Treasures in grass
Simply put, grasslands are for grazing. With India's economy dependent heavily on agriculture, and farmers, in turn, relying significantly on cattle rearing, grasslands are very crucial to the health of India's rural economy. About 90 per cent of the cattle population in the country subsists on natural grasslands or pastures.
Some of the grasses available in India have high nutritional value and are very hardy in the face of very testing ecological conditions. One such grass is sewan, found in western Rajasthan. It has adapted remarkably to the desert, has a very high protein content and the butter and milk from cattle fed on sewan is a distinctly darker shade of yellow and highly enriched (see box: The wonder grass).
But grasses also have biological and economic value, providing food and habitat to a great variety of organisms: insects, reptiles and amphibians. The bird lesser florican is purely a grassland species. The survival of animals such as the wild buffalo, hardground barasingha, blackbuck, wild ass and chinkara are also linked to the health of grasslands. Any threat to the grassland is a direct threat not only to the cattle but the dependent biodiversity.
In Rajasthan, sewan and other tall grass-like plants such as kheenp, which also has fodder value, are used to make roofs of huts. Similarly in the Banni grassland of Gujarat, some grasses are used for roofs of the huts called bungas. Grasslands are also a source of fuel and fodder for people living nearby, which puts an added pressure on them.
Over 80 per cent of India's rangelands that cater to the livestock are described as