Nature-Based Solutions to Restore and Protect Forests in Telangana

Recent landmark policy changes and institutional arrangements of the Telangana Government under its Flagship Programme “Telangana Ku Haritha Haram” are in perfect harmony with the approaches of Nature-based solutions of IUCN.

Apart from mitigating the impacts of climate change, forests play a pivotal role in providing umpteen goods and services including the conservation of biodiversity. To meet the multifarious anthropogenic demands, the forests are subjected to forest degradation and deforestation. While the global rate of deforestation is around 10 million hectares per year, nearly 1.6 billion people get affected due to deforestation and degradation globally. We have lost nearly 5.7 million hectare of forest area in India since independence for various developmental works and nearly 40 % of Indian forests are degraded due to increasing anthropogenic factors like grazing, unsustainable NTFP collection and encroachment. This has not only threatened the survival of many species but also impaired the capacity of existing forests to provide goods and services and aggravating global warming.

Keeping the role of forests in enhancing food security, water supply, biodiversity conservation and multifaceted benefit of restoration of degraded lands including forests, the United Nations has declared 2021–30 as the UN decade on Ecosystem Restoration and targeted nearly 350 million hectares of degraded land between now and 2030 for restoration which is expected to generate ecosystem services worth USD 9 trillion and sequester an additional 13–26 gigatons of greenhouse gases out of the atmosphere. Under the Paris agreement, India has pledged to increase its forests by 95 million hectares by 2030 and committed to restoring 26 million hectares of degraded land by 2030. Various studies also support the strategy of restoration and conservation as equally effective as tree planting.

Among various strategies to combat both degradation and deforestation, IUCN (International Union for Conservation of Nature) in the year 2016 adopted the concept of Nature-based solutions (NbS) which are actions to protect, sustainably manage and restore natural or modified ecosystems that address societal challenges effectively and adaptively, simultaneously providing human well-being and biodiversity benefits. Under various approaches on NbS, where much reliance is given to work with ecosystems, the approaches of restoration and protection of ecosystems are most relevant for forest restoration. Acknowledging these multifaceted roles of forests and addressing the challenges of their degradation and conservation, United Nation has chosen the theme of “Forest restoration: a path to recovery and well-being” for this year’s World Forestry Day.

Source: FAO
Source: FAO
Source: FAO

Forest restoration in simple words is bringing the degraded forest back to its natural form through various interventions involving all stakeholders by implementing the most appropriate interventions. The recent approach of restoring degraded forest on landscape approach seeks the engagement of stakeholders including vulnerable groups, maintains natural ecosystems, and provides additivity for resilience besides restoring multiple benefits and is gaining popularity among executing agencies. Further, the restoration approach provides bright hope and expectation that we can not only minimize and sometimes reverse the biodiversity losses but also can mitigate climate change and improve local economies considerably.

The efforts of Telangana State towards afforestation, restoration and conservation of forests aiming to achieve sustainable development goals has gained much attention since its creation in 2014. One of such initiatives is “Telangana Ku Haritha Haram” (Green Garland of Telangana). Fortified with visionary leadership, foresight and commitment towards the environment of Chief Minister Sri K.Chandra Sekhara Rao, the programme of Haritha Haram was launched in 2015 as one of the flagship programmes with the main object of bringing green cover from 24 % to 33% duly formulating strategies to tackle the issue of reduced forest cover as well development of the existing degraded forest.

Chief Minister of Telangana Sri K.Chandrasekhara Rao with cabinet colleagues inspecting a forest restoration site in Gajwel

The targeted approach of planting 130 crore seedlings outside the reserved forest and 100 crores inside forests area duly involving major stakeholders including government departments have yielded the desired result and so far 210.85 crores seedlings have been planted by various agencies. The spectacular achievement of the planting of 38.17 crore saplings during 2019–20 is the maximum number among Indian states has also been acknowledged by the Indian Government. The efforts of Greater Hyderabad Municipal Corporation (GHMC)in planting seedlings and maintaining urban forestry also got recently acknowledged at the international level and the city was chosen as one among the ‘Tree Cities of the World’ by the Arbor Day Foundation jointly with the Food and Agriculture Organisation of the United Nations Organisation.

People participating in Tree Planting Programme (Haritha Haram)

Launching another strategy for developing and protecting the existing degraded forests, the government has targeted degraded forests under the banner of “Jungal Bachao — Jungal Badhao” (meaning protect the forest, increase the forest) which is almost akin to the ecosystem approach of forest restoration and protection which are one of the major strategies envisaged under NbS approach of IUCN and aimed to integrate forest protection, management and restoration of degraded forests of the state at a landscape mode.

In the case of “Jungle Bachao” the area-specific approach specifically meant to protect the forests from biotic interferences, the Forest department is taking up activities both for the protection and restoration of degraded forests. This approach of forest restoration is helping to rejuvenate the existing forests due to involving all essential components of restoration like protection, soil and moisture conservation, weed management, fire protection etc into the plan. The essential components required for any successful restoration initiative like a lesson learnt from past experiences, rejuvenation techniques suiting local conditions, managing anthropogenic disturbances and tackling the area on landscape approaches are being incorporated in the strategies for restoring the degraded forests. Various area-specific appropriate strategies with financial support from CAMPA have helped to rejuvenate so far 3.90 lakhs Hac.

A degraded forest after rejuvenation.

Under the “Jungle Badhao” approach various agencies including government departments with other stakeholders are actively involved in massive tree planting programmes outside the forest areas. Extending the scope of Haritha Haram to address the challenges of urban green in the city and to provide city dwellers with many ecosystem services, or benefits that humans derive from nature, 238 forest blocks in and around cities are being developed covering nearly 71000 Hac area. 35 Urban Forest have been opened for the public and 70 forest blocks identified as Conservation Blocks are being exclusively treated and restored under a conservation and protection approach without any anthropogenic interference.

One of the Urban Forests in Hyderabad

Further, the objectives of Haritha haram having an umbrella kind of approach are in perfect tune with sustainable development goals (SDG) 15 of UN which seeks to protect, restore and promote sustainable use of terrestrial ecosystems, sustainably manage forests, combat desertification, and halt and reverse land degradation and biodiversity loss. The historic initiatives of the Telangana government as reflected in the recently amended Panchayat Raj Act and municipal Act with priority to the environment provides a much needed enabling environment to pursue the above sustainable goals.

With revolutionary policy changes coupled with strong financial and institutional arrangements, the Haritha Haram programme has become an excellent intervention to enrich the existing practices of environmental governance and bound to get desired changes in the state of the existing environment including restoration of forests. However challenges like participation of stakeholders especially forest-dependent communities, sharing mechanism for usufructs and incentive for participation, continuity and enhancement of finances, an incentive to participating communities, addressing interdepartmental cooperation and finally a proven or scientifically tested restoration practice need to be examined and addressed before going into the full mode for restoring our precious yet degraded forests.

Mohan Chandra Pargaien

Senior IFS officer Hyderabad, Telangana Twitter @pargaien

(Views are personal)

India Forest Service Officer. Telangana India.PGD Forestry, Sustainable & Urban Development