Friday, March 02, 2012

Reviving a dying forest? Yes, we can!

Last December,  I was in Durban, South Africa for the UN Climate change summit when for half a day, we went on a tour of the city, visiting a hill where a forest regenerating initiative has been taken by the local government. The hill, on the outskirts of the city, was cleared by local farmers decades ago for growing sugarcane. But now the government is encouraging them to give up sugarcane farming and instead, turn 'treepreneurs', meaning becoming partners in a community-owned, profit-making re-forestation project. It was a roaring success, I was told. And since then, I had been hunting for a similar 'project of hope' in my own country. 

And now I have one, right in our North east, right in our Assam!
The name's Bhairabkunda reserve forest, located along the Indo-Bhutan border. Spread across six villages, a huge part of this forest  - 5 sq km to be exact - has been regenerated, thanks to a robust partnership between local communities and the forest department. 

Here is a glimpse into the project to help you get an idea:

The total area of  Bhairabkunda reserve forest  is 22.24-sq km. Even 20 years ago, logging (of course illegal) was so rampant here, that the forest was nothing but a bald patch of land without even a single tree! But today a stretch of 5 sq km of the forest has been regenerated, which is full of indigenous trees such as Khayar (Acacia Catechu), Shisham (Dalbergia sessoo), Semul (Bombax ceiba), Bhomora(Terminalia belerica), Gomari (Kashmir tree) and Amla (Phyllunthus amblica) among others. In short, what you have here is a 5 sq km long carpet of thick greenery!

And all that has taken only 4 years!

So, how did that happen?

The story is quite interesting: In 2007, the forest department came up with the idea of joint forest management or JFM that would involve locals into forest conservation and also help them earn a living through it. Accordingly, a  joint forest management committee  was formed in the six villages and villagers were informed about the importance of conservation and the potential benefits they could earn from the regenerated forest.

Barely 4 years later, the project is so successful, that the committee is now gearing up to extend their are-forestation to all of the 22 sq km of the forest.

The best part of the story is, however, even more interesting: the forest once had a healthy population of elephants which was dwindling, along with the vanishing trees. Today, besides elephants, different other animals like deer, monkeys, leopard, bears, etc. also frequent the forest.  In fact, the wild  elephants are getting both shelter and food at Bhairabkunda.

According to the forest range officer Nava Bardoloi,
the success of Bhairabkunda proves that joint forest management can be seen as a long-term conservation model that can check both elephant depredation and also rapid, large-scale deforestation anywhere in the country. Bordoloi also thinks that once the entire forest (22 km) is regenerated, Bhaibkunda can actually be promoted as an eco-tourism hub. 

Back in Durban, I had attended an event called the Momentum for Change initiative inaugurated by UN Secretary General Ban-ki-Moon.At the event, 10 environmental projects were honored for their "exemplary climate change solutions implemented through public-private partnerships. Durban's reforestation program was one of them.

Bhairabkunda isn't running for any such awards yet, but its only logical to say that the initiative does deserve a huge pat in the back and to be supported and promoted as a model for others to follow.

What do you say?

1 comment:

Fair Earth said...

Nice story, Stella. It'd be good to learn what benefits the villagers derive from the project, especially the short-term returns that are often necessary to get people involved initially. Some of the tree species you listed are great medicinal ones, but is there any short-term income generated?