Mohan Chandra Pargaien

Apart from mitigating the impacts of climate change, forests play a pivotal role in providing umpteen goods and services, including biodiversity conservation. This vital resource is subjected to degradation and deforestation to meet the myriad anthropogenic demands. With the global rate of deforestation is around 10 million hectares per year, nearly 1.6 billion people get affected due to deforestation and degradation globally. Almost 5.7 million hectares of forest area in India have been lost since independence for various developmental works.

Nearly 40 percent of Indian forests are degraded due to increasing anthropogenic factors like grazing, unsustainable non-timber forest products (NTFP) collection, and encroachment. This has threatened the survival of many species and impaired existing forests’ capacity to provide goods and services that have aggravated global warming.

Forest Restoration Interventions

Keeping the role of forests in enhancing food security, water supply, biodiversity conservation, and the multifaceted benefit of restoration of degraded lands, including forests, the United Nations has declared 2021-30 as the UN decade on Ecosystem Restoration and targeted nearly 350 million hectares of degraded land till 2030. This move is expected to generate ecosystem services worth USD 9 trillion and sequester an additional 13-26 gigatons of greenhouse gases out of the atmosphere.

Under the Paris agreement, India has pledged to increase its forests by 95 million hectares by 2030 and committed to restoring 26 million hectares of degraded land by 2030. Various studies also support the strategy of restoration and conservation as equally effective as tree planting.

In 2016,  IUCN (International Union for Conservation of Nature) adopted the concept of Nature-based solutions (NbS). The NbS are actions to protect, sustainably manage, and restore natural or modified ecosystems that address societal challenges effectively and adaptively, simultaneously providing human well-being and biodiversity benefits.

Under various approaches on NbS, restoration and protection of ecosystems are most relevant for forest restoration. Acknowledging these multifaceted roles of forests and addressing the challenges of their degradation and conservation, United Nations has chosen the theme of “Forest restoration: a path to recovery and well-being” for this year’s World Forestry Day.

Forest restoration brings the degraded forest back to its natural form through various interventions involving all stakeholders by implementing the most appropriate interventions. The recent approach of restoring degraded forest on landscape approach seeks stakeholders’ engagement, including vulnerable groups, maintains natural ecosystems, and provides additivity for resilience besides restoring multiple benefits and gaining popularity among executing agencies.

The restoration approach provides bright hope and expectation of minimizing, reversing biodiversity losses, mitigating climate change, and considerably improving local economies.

A degraded forest after rejuvenation 1
A degraded forest cover after rejuvenation

Forest Restoration Drives of Telangana

Telangana state’s efforts towards afforestation, restoration and conservation of forests to achieve sustainable development goals have gained much attention since its creation in 2014. One of such initiatives is “Telangana Ku Haritha Haram” (Green Garland of Telangana). Under the visionary leadership of Chief Minister Sri K Chandra Sekhara Rao, the program aims to increase green cover from 24 percent to 33 percent, duly formulating strategies to tackle the issue of reduced forest cover and development of the existing degraded forest.

forest restoration drive
CM Telangana Sri K.Chandrasekhara Rao with cabinet colleagues inspecting a forest restoration site in Gajwel

The targeted approach of planting 130 crore seedlings outside the reserved forest and 100 crores inside the forest area duly involving significant stakeholders, including government departments, has yielded the desired result. Till now, 210.85 crore seedlings have been planted by various agencies. The Indian government has acknowledged the spectacular achievement of planting 38.17 crore saplings during 2019-20, which is the maximum number among Indian states.

People participating in Tree Planting Programme Haritha Haram
People participating in Tree Planting Program (Haritha Haram)

The efforts of Greater Hyderabad Municipal Corporation (GHMC) in planting seedlings and maintaining urban forestry also got recently acknowledged at the international level, and the city was chosen as one among the ‘Tree Cities of the World’ by the Arbor Day Foundation jointly with the Food and Agriculture Organisation of the United Nations Organisation.

The state government has launched another program – “Jungal Bachao – Jungal Badhao” (meaning protect the forest, increase the forest).  The initiative is akin to the ecosystem approach of forest restoration and protection under NbS approach of  IUCN.

Under Jungal Bachao program, the area-specific approach aims to protect the forests from biotic interferences. The Forest department is up for the task. This approach will rejuvenate the existing forests by involving all essential restoration components such as protection, soil and moisture conservation, weed management, fire protection, etc. Various area-specific appropriate strategies with financial support from Campa have helped to rejuvenate so far 3.90 lakh hectares. The stakeholders have incorporated lessons from past experiences, rejuvenation techniques suiting local conditions, managing anthropogenic disturbances, and tackling the area on landscape approaches for any initiative to be successful.

One of the Urban Forests in Hyderabad
One of the Urban Forests in Hyderabad

Under the Jungle Badhao approach, various agencies, including government departments with other stakeholders, are actively involved in massive tree planting programs outside the forest areas. Extending Haritha Haram’s scope to address the challenges of urban green in the city and provide city dwellers with many ecosystem services or benefits that humans derive from nature, 238 forest blocks in and around cities are being developed covering a nearly 71000-hectare area. 35 Urban Forest have been opened for the public, and 70 forest blocks identified as Conservation Blocks are being exclusively treated and restored under a conservation and protection approach without any anthropogenic interference.

Further, Haritha haram’s objectives are in perfect tune with sustainable development goal (SDG) 15 of UN, which seeks to protect, restore and promote sustainable use of terrestrial ecosystems, forests, combat desertification, halt and reverse land degradation and biodiversity loss. As reflected in the recently amended Panchayat Raj Act and municipal Act with priority to the environment, the Telangana government’s initiatives provide a much-needed enabling environment to pursue the above sustainable goals.

With revolutionary policy changes coupled with robust financial and institutional arrangements, the Haritha Haram program is an excellent intervention to enrich the existing environmental governance practices. However, challenges like participation of stakeholders, especially forest-dependent communities, sharing mechanism for usufructs and incentive of involvement, continuity, and enhancement of finances, an incentive to participating communities, addressing interdepartmental cooperation, and finally, a proven or scientifically tested restoration practice need to be examined and addressed before going into the full mode for restoring our precious yet degraded forests.

Picture Courtesy: Pixabay

Disclaimer : Article previously published on mgpargain.medium.com| 21 march 2021|

About the Author :

Mohan Chandra Pargaien Senior IFS Officer Hyderabad Telangana

Mohan Chandra Pargaien is Senior IFS officer Hyderabad, Telangana with areas of interest in environmental awareness and protection, CSR with specific reference to all environmental and socio-economic issues, poverty alleviation, community participation in environmental related issues, and green initiatives.

Email: mcpargaien@gmail.com. Twitter @pargaien