Prof. Dr. P. K. Jena in Bhubaneswar, January 17, 2016: Forest is one of the most valuable natural resources on this planet. While playing a crucial role in carbon cycle, it provides a host of important ecosystem services including mitigation of global warming. Forest is the most congenial place of living for most of the animals and birds. It provides ample opportunities for human beings to lead a comfortable socio economic life.

Besides deriving various types of valuable woods for housing and furnitures, fuel wood, fruits, oil seeds, roots, meat and other animal products, the human beings are immensely benefited by the forest for enjoying a healthy environment. Through photosynthesis the trees, bushes and creepers of the forest consume large amounts of carbon dioxide and provide oxygen thereby decreasing considerably the global warming which has become at present the biggest threat to human beings and other animals.

In addition to conserving the soil and increasing its fertility, forest assists the rain water to percolate into the ground and accumulate in large quantity in the aquifer. Forest is considered as a major source of clean bio energy during coming years. Biomass along with other organic wastes should be the major source for producing large quantities of renewable bio energy and thus can replace a huge amount of fossil fuels being used at present which are mostly responsible for polluting the clean environment of our planet.

In view of these benefits the forest providing us and other living beings to lead a healthy life, all over the world efforts are being made to preserve the forest and create new ones wherever possible. India is one of the ten most forest rich countries of the world. The total geographical area occupied by forest in India is only 23.68% (77844 Sq. Km) while Brazil has got a forest area of 4776980 Sq. Km which is 56.10% of the area of that country. Even advance countries like USA and Russia have got 30.84% and 45.40% respectively the forest of their total land areas.

India with its increasing population and industrial activities, since the last couple of decades, is losing a lot of forests for mining of minerals, construction of roads & highways, developing irrigation systems and industries, providing facilities for housing and farming etc. However, it would be highly essential particularly for mitigating environmental pollution and climate change not only to stop targeting forest but also to explore and implement more vertical expansions rather than horizontal ones on the land mass for accommodating the increasing population and commercial activities thereby increasing the scope for expansion of forest.

Utilizing more water transport facilities in sea, various rivers and their tributaries, a lot of land can be saved for afforestation. In addition to keep the environment green and healthy, there is an urgent need to develop social forestry. Densification of forest areas, restoration of degraded forests and undertaking social forestry in larger scale should help in producing increasing amounts of biomass for producing clean bio energy as well as mitigating the climate change.

It is very encouraging and timely that, India has embarked on a very ambitious programme for social forestry in order to take away the pressure on the existing forest and making use of all barren and unused land for developing more forest. It is reported that, India needs to plant 62.5 million trees and grow these to forty years old to capture the targeted amount of 2.6 billion of carbon. One standard grown up tree can absorb about 22 kg of carbon dioxide. The Green India Mission has the target of afforestation of 50 million acres by 2020.

The social forestry includes farm forestry, community forestry, extension forestry and agro forestry. People should be encouraged to grow various types of trees either in commercial or non-commercial manner in their farm land. Similarly, the land available in the communities should be utilised for growing trees commercially. In the extension forestry programme, the planting of useful trees like mango, jack fruit, neem, karanj etc., should be undertaken on both sides of roads, railways and rivers as well as on waste barren land.

In this regard, it may be mentioned here that, the mine areas after mining which are mostly left barren, should be utilized for afforestation including commercial plantation. Farmers in their agricultural field boundaries should undertake plantation of various types of trees so that the soil can be conserved, and the fertility and moisture content of the land should also improve.

The central as well as state Governments should impart training in social forestry besides helping in supplying seeds, saplings and other assistance to the individuals as well as concerned organizations in the country. The Government also should take necessary steps for creating employment opportunities in forest related projects and assist in marketing the forest products including generating the biomass energy from the organic wastes.

According to the National Forest Policy (NFP) 1988, one third of the geographical area of India should be maintained as forest and tree cover. At present, the forest area of India is only 23.68%. Therefore, another 10% of the area should be considered from the available land to undertake social forestry. These afforestation programmes should be implemented properly and monitored constantly by the concerned authorities. In conservation of forest as well as social forestry programmes all stakeholders either in rural or urban areas should be involved. In order to lead a happy life with a clean environment, all sections of people should be made aware of the role of forests for economic developments and mitigating the adverse effect of climate change.

Dr Jena is the former Director General, Council of Scientific & Industrial Research, India

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