Covering nearly 30% land
surface of the earth, forests around the globe provide a wide variety of
ecosystem services and support countless and diverse species. They also
stabilise the climate, sequester carbon and regulate the water regime. The
State of the World’s Forests report 2020, says that since 1990, around 420
million hectares of forest have been lost through deforestation, conversion and
land degradation. Nearly 178 million hectares have decreased globally due to
deforestation (1990-2020). India lost 4.69 MHA of its forests for various land
uses between 1951 to 1995.
international conventions and national policies in place to improve green
cover, there is a decline in global forest cover. This is the prime reason for
forest restoration activities including tree planting to become increasingly
popular and declaring 2021-2030 as the UN Decade on Ecosystem Restoration for
improving environmental conditions and enhancing human communities.
Restoration in laymen’s
terms is bringing back the degraded or deforested landscape to its original
state by various interventions to enable them to deliver all the benefits.
Building and maintaining activities help to improve ecological functions, productivity
and create resilient forests with multifarious capabilities. India’s varied
edaphic, climatic and topographic conditions are spread over 10
bio-geographical regions and four biodiversity hotspots, sheltering 8% of the
world’s known flora and fauna.
However, dependence on
forests by nearly 18% of the global human population has put immense pressure
on ecosystems; in India, this has resulted in the degradation of 41% of its
forests. To combat this, India joined the Bonn Challenge with a pledge to restore
21 MHA of degraded and deforested land which was later revised to 26 MHA to be
restored by 2030. The first-ever country progress report under the Bonn
Challenge submitted by India by bringing 9.8 million hectares since 2011 under
restoration is an achievement. However, continued degradation and deforestation
need to be tackled effectively to achieve the remaining target of restoration
by addressing various challenges.
Local ecology with a
research base: forest restoration and tree planting are leading strategies to
fight global warming by way of carbon sequestration. However, planting without
considering the local ecology can result in more damage. Similarly, planting a
forest in the wrong places such as savannah grasslands could be disastrous for
local biodiversity. Luckily recent research has shown that naturally
regenerated forests tend to have more secure carbon storage. Being less
tech-sensitive, cost-effective and conserving more biodiversity, natural forest
restoration is becoming more widely accepted. However, it is fundamental to
consider the local ecology before implementing any restoration efforts to
retain their biodiversity and ecosystem functions.
Restoration, being a
scientific activity, needs research support for its success. Whether one goes
for active restoration which includes planting or passive restoration with more
focus on halting environmental stressors or adopting an intermediate approach
of aided natural regeneration, it needs critical examination before putting
restoration interventions into practice.
Nearly 5.03% of Indian
forests are under protection area (PA) management needing specific restoration
strategies. The remaining areas witness a range of disturbances including
grazing, encroachment, fire, and climate change impacts that need area-specific
considerations. Further, much of the research done so far on restoration is not
fully compatible with India’s diverse ecological habitats hence warranting due
consideration of local factors. So, the relevance of local research duly
considering ecological aspects, local disturbances and forest-dependent
communities is vital to formulate guidelines for locally suitable interventions
and to meet India’s global commitment.
Though India’s increasing
economic growth is helping to eliminate poverty, there is continued degradation
and a growing scarcity of natural resources. The intricate link between poverty
and environmental degradation was first highlighted by India at the first UN
global conference on the human environment in Stockholm. Out of its 21.9%
population living under the poverty line, nearly 275 million people including
local tribals depend on the forest for subsistence.
to the strategy
Further, encroachment of
nearly 1.48 MHA of forest and grazing in nearly 75% of forest area is also
linked to the livelihood of local communities. Linked with the degradation of
forests, this dependency, along with various social-political and economic
factors, complicates the issue manifold. The participation of local communities
with finances for incentives and rewards is essential to redress this complex
There have been
remarkable initiatives to involve local people in the protection and
development of forests by forming joint forest management committees (JFMC).
More than 1,18,213 JFMCs involving around 20 million people manage over 25 MHA
of forest area.
However, a review of
their functionality and performance is essential to make them more dynamic and
effective to scale up their involvement.
with a wide range of stakeholders including these committees for resolving
conflicts and fulfilling restoration objectives are a must and a challenging
feat to reach a suitable trade-off.
Adequate financing is one
of the major concerns for the success of any interventions including
restoration. The active approach of restoration which includes tree planting
and the involvement of communities seeks incentives and rewards and make the
whole affair quite cost-intensive. The contribution of corporates in
restoration efforts so far has been limited to 2% of the total achievement.
Hence, alternate ways of financing such as involving corporates and dovetailing
restoration activities with ongoing land-based programmes of various
departments can help to make it easy for operation.
Apart from these specific
challenges, the common barriers to restoration as identified globally also need
critical review before placing the
and area-specific strategies in place. The involvement of multiple stakeholders
in forest restoration is bound to cause a conflict of interests among different
stakeholders; along with low priority and insufficient funding, it becomes even
Active engagement of
stakeholders including non-governmental organisations, awareness and capacity
building of stakeholders with enabling policy interventions and finance can
help a lot to achieve the remaining 16 MHA restoration objectives for India.
The need of the hour is an inclusive approach encompassing these concerns with
the required wherewithal
This article appeared in the Hindu dated 5th October 2021