Read In-depth analysis of all the Editorials here

Context: Restoration of forest and its impact on climate change.

Forest restoration:

  • In places where forests have been lost or degraded, restoration or reforestation projects may be undertaken in order to guarantee or accelerate the recovery of forests. Objectives of forest restoration can range from economic incentives, to social or cultural values, to ecosystem services, to biodiversity conservation. The task of forest restoration can be a complex one, however, involving diverse ecological and social systems, which are not always fully accounted for or understood.
  • As per India State of Forest Report (ISFR), 2017 total forest and tree cover is 8,02,088 sq km which is 24.39% of total geographical area of India. Forest cover is classified into three density classes viz. Very Dense Forest (canopy density >70%), Moderately Dense Forest (canopy density 40% to 70%) and Open Forest (canopy density 10% to 40%). India is endowed with rich forest types like Tropical Wet Evergreen Forests, Tropical Moist Deciduous Forests, Tropical Dry Deciduous, Sub Tropical Dry Evergreen Forests, Himalayan Moist Temperate Forests, Sub-Alpine and Alpine Scrub Forests etc.

What is the need for forest restoration in India?

  • Rural India: With more than 700 million people in rural India dependent on forests and agriculture for their livelihoods, improved forest and tree cover must meet their priorities, particularly inclusive development.
  • Global commitments: India is emerging as a global leader in landscape restoration. The country’s bold commitments include restoring 21 million hectares of deforested and degraded land under the Bonn Challenge, and sequestering an additional 2.5 to 3 billion tons of CO2 equivalent by 2030 through increased forest and tree cover under India’s Nationally Determined Contribution (NDC).
  • Livelihood assessment:  Forest and tree cover have a direct impact on livelihoods. For instance, the Non-Timber Forest Produce (NTFP) sector is one of the largest unorganized sectors in India, with an annual turnover of more than USD 800 million, and supports the livelihoods of 250 million people. 
  • Policy framework: India has developed a strong legal and policy framework for Forestry sector for sustainable forest governance through National Forest Policy, 1988, Indian Forest Act, 1927, Forest (Conservation) Act, 1980 and Wildlife (Protection) Act, 1972. National Forest Policy, 1988 sets a strategy of forest conservation with principal aim of ensuring environmental stability and maintenance of ecological balance by bringing a minimum of one-third of total land area of the country under forest or tree cover. National Forest Policy is now under revision to incorporate issues those have gained importance in last few decades.
  • Increasing forest droughts: Even as the country talked loudly about the worst drought in recent years in 10 states, there was not even a word on the impacts of the drought in forest areas. The drought dealt a double blow for forest dwellers—the loss of crops and the disappearance of Non-timber Forest Products (NTFPs), their crucial buffer economy. Since there is no official nomenclature for forest droughts in India, there is no official plan to deal with them. This means while a farmer can get compensation for failed crops, forest dwellers do not receive anything in compensation for their loss of income from NTFPs. According to the director of the National Institute of Disaster Management, droughts experienced in forest areas have a direct impact on the hydrology of the region.
  • Ecosystem services: There are a number of components to the broad range of ecological services that forests provide. These include:  the regulation of water regimes by intercepting rainfall and regulating its flow through the hydrological system; the maintenance of soil quality and the provision of organic materials through leaf and branch fall; the limiting of erosion and protection of soil from the direct impact of rainfall; modulating climate; and being key components of biodiversity both in themselves and as a habitat for other species.

