Forest ecosystem, pillar of the rural economy

The World’s Forests-2020 published by the FAO reports that forests covered 4.06 billion hectares, or about 31% of the world’s land area. In India, about 21.67% of the geographical area is covered by forests.

India, with a total area of ​​32.87, 590 square kilometers, is the 7th largest country in the world, occupying 2% of the global landmass. With development activities and ever-expanding urbanization, the natural forest cover is shrinking. The village rainforest ecosystem is the backbone of the rural and tribal economy. The sacred groves protected by the villagers of Odisha and neighboring states are home to native plants like Sala, Arjuna, Asana and a few other auspicious associated species.

These species are protected in the name of God, spirit, religion, culture and ritual. They live close to forests and are inherently their guardians.

Forest resources are essential for them and they collect wood, bamboo, bark, leaves, straw and various other materials for building houses, agricultural tools, ox carts, daily necessities and various other purposes.

The materials used are available within a radius of one kilometer of stay for which no mining or processing industry is required. Pharmaceutical industries of all denominations (Ayurvedic, homeopathic, unani, sidha, allopathic, etc.) manufacture their preparations from raw materials derived from plants and parts of natural plants. Most of these species were available in abundance before, but are losing their numbers due to loss of suitable habitats. The forest economy is linked to the livelihoods of 1.6 billion people worldwide. In India, 1,70,000 villages with 147 million inhabitants are located near the forest. Deforestation accounts for up to 20% of global greenhouse gas emissions that contribute to global warming, according to the World Bank.

Forests absorb about 40% of CO2 emissions. On average, a single adult tree absorbs 6 tons of CO2. The ecological value of a tree is many times greater than its mere wood value.

Ecological values ​​are estimated based on its role in maintaining the water table and water cycle, climate thermoregulation, sheltering wildlife, soil conservation, timber, food, medicine, bequeathed value, etc.

The development of forest cover, horticulture, forestry, cultivation of medicinal plants, cottage industries and processing industries based on forest and agricultural resources would contribute to income generation for the local community as well as sequestration of carbon dioxide and other greenhouse gases. Such measures would go a long way in promoting the “forest ecosystem” as a plausible fighter against climate action. For example, in the forest of Similipal, sericulture is a traditional culture. By naturally promoting sericulture, food plants like Arjuna, Asana, Sal are also promoted.

Beekeeping is another good example to cite here. The best quality honey is collected from Similipal, unless rich forest vegetation is found there, this is not possible. Sabai is a dry land grass; once cultivated, it yields crops for about eight to ten consecutive years and all family members remain engaged in processing the grass to make rope and other value-added materials.

The accumulation of greenhouse gases resulting in increased incidence of weather disturbances and natural calamities threatens the very sustenance of life on earth. Therefore, now is the time to plan our strategies for a livable future through safeguarding forests, protecting natural habitats (forests, oceans, coasts, lakes, rivers, ice caps, etc.) and biodiversity, l improving energy efficiency, planning better cities, conserving water use, coastal management, reducing environmental pollution and improving health, recycling waste, ending environmentally destructive subsidies , achieving a second green revolution and stabilizing the human population.

The integration of environmental considerations into development activity is one of the basic principles of sustainable development, that is, development that ensures the protection and conservation of the ecosystem as well as the habitat natural for the present and for posterity.

The Indian Forest Act was enacted in 1865; amended in 1878 and again in 1927. The law provided for the establishment of “village forests” to meet local needs. However, after independence, the state tried to dilute the “village forest” system by strengthening bureaucratic control over the communes.

Colonial India’s forest policies continued into the post-colonial period, as evidenced by the National Forest Policy (NFP) of 1982, which reinforced the state’s right to exclusive control over the protection, production and forest management. The state took over many areas that the tribal people considered their ancestral property and classified them as state forests and branded the tribes as encroachments on state land. These actions have undermined the application of Article 338 (9) of the Constitution of India, which places the protection and welfare of tribal people as a “sacred mission” of the state.

Vast tracts of forests were diverted for mining, industry, hydroelectric dam projects, agriculture and other development projects in the years following independence.

According to an assessment by the World Watch Institute, India lost 40% of its forest cover between 1951 and 1991.

The National Environmental Policy (NEP) 2006 is a response to our national commitment to a clean environment, mandated in the constitution in Sections 48A and 51A(g), reinforced by the judicial interpretation of Section 21. The NEP 2006, following NFPs 1952 and 1988, highlighted that one-third of the country’s total geographic area would be under forest cover. NFP 2018 also reiterates this. The United Nations Summit on Environment and Development, better known as the Earth Summit, attended by representatives of approximately 192 countries, was the largest global conference held in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil , in 1992. It resulted in the adoption of two historic conventions, namely: United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change-UNFCCC)” and the “Convention on Biological Diversity-CBD”.

These two conventions have emphasized the conservation and development of forest areas. Leaders at the UN Climate Summit unveiled the 2014 “New York Declaration on Forests”, which many hope will bring life to efforts to reverse forest loss, pledged to halve the rate of deforestation by 2020, end it by 2030 and restore hundreds of millions of acres of degraded forest land.

The 2008 National Climate Change Action Plan set out eight missions to combat the impacts of climate change. One of them was Mission for a Green India. Let’s try to give a touch of healing in a way that does not result in the loss of nature’s ecological resilience. “Ecological resilience” refers to the capacity of the ecosystem to absorb disturbances or stresses and to remain within its natural variability.

A resilient ecosystem resists damage and recovers quickly from stochastic disturbances such as fires, floods, windstorms, insect population explosions, and human activities such as deforestation and the introduction of plant species or exotic animals.

The forest ecosystem is the best resilient ecosystem in this context. Worldwide there are more than a billion hectares of lost and degraded forest land that could be restored, IUCN. Nature worship was an ancient tradition in India.

Many villages set aside hallowed ground to appease the vanadevatas/vanadevis, i.e. tree spirits. In some groves, all vegetation was considered sacred and revered. These groves persist to the present day and play an important role in various socio-cultural, economic and religious activities.

(Dr Patro is President, Orissa Environmental Society [email protected], M-9437190420)

About Keneth T. Graves

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