From UPSC perspective, the following things are important :
Prelims level : Bonn Challenge
Mains level : Forest resources management
This op-ed tries to establish a fair link between forest cover and population dependency on it.
A decline in Forest Cover
- 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.
- Despite various international conventions and national policies in place to improve green cover, there is a decline in global forest cover.
- 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.
Why conserve forests?
- 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.
Need for restoration
- 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.
India’s dependency on forest resources
- Out of its 21.9% population living under the poverty line, nearly 275 million people including local tribals depend on the forest for subsistence.
- 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.
- Though India’s increasing economic growth is helping to eliminate poverty, there is continued degradation and a growing scarcity of natural resources.
- 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.
- The participation of local communities with finances for incentives and rewards is essential to redress this complex riddle.
Strategies adopted by India
Ans. Bonn Challenge
- 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.
Best strategy: Natural Forest Restoration
- 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.
Limitations to India
- 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.
- 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 more challenging.
- There have been remarkable initiatives to involve local people in the protection and development of forests by forming joint forest management committees (JFMC).
- However, a review of their functionality and performance is essential to make them more dynamic and effective to scale up their involvement.
- Therefore, negotiations 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 required methodologies and area-specific strategies in place.
- Active engagement of stakeholders including non-governmental organizations, awareness and capacity building of stakeholders with enabling policy interventions and finance can help a lot to achieve restoration objectives for India.
- The need of the hour is an inclusive approach encompassing these concerns with the required wherewithal.