Measures taken by the government to increase the forest restoration:

  • National Afforestation  and Eco-Development Board (NAEB): The National Afforestation and Eco-Development Board (NAEB), set up in August 1992,is responsible for promoting afforestation,tree planting, ecological restoration and eco-development activities in the country, with special attention to the degraded forest areas and lands adjoining the forest areas, national parks, sanctuaries and other protected areas as well as the ecologically fragile areas like the Western Himalayas, Aravallis, Western Ghats, etc. 
  • Partnership with World Resource Institute (WRI): WRI India is developing a resource suite for restoration planning based on Restoration Opportunities Assessment Methodology (ROAM) and bringing together different tools, resources and methods. Trainings on the resource suite have been conducted for officials from state government departments, forest departments, NABARD, civil society organizations, researchers and land use consultants.
  • Joint forest management: The Indian Forest Policy of 1988 (MoEF, 1988) and the subsequent government resolution on participatory forest management (MoEF, 1990) emphasize the need for people's participation in natural forest management. Under joint forest management (JFM), village communities are entrusted with the protection and management of nearby forests. The areas concerned are usually degraded or even deforested areas. However, in Andhra Pradesh and Madhya Pradesh all village fringe forests can come under JFM. The communities are required to organize forest protection committees, village forest committees, village forest conservation and development societies, etc. There are more than 16,000 JFM Committees who manage an area of 22 million hectare in the country.
  • Green India Mission: National Mission for a Green India or the commonly called Green India Mission (GIM), is one of the eight Missions outlined under India’s action plan for addressing the challenge of climate change -the National Action Plan on Climate Change (NAPCC). GIM, launched in February 2014, is aimed at protecting; restoring and enhancing India’s diminishing forest cover and responding to climate change by a combination of adaptation and mitigation measures. The mission has the broad objective of both increasing the forest and tree cover by  5 million ha,  as  well as increasing the quality of the existing forest and tree cover in  another 5 million ha of forest/ non forest lands in 10 years.

Issues and measures related to forest restoration:

  • Funding: The Green India Mission, aimed at “protecting, restoring and enhancing India’s diminishing forest cover and responding to climate change”, is grossly underfunded, according to a Parliamentary committee report. “The scheme is proposed for 10 years with an outlay of Rs 60,000 crore. During 2017-18, Rs 47.8 crore has been allocated for the scheme which is grossly insufficient as the committed liability for 2015-16 and 2016-17 is Rs 89.53 crore which is much more than the budget allocated,” says the report titled ‘Performance of the National Action Plan on Climate Change (NAPCC) pertaining to Ministry of Environment, Forest & Climate Change’. There are 42,000crore compensatory afforestation (CAMPA) fund accumulated with the government, so the central  government should release the  fund to state governments and states will start afforestation programmes.
  • Flaws in policies:  the Afforestation done under the green india mission was only aimed at increasing tree count without considering the soil and weather conditions. “Trees like eucalyptus were planted which make environmental problems worse rather than solving it. Planting of unsuitable trees may cause drought, and prevent biodiversity in the regions”. Though plantation activity is aimed at increasing green cover, they cannot replace actual forest cover. Forest has plants and trees of numerous varieties and sizes and shapes. Forests grow naturally and according to climate conditions existing in the area. So policies should be framed to increase the primary forest not to increase the tree cover.
  • Food security and climatic goals: India’s economic growth is expected to continue in the coming decades, bringing with it increased per capita GDP and improved standards of living. India’s population is also projected to reach 1.6 billion by as early as 2036. The higher population and incomes are likely to come with not only increased demand for food but also higher demand for food from animal products, Agriculture adversely affects freshwater quality and quantity, land use and biodiversity and the greenhouse gas levels. If India wants to increase its food production without missing its climate targets, then it will need new science and technology solutions, behavioral changes and expansion of crop lands without degrading forest cover.

Conclusion: Forests are the green lungs of the nation and provide various ecological services like clean air, water, maintenance of soil-moisture regime by checking soil erosion etc. Forests maintain environment stability and ecological balance. Natural forests with the vast variety of flora and fauna are hub of biodiversity. Forests directly sequester Carbon dioxide from atmosphere and play a critical role in checking global warming and climate change. Forests check extension of sand-dunes preventing desertification. Healthy forest eco-systems are necessary for reversal of land degradation in the country.

Source: https://www.thehindu.com/opinion/op-ed/turning-down-the-heat/article28363958.ece.