Clean Tech

Forests: A profitable restoration mantra

V Rishi Kumar | Updated on October 20, 2020

Three-in-one Bamboo cultivation in Gujarat by local people is community participation that spells business success. It also ensures forest restoration (file photo) M Srinath   -  M Srinath

Leaf plates from teak in Korchi; (at left) Households in Narmada Community Forest Rights areas bundle dry bamboo for paper and pulp mills; Women harvest from bidi leaf trees (top right) Photo courtesy: ISB, Hyderabad   -  Photo courtesy: ISB, Hyderabad

Empowering local communities to revive forests can ensure both climate mitigation and human well-being, says a global study. V Rishi Kumar reports

The natives know their land best. Local forest communities have been showing the way forward in Maharashtra and Gujarat ever since the enactment of the Forest Rights Act, 2006.

Korchi in Gadchiroli recorded a collective turnover of over ₹21 crore in three years by selling tendu leaves, while 30 gram sabhas at the Shoolpaneshwar Wildlife Sanctuary in Narmada district generated an income of ₹32 crore within five years of the FRA being implemented. Both the achievements provide examples of how forest rejuvenation and climate mitigation can go hand in hand with community empowerment.

The two representative cases from India show that a concerted effort to empower local communities is a win-win for all stakeholders in the system, while ensuring protection of forest land through a sustainable development approach.

In Narmada district, 62 out of 88 inhabited villages received Community Forest Rights (CFR) title of 44,378 hectares within the protected area boundary. This has led to increased productivity with an average yearly sale of 20,512 tonnes of bamboo, which the villagers grow. In Gadchiroli, the community was provided with legal ownership of over 17,514.87 hectares of their forest area, enhancing income generated by their tendu business.

Successful business models

Significantly, these serve as case studies of successful business models that can be replicated, says Dr Ashwini Chhatre, professor of public policy at the Indian School of Business, Hyderabad. He, along with researchers from four global universities, worked on a study whose findings, if implemented, can provide a holistic approach to climate mitigation.

“Collectively, our effort is to make a business case for community participation. Generally, community participation is towards extending justice and equity. Our contention is that here it is a clear business case where both jobs and wealth can be created as seen through our case studies at Gadchiroli and Narmada,” says Chhatre.

The global study, “Empower local communities for effective and extensive forest restoration and climate change mitigation,” published in the journal Nature Ecology & Evolution recently, moves away from conventional thinking and looks at social implications of forest restoration with economic and environmental justice as a core principle.

The research, carried out by a group of experts from Dartmouth College, US, the University of Manchester and University of Sheffield, UK, the Indian School of Business, Hyderabad, and the University of Michigan, finds that nearly 300 million people live in areas with high potential for forest restoration in the tropics and identifies the importance of empowering local communities to manage forest restoration as a just and sustainable mechanism for climate change mitigation. Here, community management of forest areas would include their rights to access the forests, withdraw forest resources, and manage lands for mutual benefit.

Forest landscape restoration tool

The researchers recommend the use of a landscape planning and management tool called forest landscape restoration (FLR) to include local communities in forest-restoration projects. FLR “aims to restore ecological integrity and enhance human well-being on deforested and degraded lands through the inclusion and engagement of local stakeholders,” they argue.

Interacting with BusinessLine, Chhatre says, “The communities in Gadchiroli with tendu leaves and in the Narmada region with bamboo pulp for supply to paper mills demonstrate the importance of community empowerment. We believe communities can do better than Forest Departments as they own up to the forest when they are empowered.”

“Our findings show the path to further action on climate change by identifying opportunities where investments in forest landscape restoration will create the highest synergies between climate mitigation and human development. Efforts to accelerate forest regeneration must include local communities as equal partners for maximum benefits on multiple dimensions,” he adds.

Dr James Erbaugh, the lead author of the study from Dartmouth College, feels that enabling communities to design forest restoration by extending rights to manage forest areas promotes more inclusive environmental governance. Adds Dr Arun Agrawal, co-author of the study and professor of sustainability at the University of Michigan, “We highlight the critical need for close ties between researchers, decision makers, and local communities to secure greater well-being for people and ecosystems. Those working on forests — whether government agencies or researchers — forget far too often the necessity of working with people, not against them.”

The findings highlight the high value of partnering with indigenous people and local communities to ensure the success of investments in carbon sequestration, biodiversity conservation, and local jobs and livelihoods. Providing communities with the right to manage forests and implement forest restoration offers a sustainable way to address climate change. Yet prominent conservation initiatives such as ‘global no net loss’ of natural ecosystems, ‘half for nature’ and the Aichi Target 11 still combine conservation of intact natural habitat and restoration of degraded forests to reach targets.

The study reveals that most forest restoration opportunity areas and their associated populations are found in countries with strong legal foundations for community forest ownership. It analysed that 22 countries (including India) with pre-existing legal frameworks and evidence of community forest ownership contain two-thirds of forest restoration opportunity areas and contain 70 per cent of people living in or near forest restoration opportunity areas.

The team employed data published by researchers at the Earth Innovation Institute, NASA, the Rights and Resources Initiative, the World Bank, and the World Resources Institute. The data was combined with information on where forest restoration opportunities exist in the tropics, the extent to which carbon can be removed using natural carbon capture, the location and density of global populations, night-time light emittance, which comes with development, national income categorisations and legal foundations for community forest rights.

National Governments around the world are seeking to implement their ambitious pledges to collectively restore 350 million ha of forest area by 2030.

Action plan

Closer home, in India, there is talk that the Centre and States are actively engaged in formulating an action plan on the lines explored in the study. Chhatre says, “the Indian Government has put in place policy necessary to encourage community participation in forest restoration. Now all that we need to do is get into mission mode by prioritising which segment is to be taken up.”

Over the years, the Centre has allocated close to ₹50,000 crore under the CAMPA (Compensatory Afforestation Fund Management and Planning Authority) fund to afforest degraded lands. At present, less than 5 per cent of potential area for community rights over forest in India has been covered under community forest provisions of the FRA. It is hoped that more will be covered in due course.

Published on October 20, 2020

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