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Forests Play A Huge Role In Mitigating Climate Change, So Why Are We Destroying Them?

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Being one of the marvellous boons of God, forests support countless and diverse species, and are essential to the lives of people and wildlife. Forests play a significant role in stabilizing climate, regulating the water regime besides providing a source of livelihood for more than a billion people along with other ecological, economic, spiritual, social and health benefits. It is estimated that nearly 25 crores people are having dependence on forest for subsistence and livelihood. Forests are known to be an excellent sink for carbon dioxide pollution, the single biggest factor of global warming.

Forests across the globe are being destroyed at an alarming rate of 18.7 million hectares every year, which means every second, we are losing a forest equivalent to 7000 sq meter area causing a significant addition to global greenhouse emission contributing to climate change. Further considerable forest areas are getting swiped away mainly to accommodate various developmental needs, and this excludes equally huge extent of forests which are under encroachment by the local committees.

Forests across the globe are being destroyed at an alarming rate of 18.7 million hectares every year.

The need to protect and develop the existing forest becomes essential keeping the ever-increasing degradation of the environment, including forest and resultant challenges of climate in view. The new forest policy of India has accordingly shifted its focus to declining forest cover and climate change along with the issue of man-animal conflict.

Keeping the significance of various kinds of forests across the globe and awareness about their multifarious roles and importance of education at all levels in achieving sustainable forest management and biodiversity conservation, the UN General Assembly on 21 December 2012 decided to observe 21 March of each year as the International Day of Forests.

India has around 22% of its cover under forest against the mandated 33%, and as per one report, India lost over 1.6 million hectares of forest from 2001 to 2018. It is estimated that approximately  5.7 million hectares of forest land in India have been used for various non-forestry purposes since independence, out of which approximately 4.5 million ha was diverted during the 1950-1980 period and remaining 1.2 million hectares after the enactment of the Forest (Conservation) Act in 1980.

However, the recent reports of the Ministry of Environment of Forests indicate the increase in India’s forest cover with total forest and tree cover is 80.73 million hectares which are 24.56 of the country’s geographical area.

One of the major challenges affecting the forestry sector in India is grazing. With more than 75% forest area subjected to grazing and other uses, coupled with another factor of shifting cultivation and encroachment over 10 m ha of forest area accounting around 78% of forest area, these two factors affect both the regeneration and productivity of our forests adversely.

Another equally challenging problem being faced by the forestry sector is its low productivity and inability to meet the burgeoning land-based needs of various cross sectors for a variety of purposes. At present, there is no specific strategy to meet the challenge of the gap between demand and supply for non-forest produce like grasses, seeds, medicines, fodder, etc., which is leading to unscientific exploitation and degradation of forests.

Another irony of present forest management is the neglect of the importance of areas outside forests which are not only having the vast potential to meet the target of green cover but can also provide much solace to the ever-growing need of timber and bamboo duly strengthening the gaps byways of suitable policy interventions, perfect institutional support with finances and linkages. The shifting cultivation and encroachment being the direct upshot of poverty and more of a social challenge need specific and integrated strategies with cross-sector involvement for its redressal.

India has around 22% of its cover under forest against the mandated 33%, and as per one report, India lost over 1.6 million hectares of forest from 2001 to 2018. Image Via Getty.

The capacities and capabilities of forests have been greatly affected due to population-induced exploitation, urbanisation and industrialisation with scant regards to the environment. This is one of the reasons for the continued decline in the contribution of the forestry sector to the GDP in India, which is less than 2% without taking into important services like carbon sequestration, amelioration of air, conserving water and soil, supporting biological diversity, etc., into account. Professor T. M. Das of the University of Calcutta for the first time arrived at the economic valuation of all goods and services of a tree of 50 years worth $188,000 at 1979 rate.

However, the continued supremacy of development over the environment including forests and lack of priority has remained unchanged since independence and failed to motivate our policymakers to accord priority by allocating sufficient budget to this sector which has never crossed 1% of total budgetary allocation since independence.

The overall degradation of existing forest conditions coupled with the changes and shift in weather and climate due to global climatic changes has made the job of foresters more difficult while taking up both rejuvenation of existing degraded forests or afforesting the new areas. This challenge requires additional financial and technical inputs, along with dedicated research and development interventions for better results.

