India has brought 9.8 million hectares of degraded land under restoration since 2011

  • India recently released its progress report on The Bonn Challenge, revealing that it has brought an area of 9.8 million hectares of deforested and degraded land under restoration since 2011.
  • India has committed to restoring 21 million hectares of degraded land by 2030. India’s made the pledge in 2015 and this progress report is a first from any of the Bonn Challenge countries.
  • The report reveals that there was a sudden decrease in the area being restored after 2012-13 but in 2016-17 the area being restored increased in comparison to the past years. It also cautions against the use of exotic species of plants for restoring the degraded land.

India has brought an area of 9.8 million hectares of deforested and degraded land under restoration since 2011, in its effort to fulfil its commitment to the global Bonn Challenge, according to the latest report on India’s progress. While there was a sudden decrease in the area being restored after 2012-13, the restored area increased again in 2016-17.

The restoration work is part of The Bonn Challenge, a global effort under which countries have committed to bringing 150 million hectares of deforested and degraded land into restoration by 2020 and 350 million hectares by 2030. It was launched in 2011 by the Government of Germany and the International Union for the Conservation of Nature (IUCN).

As per estimates, restoration of 150 million hectares will lead to “approximately US$84 billion per year in net benefits that could bring direct additional income opportunities for rural communities” and restoration of 350 million hectares will generate about US$170 billion per year in net benefits from watershed protection, improved crop yields and forest products.

In December 2015 at the Paris Climate Summit, India made a pledge to restore 13 million hectares of degraded land by 2020 and an additional eight million hectares by 2030. It was one of the first countries in Asia to join the global commitment.

Recently, India was the first of all the countries under the Bonn Challenge, to submit a progress report. The report titled “Bonn Challenge and India: Progress on restoration efforts across states and landscapes” indicates that India is well on track to achieve its 2020 and 2030 target which will result in economic benefits worth USD 6.594 billion (approximately Rs. 470 billion).  

In 2015, India pledged to restore 21 million hectares of degraded and deforested land by 2030. Photo by Dakshbakshi98/Wikimedia Commons.

“This report is a first of its kind from any of the Bonn Challenge countries. It is an ongoing process and will continue to be updated. India’s national policies have always had a strong focus on environment and wildlife, and are some of the oldest and most comprehensive in the world,” said India’s Ministry of Environment, Forest and Climate Change’s (MoEFCC)’s director general of forests and special secretary Siddhanta Das.

India’s report outlines best practices across diverse landscapes

According to the report, “a total of 9,810,944.2 hectares of area was brought under restoration across India (from 2011 till 2016-17).”

Of the total restoration efforts carried out across the country, 94.4 percent (9,264,976 hectares) were by government agencies, 3.6 percent (352,667.9 hectares) by non-government organisations and two percent (193,290.3 hectares) by private companies.

The report explained that the stark contrast in the area brought under restoration by the three implementing agencies can be understood by the fact that private companies and NGOs generally carry out their restoration in small land holdings.

“However, they play a vital role in the planning and implementation of any restoration programme thanks to their technical expertise and knowledge of the local conditions,” the report said.

It recommended a collaboration “between government agencies, local civil society organisations as well as the local communities on restoration initiatives.”

Since 2011, India has restored nearly 10 million hectares of degraded land. Photo by Pradeep Kumbhashi/Wikimedia Commons.

The report stressed that the restoration targets are determined by India’s Ministry of Environment, Forest and Climate Change (MoEFCC) in consultation with the states but the data collected (from 2011 till 2016-17) showed that there “was a sudden decrease in the area being restored” after 2012-13 and in 2016-17 “the area being restored increased in comparison to past years”. However, the report specified that “determining the cause for this decrease is not within the scope” of this report.

The report noted that the delicate balance within the ecosystem, over the course of the past century, been grossly disrupted due to anthropogenic activities such as urbanisation, expansion of agriculture, logging and hunting, which have severely damaged forest lands. Thus, serious efforts for such restoration work was required because “natural ecosystems and humans are strongly coupled, where any adverse impact on one can also affect the other”.

India’s national greening goals

India has a national target of bringing 33 percent of its geographical area under tree and forest cover while maintaining two-thirds of the area under green cover in mountainous and hilly regions.

As per the latest Indian government report, India’s present forest and tree cover is 24.39 percent (802,088 of the country’s geographical area.

“To bring a minimum of one-third of the total land area of the country under forest and tree cover, an additional 27.8 million hectares of land area would need to be brought under green cover. This means that we need to start looking beyond designated forest lands and business-as-usual scenarios,” emphasised Das.

To achieve this, the government of India has been running several schemes and programmes like the National Afforestation Programme (NAP), National Mission for a Green India (GIM), National Green Highways Mission, National Mission for Clean Ganga and National Agroforestry Policy among others.

India has a series of national level programmes to increase the country’s forest cover. Photo by Pradeep Kumbhashi/Wikimedia Commons.

It is also facilitating funds to states for conservation, protection, improvement and expansion of forest and wildlife resources of the country under the Compensatory Afforestation Fund Act, 2016. A total of about Rs. 660 billion is available to state governments under this fund at present.

The Bonn Challenge progress report acknowledged that the government is the single largest stakeholder in forest restoration in India and thus it is critical that “the government continues to bear the responsibility of restoring large portions of degraded areas while reaching out to different agencies and impacted communities”. It noted that the limited contribution by private companies and NGOs is not a measure of the value of their work because “as repositories of knowledge they often act as links between communities and the government”.

As per the report, of the total 193,290.3 hectares of land restored and afforested by the private companies, a large area of 188,226.3 hectares was under mixed plantation of different types (97.4 percent), whereas mono plantations covered only 5,064 hectares of the total area (2.6 percent).

It cautioned that “a point of concern that was revealed in the data from the private companies” was the use of exotic species in some mixed plantation models, elaborating that exotic species were used for assisting recovery of degraded sites. “Although the motivation behind using these species could not be assessed, it is assumed that easy availability of these species, their fast growth and resilience to harsher environment made them a popular choice. Although exotic species are not unequivocally associated with any negative connotation, their use in restoration is discouraged, as time and again, it has been reported worldwide how exotic species, once released from the biotic pressures of their home environment can invade the novel environment, replacing and damaging native biodiversity,” the report noted.

But it clarified that in a majority of cases native species were used for restoration activities of private companies under the mixed plantation model.

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