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T. R. Shankar Raman and Divya Mudappa: Stewards of India’s Western Ghats

In celebration of the International Year of Forests, we are highlighting those individuals, communities and businesses actively safeguarding the lungs of the planet.

Conservation scientists and spouses T.R. Shankar Raman and Divya MudappaFor centuries, the dense forests of India’s Western Ghats provided food and shelter for tribal peoples and habitat for wildlife including Asian elephants, Bengal tigers and lion-tailed macaques. But the conversion of these verdant hillsides to coffee and tea plantations more than a century ago resulted in the fragmentation of one of India’s most biodiversity-rich areas. Within the plantations’ boundaries are remnants of natural ecosystems that act as refuges for many endangered and threatened species.

Conservation scientists and spouses T.R. Shankar Raman and Divya Mudappa have been working with a small team of researchers for over 15 years to conserve biodiversity in the Western Ghats region. Because many of the tea and coffee plantations border wildlife sanctuaries and national parks, Raman and Mudappa have found that it is essential to include plantations in their conservation efforts. “Crucial wide-ranging species impacted are animals like Asian elephants, leopards, gaur -- the world's largest species of wild cattle -- and birds like hornbills. Besides the 'corridor' role of remnant forest, grassland, and other natural habitats in plantations, these remnants are 'refuges' for a wide variety of plant and animal species many of them endemic (found nowhere else in the world) and endangered,” explains Raman.

In 2008, the couple conducted their first audits of tea plantations and coffee farms for the Sustainable Agriculture Network (SAN), and in 2009, their nonprofit group, the Nature Conservation Foundation, joined the SAN. During the past year, Raman and Mudappa have been promoting Rainforest Alliance certification in India and developing local indicators for the SAN standard. Farms that meet the standard qualify for the Rainforest Alliance Certified™ seal.

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