In the last seven years (2011-2017), India has restored 9.8 million hectares of degraded land, with Government agencies playing a major role in the green initiative, restoring 95 per cent while the remaining 5 per cent was done by NGOs and private companies.
The restoration work is part of the Bonn Challenge, a global effort to bring 150 million hectares of deforested and degraded land into restoration by 2020 and 350 million hectares by 2030. At least 46 countries have signed the Challenge and pledged their commitments for green covers.
India has now submitted its report titled, 'Bonn Challenge and India: Progress on Restoration Efforts Across States and Landscapes," a first-ever publication from any country in the world, giving detailed progress on forest landscape restoration under the global treaty.
India had pledged to restore 13 million hectares of degraded land by 2020 and an additional 8 million hectares by 2030. On this, the report says while restoration commitments are achievable, additional efforts to comprehensively capture the restoration efforts needs to be undertaken by all actors in future stocktaking reports.
The report is co-published by the India Country Office of the International Union for the Conservation of Nature (IUCN) and India's Ministry of Environment, Forest and Climate Change. At the first Bonn Challenge roundtable in Asia, held last May, restoration pledges for the region crossed the 150 million hectare milestone.
Among "transformational changes" brought about by public restoration programmes, the report notes increased biodiversity and forest productivity linked to the Joint Forest Management Committee (JFMC) approach. Some of the benefits listed include the creation of livelihood opportunities in remote areas by linking villages to markets for sale of non-timber forest products, better irrigation facilities for crop production, and improved transport and health care facilities.
The report is in full praise of the JFMC which has "ushered in a new era of forest protection in the country" by making forest restoration "socially more inclusive."
"By providing villagers with opportunities to participate in micro-plans, the JFMC model has ushered in a new era of forest protection in the country by successfully involving communities in the protection and sustainable harvesting of natural resources and bringing in expertise and aligned interests of multiple stakeholders in forest restoration, thereby making it socially more inclusive, " says the report.
On the role of the private sector, the report notes that many afforestation and restoration activities undertaken by private companies are often a result of legal compliance, or form part of their corporate social responsibility (CSR) obligations. "Out of the total 193,290.3 hectares of land restored and afforested by the surveyed private companies, around 97 per cent was under mixed plantations containing fast-growing exotic tree species as well as cash crops."
It has called for "a more bio-centric approach" to motivate private firms to adopt more sustainable and ecological models of restoration based on native species that are adapted to local conditions and better suited to the recovery of faunal diversity.
Similarly, NGOs have played a "small but active role" in the restoration of degraded lands. Of the total 352,677.9 hectares restored by the surveyed NGOs, the report notes that a total of 322,610.9 hectares (91.5%) was restored using mixed plantation model, while 8.5% of restoration activities were based on using a mono plantation model, mainly in coastal areas planted with mangrove.
NGOs featured as best practices include Nature Conservation Foundation (NCF), Foundation for Ecological Security (FES) and Gujarat Institute of Desert Ecology (GUIDE).
The report has dwelled five case studies across seven states including a government-funded JFMC in Nagaland, NGO-led grassland and rainforest projects in Gujarat and Valparai respectively, and efforts by Tata Power to reverse environmental degradation in Lonavala region caused by the construction of the Valvan Dam.
Siddhanta Das, Director General of Forests and Special Secretary in the Ministry said, "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.
He further said, "As per the latest Forest Survey of India report, present forest and tree cover is 24.39% of the country's geographical area.
Therefore, to bring a minimum of onethird 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."