International Day of Forests 2023: Making green cover a priority to ensure human health

International Day of Forests 2023: Making green cover a priority to ensure human health

Marking the International Day of Forests on March 21, FPJ digs into the Maharashtra Government's initiatives to conserve forests while ensuring the livelihoods of locals, and why is it important to have stakeholders' inclusion in policy planning

Priyanka ChandaniUpdated: Saturday, March 18, 2023, 07:06 PM IST

In the last little over one decade, if there's anything that has become a global phenomenon apart from the COVID-19 pandemic, it has to be forest and wildlife conservation. The cause is increasingly becoming a powerful instrument in sequestering carbon and thereby adverse climate change. In order to continue the efforts to create awareness of saving all types of forests, the United Nations General Assembly proclaimed March 21 the International Day of Forests in 2012 with the theme of Forest and Health for 2023. 

The countries are encouraged to undertake local, national and international efforts to organize activities involving forests and trees, such as tree planting campaigns. While there has been a number of changes in the management of forests, there's a major shift towards more decentralised and people-oriented forestry. For instance, villagers have started organising themselves to reverse degradation and restore productivity as a response to scarcities and renew the degraded ecosystems. 

Several private and non-profit organisations have been planting trees and taking green initiatives to improve lifelong outcomes by advancing environmental health, safety, and sustainability. Supriya Patil, an environmentalist at Grow Trees, a non-profit organisation says our relationship with the environment has significantly deteriorated as a result of growing urbanisation, which has led to deforestation and climate change. “In order to support India's UNCCD targets of reforestation of 5 million hectares of damaged and deforested land between 2021 and 2030, it is important to take a stand for the environment and plant trees while inspiring change,” she says and confirms that Grow-Trees has so far planted more than 17 million trees in 23 Indian states and one project abroad, all in the name of enhancing biodiversity, wildlife, and rural livelihood.

Explaining the theme of this year Rushikesh Chhavan, Head, The Habitats Trust says forests and health are correlated thus it is important to increase forest cover. "Human health is dependent on several factors and among them is forest. We get several services from forests in terms of cure, dietary supplements and are preventive in nature. When we say One Health, it means we need to take care of the environment which includes forest. The intent is to say that if we want to consider human health then you can not ignore forests," says Rushikesh. 

Securing natural resources and livelihood 

While individual initiatives are taking forest conservation further, the initiatives by the Maharashtra Government can not be ignored. Being the custodian of the state's diverse bio-diversity, the government has started conservation-centric management and protection strategy. “The government is focusing on wild-life-focused Eco-tourism management. Timber or non-timber forest produce is managed with sustainability,” said an official from the Maharashtra Forest Department official. In addition, with the motto of Vrikshavalli Amha Soyare Vanchare, the forest department has formed a Joint Forestry Management to secure natural resources as well as livelihood. 

The forest department has also taken initiatives to hone local artisans' skills in making value-added articles out of non-timber forest produce like bamboo and cane. In order to achieve national targets of 33 per cent of land area under green cover the government is augmenting green cover in non-forest areas. All the forestry activities are monitored with intensive use of information and communication technology supplemented by e-governance. 

“Local people have started supporting forest conservation where they have been able to reap financial returns from benefit-sharing schemes,” adds the official. In addition, the Amravati Circle has a widespread presence of bamboo in the forested Melghat area with an abundant tribal population which is being trained in bamboo crafting under a scheme to earn a livelihood. “The government's unique model not only serves the environmental needs but also provides a livelihood for people,” says the officer. In addition, a host of trees have been planted, sanctuaries and reserves created, and a stringent law against poaching is enforced. 

Inclusion of stakeholders

It is no doubt that global warming has led to climate change which has eventually led to financial losses and health related issues from COVID-19 to heat waves and health issues from increasing pollution. "If we have to combat climate change then we have to build resilience then ensuring that forests are functional and large enough to sync the carbon and provide us necessary service to build that resilience. We have to protect out forests and increase our forest cover," says Rushikesh.  

With the long-term initiatives by the Government of Maharashtra, the forests and wildlife in the state seem to be in the right hands, however, the private stakeholders should be taken into consideration. Anand Pendharkar, an environmentalist and the founder of Sprouts Environment Trust in Mumbai says, “Perpetually what happens is that local people are never part of the government's long-term plans. Stakeholders are not taken into discussion. There has to be more stakeholder engagement. People need to take individual initiatives and be engaged in protecting forests, local habitats, grasslands, rivers, and natural landscapes. It is important people take initiatives to restore rivers and forests,” says Anand, adding that the government needs to create an enabling environment and needs to have an attitude to do that. And cutting forests to create private transpiration is not going to help,” he says digging at Aarey Forest tree cutting for the Metro project. “There's a need for public awareness and government initiatives to offer various strategies for the conservation of forests to maintain a proper balance of the environment,” says the environmentalist. 

Rushikesh on the other hand, is of the opinion that random tree plantation would not help achieve the government's commitments of increasing forest cover and reduce carbon footprints. "It can be achieved through scientific methods," he adds. 

Some of the best National Parks in Maharashtra

Chandoli National Park

Gugamal National Park

Tadoba Andhari tiger Reserve

Navegaon National Park

Pench National Park

Sanjay Gandhi National Park. 

Maharashtra will have 12 new conservation reserves with an area covering 692.74 sq km and two new sanctuaries with an area of 298.61 sq km.

Of the 12 new conservation reserves, two are in Dhule Chivatbavri (66.04 sq km) and Alaldari (100.56 sq km).

Four are in Nashik — Kalwan (84.12 sq km), Muragad (42.87 sq km), Trimbakeshwar (96.97 sq km) and Igatpuri (88.489 sq km).

Raigad has two reserves — Raigad (47.62 sq km) and Roha (27.30 sq km).

Pune (Bhor – 28.44 sq km) Satara (Dare Khurd – 1.07 sq km), 

Kolhapur (Masai Pathar – 5.34 sq km), and Nagpur (103.92 sq km).

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