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Wednesday, July 25, 2012


The sustainable management of natural resources is not just important, it is also the need of the hour. We need to value the forests, that yield maximum natural resources for the humankind, more than the land below it

    The choice between development and sustainability is one issue that gets staged at every policy debate. Development has emerged as the epicenter of all discussions and debates these days but the buck stops at 'development for whom and development for what.' Caught in this quagmire of debate is the real harbinger of wealth—our forests. And, the irony is that we still value the land below the forests more than the forest itself and our entire cost-benefit analysis gets based on the value of products from the forest and not on the life it nurtures. It is a sorry fact that our forests are now left orphan because of our benign neglect. A more dreamy fact is that forests have always been on the foregrounds of our cultural landscapes. In fact, the idea of management of forests dates back to the scripts of Upanishads and Vedas.The vedic literature spells out the connection between the wholeness of community and conservation of forests. The postulates of today's forest management paradigm like Joint Forest Management and Sustainable Forest Management finds lucid description in the vedic literature. Even the villages had demarcated forest lands as 'forests for protection' and 'forests for production.' 
    The first thought that occurs is whether policies base their focus on the overarching issues of economics and ecology. And, for how long will we keep serving the big lie of development at the expense of ecology and keep dishing out the hereditary disease of poverty to millions of Indians dependent entirely on forests. The broth for this debate had been boiling for years but still the ingredients have not been mixed well to get the serve ready. But, with millions of tribals yearning for a decent living, accentuated rate of forest land degradation, alarming rate of wildlife crime and the daddy of all problems—
climate change wearing a questioned look; it is pertinent that we all put our brains in the right place to have this broth cooked well before it loses its taste.
    The more apparent and the larger question is about the stakes involved in this. 'Whose forests' and 'forests for whom' are not easy questions and can make any government look lame and sound dumb. In fact, these are not just questions; they define the entire paradigm.They catapult a bigger question as to how to engage the communities living in and around the forests in the conser vation and management of forests, while at the same time, investing them out of poverty.This would ensure an answer to the evilest of all the problems—
poverty and climate change. 
The Latin American countries stage an example before us—Payment for Eco-System Services (PES). In Mexico, a part of the revenue earned out of eco-tourism in the Maya forests goes back to the community for keeping the forests intact. Similarly, in Costa Rica the community living on the lowlands pays the community living on the highlands for conserving the stream. With this scheme in place it is ensured that the community conserving the natural systems gets incentivised for that. The message is clearsomething that has ecological value attached with it should earn high market value. This is one step forward in monetising ecological value. 

    A number of 'payment for ecosystem services' initiatives have shown the possibilities of valuing and paying for forest ecosystem services i.e., carbon sequestration, water-quality, biodiversity conservation and soil conservation. On the similar lines, USA Government brought a policy standard of 'Wetland Banking' in place to ensure that every wetland lost due to infrastructure activity is compensated by the same size or greater the size of the area lost. Different variables like bio-diversity lost, land productivity and edaphic conditions are considered in this.This is in line with the CAMPA protocol or the compensatory afforestation done to restore the amount of tree cover lost due to any infrastructural activity. 
    The mood has definitely changed from 'who cares about forests' to 'who doesn't care about forests.' But still, what we miss is a definite stand. After myriads of debates and countless actions been taken, we seem to be eyeing at a convincing end, but attaining a firm stand is more than romancing this ecological capital. These policy issues have to take the roots. 
    Further, the concern is now also being shifting towards conservation of the last left forests of the world,the REDD+ (Reduction of Emissions from Deforestation and Degradation) is now attracting more attention and evoking some reasonable debate. With the alarming rate of deforestation and it conversely translating into GHG (Green House Gases) emissions (forest deforestation and degradation accounts to about 20 per cent of GHG emissions), the policy focus needs to shift to deforestation, degradation of forests and Land Use Patterns (LULUCF-land use-land use change and forestry). The bigger fear is the implication of forest loss/conversion on water resources, soil pattern and micro-climate of the place which directly affects the communities dependent directly/indirectly on forests. 
    —Bhomik Shah is Manager-Pro - 
    gramme at Partners in Change and Akash 
    Mehrotra is Manager at Sambodhi 
    Research and Communications Pvt Ltd


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