Taproots to help restore India’s fading green cover 

Synopsis: Forest restoration activities and why they are important. Various challenges associated with forest restoration and solutions to deal with it. 

Introduction 

Forest covers nearly 30% land surface of the earth. They provide a wide variety of ecosystem services and support countless and diverse species around the globe. They also stabilise the climate, sequester carbon and regulate the water regime.  

What is the reason that forest restoration activities have become increasingly popular? 

As per the State of the World’s Forests report 2020, since 1990, around 420 million hectares of forest have been lost through deforestation, conversion and land degradation. India lost 4.69 MHA of its forests for various land uses between 1951 to 1995. 

Despite various 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. We have declared 2021-2030 as the UN Decade on Ecosystem Restoration for improving environmental conditions and enhancing human communities. 

What is restoration? 

Restoration is bringing back the degraded or deforested landscape to its original state by various interventions. It enables them to deliver all the benefits. Building and maintaining activities help to improve ecological functions, productivity and create resilient forests with multifarious capabilities. India shelters 8% of the world’s known flora and fauna. 

What are the key challenges associated with the forest restoration? 

First, 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, planting a forest in the wrong places such as savannah grasslands are more dangerous.  

Second, as per recent research, 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. But we must consider the local ecology before implementing any restoration efforts to retain their biodiversity and ecosystem functions. 

Third, restoration needs research support for its success. Active restoration includes planting and passive restoration focuses on halting environmental stressors or adopting an intermediate approach of aided natural regeneration. For both we need critical examination before putting restoration interventions into practice.  

What is the situation in India?  

Nearly 5.03% of Indian forests are under protection area (PA) management. They need specific restoration strategies. The remaining areas witness a range of disturbances including grazing, encroachment, fire, and climate change impacts that need area specific considerations. Much of the research done on restoration is not fully compatible with India’s diverse ecological habitats. 

Hence, 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 

What are the solutions for protection and development of forests? 

First, participation of local communities with finances for incentives and rewards is essential to redress this complex riddle. We can involve local people by forming joint forest management committees (JFMC). At the same time, review of their functionality and performance is essential to make them more dynamic and effective. 

Second, negotiations with a wide range of stakeholders including these committees for resolving conflicts and fulfilling restoration objectives.  

Third, adequate financing is needed for restoration.  

Fourth, we need 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.  

Fifth, the contribution of corporates in restoration efforts, land-based programmes of various departments. 

Sixth, 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. 

Source: This post is based on the article “Taproots to help restore India’s fading green cover” published in The Hindu on 5th October 2021. 

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