Bonn Challenge Committment
In 2015, India made a Bonn Challenge commitment to place into restoration 13 million hectares (Mha) of degraded land by 2020 and an additional 8 Mha by 2030.
India’s Nationally Determined Contributions (NDCs) have also pledged to sequester 2.5 to 3 billion tonnes of CO2 equivalent additionally by 2030 through enhanced tree cover.
Initial government estimates suggest that to achieve this, India will need to extend tree cover on at least 28-34 million hectares, outside of the existing forest cover.
An over-reliance on plantations:
As different States work to achieve the commitments, it appears that there is an over-reliance on plantations.
In July this year, Madhya Pradesh planted 66 million trees in 12 hours to enter the record books, overtaking Uttar Pradesh’s record of planting 49.3 million trees in a day, in 2016.
Other States are also expected to follow suit.
Neither the Bonn Challenge nor the NDCs are about large-scale plantations alone.
Adopting landscape approach:
The Bonn Challenge lays emphasis on landscape approaches — a model aimed at improving the ecology of a landscape as a whole in order to benefit local livelihoods and conserve biodiversity.
The NDC lays emphasis not only on carbon sequestration but also adaptation to climate change through a strengthened flow of benefits to local communities that are dependent on forests and agriculture for sustenance.
India’s policy framework on forests also lays emphasis on a landscape approach to manage forest and tree cover, so that the flow of multiple ecosystem services — including food security, climate mitigation and adaptation, conservation of biological diversity and water supplies — is secured.
Issues arising due to over-reliance on plantations:
Large-scale plantation drives do not lay stress on-
- Species selection.
- The quality of planting materials or survival rates.
- Does not recognise tenure and resource rights to ensure that the benefit flows to communities.
Operationalising a landscape approach:
We must protect healthy forest areas from deforestation, degradation and fragmentation. We must also creatively integrate trees into different land uses.
India has numerous models that are suited for different regions and farm household sizes to draw upon, and must not rely on plantation drives alone to secure environmental and developmental outcomes.
In India at least 35 types of agroforestry models are practiced.
These combine different trees that provide timber, fruits, fodder, fuel and fertilizers with food crops. It diversifies income from farming, and improves land productivity.
Engaging farmers in natural regeneration:
Systems where farmers protect and manage the growth of trees and shrubs that regenerate naturally in their fields from root stock or from seeds dispersed through animal manure can deliver several economic and ecosystem benefits.
In Niger, West Africa, farmers operating on 5 Mha of land added roughly 200 million on-farm trees in the past 30 years. This has sequestered 25-30 million tonnes of carbon and increased annual agricultural production by about 500,000 tonnes.
The National Bank for Agriculture and Rural Development’s (NABARD’s) ‘Wadi’ model is a good example of tree-based interventions which is proving to have great value in terms of cost-effectiveness as well as the range of benefits they deliver to communities.
It is a livelihood project launced by NABARD in Jhansi and Lalitpur districts of Uttar Pradesh. It aims at reducing the migration of tribal people to urban centres by providing them livelihood in the form of income and basic necessities like fuel wood, timber and cattle fodder. The programme will assist tribal families by giving assistance to develop orchards and related activities.
It is actually a tree-based farming system that consists of fruit tree suitable to the area or a combination of trees with forestry species. Two or more tree crops are selected in Wadi model to minimise biological and marketing risks. In five years, a poor village of 100 families can get converted into an orchard of a 100-150 acre producing hundreds of tonnes of fruits.
- Participatory approach- As we regenerate trees through different interventions, it is critical to ensure that owners have the right to manage and use these trees.
- Determining the best method of landscape restoration- It is also critical to use scientific evidence-based methodology with a participatory approach to determine the right type of tree-based interventions most suitable to a certain land use. This can be done by rigorous analysis of spatial, legal and socio-economic data and draws on consultations with key stakeholders to determine the right type of interventions.
- A performance monitoring system to quantify tree survival rates and the benefits to communities should be established. This can be achieved through a combination of remote sensing, crowd sourced, ground-level monitoring with support from communities and civil society organisations.
- An important success factor in large-scale tree-based programmes is security of tenure and land rights. In several parts of the world, securing tenure over forests has been established as a cost-effective way of achieving climate sequestration. Considering this the land and tenancy legislation in the country needs to be reviewed.
India has the policy framework, the political will and financing to endorse landscape restoration. What we really need now is innovation and imagination to build replicable and scalable models with a participatory approach to achieve the country’s climate goals through landscape restoration.