Guwahati: Mrinali Moshahary had never imagined that her bottles of papaya jelly would be an instant hit among those visiting the North East Agri-Fair 2012 in the Khanapara area of Guwahati.

It was dream come true for Mrinali from a village bordering Manas National Park, located on the India-Bhutan border in eastern Assam, to sell some of her produces in Assam's main city, Guwahati.

Aranyak, a leading bio-diversity group in Assam, started a novel project about two and a half years ago to provide means of alternative livelihood to the people in the fringe areas of Manas National Park who have been dependent on the jungle for their daily necessities.

"The plan was to provide the people of the fringe areas with alternative livelihood so that their dependency on the jungle and forest reduces, leading to successful conservation of biodiversity, and also to encourage community participation in the conservation of Manas National Park through self-reliant economic activities in fringe villages," Bibhuti Prasad Talukder, secretary of Aranyak said.

Located in the Himalayan foothills, Manas National Park, is a Project Tiger Reserve and a Biosphere Reserve in Assam. It is about 180 km away from Assam's main city Guwahati and is contiguous with the Royal Manas National park in Bhutan.

The park is known for its rare and endangered endemic wildlife, such as the Assam Roofed Turtle, Hispid Hare, Golden Langur and Pygmy Hog. It is also famous for its population of the Wild water buffalo.

"We help forming some Self Help Groups (SHG) by gathering the men and women of the area and train them for food processing and weaving," said Talukder, adding that the Aranyak also helped marketing their products through various trade fairs and agri-horticulture fairs across the state.

Along with Mrinali, there are 22 Bodo women in Madangshri, a self-help group. They earn a good amount of money per month through SHGs. "Now as the dependency on forest has reduced, these SHGs also help us with conservation activities in the forest," Talukder said.

"Hunting, which was common with Bodo and Adivasi communities living in the fringe areas of the Manas National Park, has been reduced," said Namita Brahma, a researcher with the Aranyak.

"Although we have a small piece of land for farming we were mainly dependent on the forest. We cannot grow more paddy as the crops often get destroyed by stray elephants and rhinos. First, I enrolled myself for the training of food processing and made juice, jam and jelly. After that I engaged my sister with me, so that both of us can supplement the family income," said Mrinali.

"We had brought about 40 bottles of our produce. And all are sold out on the second day of the fair," said Krishna Basumatary, a member of the SHG, who has for the first time ventured out from her village to Guwahati with her product ever since the SHG was formed.

"This is for the first time that we are selling our products in Guwahati. The response is so encouraging that it has boosted our spirits. Once we go back to our village, we will work with more dedication in creating awareness among our villagers on the formation of SHGs for conservation and economic self-reliance," said Basumatary.

Conservationists like Talukder said economic self-reliance of the fringe villagers of Manas has become a motivational factor for protecting the national park.

Soneswari Mushahary, one of the members of Madangshri said: "The success story of our SHG has inspired many other Bodo women to start similar ventures. We are happy to become a part of the conservation of Manas."

The successful conservation activity of the Manas National Park has led the Aranyak to expand similar self-reliance activity in fringe villages of the Kaziranga national park.

"The participation of villagers of fringe villages in any national park is a must for successful conservation activity. We have started similar projects in some villages near the Kaziranga national park this year," said researcher Namita.