigm. They have been uprooted from their ancestral lands and natural cycles. Like many forest dwelling communities around India, they often face challenges over issues as basic as their subsistence.
Tribal children around Kanha face many barriers in receiving a meaningful education. Challenges include low attendance, persistently poor learning levels leading to heterogeneity in class composition, limited avenues for community engagement, poor school infrastructure, and a lack of contextually relevant curricula and incorporation of local languages, traditions, knowledge and needs.
Tribal families are often stuck in poverty traps because of issues that dampen their livelihood options. Many tribal adults and elders lack formal education. Subsistence farming is hampered by limited access inputs, a lack of awareness about support structures and government schemes, and conflict with wild animals. Many villages in Kanha’s buffer zone don’t have perennial water sources, which limits the number of potential crops and sowing cycles. An underdeveloped local economy often leads to migration, which in turn disrupts children’s education.
However, in Kanha, it is possible to place tribal youth and families on fundamentally better life paths while actively safeguarding and restoring the local ecosystem. This requires thoughtful, contextual approaches to both education and livelihoods that harness community knowledge and practices.