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GIS based MIS for Annapurna Conservation Area, Nepal

Nawa Raj Chapagain
GIS Officer,
King Mahendra Trust for Nature Conservation,
Annapurna Conservation Area Project

Annapurna Conservation Area (ACA) is the largest protected area in Nepal with an area of 7,629 sqkm (5.18% of total area of Nepal). The ACA region stretches from the low land sub-tropics of the middle hills to the permanent snow-cover of the Himalayas and beyond to the alpine grasslands in the Trans-Himalayan region and parts of the Tibetan plateau. Spreaded over 55 Village Development Committees (VDCs), ACA is inhabited in around 420 settlements by nearly 120,000 people belonging to more than 10 ethnic groups. King Mahendra Trust for Nature Conservation (KMTNC), an NGO, has been managing ACA through its Annapurna Conservation Area Project (ACAP). The objectives of ACAP are: 

  1. to conserve the natural resources of the ACA for the benefit of the present and future generations; 
  2. to bring sustainable social, institutional and economic development to the local people; and 
  3. To develop tourism in such a way that it will have a minimum negative environmental impact. 

ACA was started in 1986 as a pilot project to implement Integrated Conservation and Development Programme (ICDP) and now it has become a successful ICDP model for the whole world. Recognizing the potentiality of utilizing GIS and database management systems in programme formulation, monitoring and evaluation, Geographic Information System (GIS) section of ACAP has just finalized Annapurna Conservation Area Management Information System (ACAMIS) plan and is working on database creation for it. 

Need for GIS based MIS
ACA represents considerable share of physiographic, climatic, biotic, socio-economic and cultural extremities in Nepal. Being the largest protected area in Nepal, ACAP has a broad range of programme components and activities (see box 1). Since ACAP’s intervention 14 years ago, the local people, their economy and natural resource base of the area have undergone changes. Similarly, ACAP’s grass-root approach in implementing the diverse range of programmes has established numerous local level institutions. Co-ordinating projects, monitoring and evaluating progresses and maintaining a central database system all based on GIS have become urgent need for the ACAP. In future it is expected that the development of a GIS based MIS will assist in efficient allocation of resources in project formulation and design.

ACA implements the concept of multiple landuse management to achieve site-specific goals of conservation and development. ACA has been classified into 5 landuse management zones, viz. (i) wilderness zone (ii) protected forest/seasonal grazing zone (iii) intensive use zone (iv) special management zone, and (v) biotic/anthropological zone. To better implement the concept of multiple landuse management GIS based comprehensive database system will allow to identify site-specific thematic management options paying due attention to local community’s need and bio-physical setting of the area. 

ACA is one of the most popular trekking destinations in Nepal. There is increasing trend in the number of trekking tourists visiting ACA, which crossed 75,000 during 2000. Though we have not perceived any significant negative impact yet, we need to monitor their impact on physical as well as social environment so that we can maintain ACA as a major trekking destination for years to come. ACAMIS is expected to help assess the socio-cultural and environmental impacts of tourism. 

ACAP mobilizes local people in all of its conservation and development interventions. There are 539 local level institutions formed in ACA area for this purpose. The ultimate goal of ACAP is to make these local institutions self-reliant so that they can operate sustainably on their own without assistance from ACAP. So, ACAP has greater focus on empowerment of local institutions. As ultimately we will be handing over all responsibilities of managing ACA to the local institutions, it is highly desirable that we monitor and evaluate the empowerment level of local communities to ensure all of them will be empowered enough to manage the programmes on their own. ACAMIS will be an efficient way to monitor and evaluate the empowerment level of local institutions. 

Moreover, as ACAMIS is based on GIS, it will allow easy integration of both spatial and attribute data and will produce both graphical and tabular output. The two outputs will assist critical decision making processes based on statistical and visual results. 

Operational Concept of ACAMIS
The main objective of ACAMIS is to help formulate sound management options (programs and activities) for Annapurna Conservation Area (ACA). It will be operationalized in five major steps, i.e., (a) database creation based on existing information (b) data gap analysis based on ACAMIS plan (c) data collection based on data gap analysis and database updating, (d) information extraction (for conservation and development strategy formulation and management options formulation), and (e) database updating based on field implementation, monitoring and evaluation.

Fig. 1: Conceptual flow chart of developing/implementing ACAMIS

Relational Database Management System (RDBMS) will be followed to (a) maintain efficient database by segregating the data on smaller tables, and (b) expand the ease of querying with socio-economic and biophysical variables. MS-Access database software is planned to use to create and store all attribute data, which will be linked to spatial database in ArcView GIS through Open Database Connectivity (ODBC). 

Satellite image interpretation and digitization of analog maps available from various sources will be done to extract bio-physical and natural resource distribution data. Socio-economic and attribute data for ACAMIS will be collected basically from KMTNC/ACAP official records, Participatory Rural Appraisal (PRA) and secondary sources. Conventional researches and Participatory Action Research (PAR) will supplement both spatial and attribute database. 

Altogether ACAMIS plan proposes 72 data tables, grouped into following 10 components, be included in it: Background information, Natural resources (floral and faunal resources), Tourism management, Alternative energy resources, Communal development infrastructures, Cultural/historical heritage, Agriculture and animal husbandry, Social/development institutions, Enterprises, and Past conservation and development interventions. 

Outcome and Implementation 
Design of ACAMIS is based on the objectives, programme components and activities of ACAP. The ACAMIS will result in an extension module to the ArcView GIS and a comprehensive relational database in MS-Access. The ACAMIS will be flexible enough to accommodate changes in the requirement of conservation targets and development needs of local people based on first hand field experiences. To meet the requirement of variation in target group, according to the nature of intervention, the ACAMIS will be capable of analyzing and retrieving results for both settlement (point theme) and ward/VDC level (polygon theme). The database, importantly the attribute data, will be updated annually so that up-to-date database is available for formulating annual management programmes and assess changes over time.

Elevation Zones in ACA
Landuse Managemnet Zones in ACA
Landuse Pattern in ACA
Annual Precipitation in ACA