Forests being the fixed land resources are facing the toughest challenges from various cross sectors of multiplying magnitude. The situation becomes more complex for forestry sector, which is having its unique problems of lack of care/concerns and awareness about forests and their roles, lack of real valuation of forests and their actual contribution to the economy, insufficient fund allocation and priorities among policymakers despite having one of the best legal, policy framework and institutional arrangements, which are required for the sustainable development of forests in the country.

The challenges and problems which the forests across the globe are facing now need some drastic and revolutionary measures, including policy interventions and prioritised actions with financial support both at a local and global level. This is crucial to control the pace of deforestation and develop the existing degraded forest through various interventions, which constitute nearly 20% of the forest area.

Another point to ponder this forestry day is about lack of genuine concern about the trees in particular almost among all stakeholders. We are religiously celebrating Van Mahotsava Programme since independence, which has turned out as one of the funniest and most ritualistic programmes, mainly due to lack of required policy and monetary support and also a priority, both among policymakers, administrators and public.

Even if the meagre 25% of all the trees planted under Van Mahotsava had survived, we would not have seen any blank space available. Therefore, the issue of post-planting care for survival and protection of trees needs utmost priority and attention.

The recent policy initiatives of the government of Telangana amidst this scenario of challenges, which the environment sector is facing are worth emulating. The amendment in P.R. Act and Municipal Acts duly giving priority to the environment are aimed at entrusting roles and responsibilities among panchayats and municipalities for planting and protection of trees, their survival (85%) and also a provision for the green fund.

These proactive policy and legal interventions, coupled with institutional and financial support are indicative of a strong political will, care and concern for the very neglected sector of environment and bound to influence the state of affairs of the forestry sector, too, in future. Besides, the decision of the government of giving more priority to planting trees outside reserved forest with the active involvement of all stakeholders has also filled the much-awaited gap to tackle the problem of increasing green cover outside forests area.

The ever-increasing human population and resultant exploitation of natural resources, including forests, are bound to aggravate the problem of deforestation and global warming. Hence, the only way to address these problems is to formulate appropriate policy initiatives and interventions aiming at proper management and sustainable utilisation of forest resources duly providing linkages between growing demands and supplies.

Active involvement of various stakeholders and communities can surely help to restore the degraded forests and afforest new areas to achieve much-desired productivity and sustainability of our precious forests in the long run to meet the multiple goals including challenges of climate change. Following steps may provide help in this direction:

  1. Since involvement of people to take up planting outside forests area is one of the major target and challenge areas  there is need to support and encourage programmes like afforest,  say trees, Project Green Hands, Sankalpataru, Grow-trees, Green Yatra and Reforest to name a few, with the active involvement of youth, NGO and other stakeholders with sufficient financial input and backward and forward linkages for their survival.
  2. The people should note that merely by taking green pledges and participating in planting programmes like Annual Van Mahotsava as an official ceremony or formality without ensuring the mechanisms and provisions for post-planting maintenance even for a  single plant will not be helpful to achieve the very purpose of tree planting. Hence, any such programme should invariably be linked with post-planting care and protection at least for two years.
  3. Before taking up any planting programme, we should ensure that selection of species is discussed adequately, duly prioritising mixed plantations of native (indigenous) species against the monoculture (plantation of single species ) or exotics, which are more effective to tackle climate change or preserve the biodiversity of a particular area.
  4. Since much of the degradation of our forests is due to the dependence of communities for their livelihood purposes, there is need to explore locally suiting models  and programmes where both the income generation and tree protections are ensured as a win-win situation.
  5. Restoration and reforestation of existing degraded forests across the globe are also considered as a cheaper alternative to new planting, which should also be equally given due importance. This not only involves less technology but also is considerably cheaper being around 70% cheaper as well as highly effective.
  6. Of late, there have been extraordinary initiatives at the individual level in the areas of tree plantation and their protection in various parts of the country. All such individual initiatives require due recognition and encouragement at appropriate levels so that more and more committed and caring individuals join the tree planting and protection programmes.
  7. The role of youth in all kinds of climate change mitigation and forest preservation programmes is very vital; hence they can be identified as a good connecting link between NGOs (Non-Governmental Organisation )/IGO (Inter-Governmental Organisations) on one side and local communities on the other sides and initiate their various interventions and actions in reforestation and forest protection activities including plantations.
  8. Last but not least, continued initiatives of awareness duly using a variety of media will not only help in understanding the role and importance of forests but also assist in developing a positive attitude and proactive action towards the much-desired objective of sustainable development.
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An ambassador and trained facilitator under Eco Femme (a social enterprise working towards menstrual health in south India), Sanjina is also an active member of the MHM Collective- India and Menstrual Health Alliance- India. She has conducted Menstrual Health sessions in multiple government schools adopted by Rotary District 3240 as part of their WinS project in rural Bengal. She has also delivered training of trainers on SRHR, gender, sexuality and Menstruation for Tomorrow’s Foundation, Vikramshila Education Resource Society, Nirdhan trust and Micro Finance, Tollygunj Women In Need, Paint It Red in Kolkata.

Now as an MH Fellow with YKA, she’s expanding her impressive scope of work further by launching a campaign to facilitate the process of ensuring better menstrual health and SRH services for women residing in correctional homes in West Bengal. The campaign will entail an independent study to take stalk of the present conditions of MHM in correctional homes across the state and use its findings to build public support and political will to take the necessary action.

Saurabh has been associated with YKA as a user and has consistently been writing on the issue MHM and its intersectionality with other issues in the society. Now as an MHM Fellow with YKA, he’s launched the Right to Period campaign, which aims to ensure proper execution of MHM guidelines in Delhi’s schools.

The long-term aim of the campaign is to develop an open culture where menstruation is not treated as a taboo. The campaign also seeks to hold the schools accountable for their responsibilities as an important component in the implementation of MHM policies by making adequate sanitation infrastructure and knowledge of MHM available in school premises.

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Harshita is a psychologist and works to support people with mental health issues, particularly adolescents who are survivors of violence. Associated with the Azadi Foundation in UP, Harshita became an MHM Fellow with YKA, with the aim of promoting better menstrual health.

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MH Fellow Sabna comes with significant experience working with a range of development issues. A co-founder of Project Sakhi Saheli, which aims to combat period poverty and break menstrual taboos, Sabna has, in the past, worked on the issue of menstruation in urban slums of Delhi with women and adolescent girls. She and her team also released MenstraBook, with menstrastories and organised Menstra Tlk in the Delhi School of Social Work to create more conversations on menstruation.

With YKA MHM Fellow Vineet, Sabna launched Menstratalk, a campaign that aims to put an end to period poverty and smash menstrual taboos in society. As a start, the campaign aims to begin conversations on menstrual health with five hundred adolescents and youth in Delhi through offline platforms, and through this community mobilise support to create Period Friendly Institutions out of educational institutes in the city.

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A student from Delhi School of Social work, Vineet is a part of Project Sakhi Saheli, an initiative by the students of Delhi school of Social Work to create awareness on Menstrual Health and combat Period Poverty. Along with MHM Action Fellow Sabna, Vineet launched Menstratalk, a campaign that aims to put an end to period poverty and smash menstrual taboos in society.

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As a Youth Ki Awaaz Menstrual Health Fellow, Nitisha has started Let’s Talk Period, a campaign to mobilise young people to switch to sustainable period products. She says, “80 lakh women in Delhi use non-biodegradable sanitary products, generate 3000 tonnes of menstrual waste, that takes 500-800 years to decompose; which in turn contributes to the health issues of all menstruators, increased burden of waste management on the city and harmful living environment for all citizens.

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A former Assistant Secretary with the Ministry of Women and Child Development in West Bengal for three months, Lakshmi Bhavya has been championing the cause of menstrual hygiene in her district. By associating herself with the Lalana Campaign, a holistic menstrual hygiene awareness campaign which is conducted by the Anahat NGO, Lakshmi has been slowly breaking taboos when it comes to periods and menstrual hygiene.

A Gender Rights Activist working with the tribal and marginalized communities in india, Srilekha is a PhD scholar working on understanding body and sexuality among tribal girls, to fill the gaps in research around indigenous women and their stories. Srilekha has worked extensively at the grassroots level with community based organisations, through several advocacy initiatives around Gender, Mental Health, Menstrual Hygiene and Sexual and Reproductive Health Rights (SRHR) for the indigenous in Jharkhand, over the last 6 years.

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A Guwahati-based college student pursuing her Masters in Tata Institute of Social Sciences, Bidisha started the #BleedwithDignity campaign on the technology platform, demanding that the Government of Assam install
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