By Dr. P. K. Jena in Bhubaneswar, December 2, 2021: Global warming is the most complex problem being faced by human society in recent period. This is mostly caused due to various human activities particularly the unplanned industrial and urban developments along with fossil fuel based transport systems resulting in increase of concentration of green house gases like carbon dioxide, methane, nitrous oxide, sulphur dioxide, chlorofluro carbon etc. in the atmosphere.

Since the industrial revolution to date, the earth temperature has gone up by about 0.80C resulting in melting of glaciers and sea ices, fluctuation of weather, rise in sea water level, adverse effect on fresh water resources and health etc. In this regard, the forests could have played a very positive role. But, in the process to provide shelter, fuel, energy and food to all the growing population of the planet, the forests are being wiped out at a very fast rate.

Further, the increasing urbanization, land transport systems and industries are also responsible in expediting the rate of deforestation. It is estimated that, in the world, one acre of tropical forest vanishes every second and nearly four million acres disappear annually. In 1980, the total surface area covered by forests and shrubs amounted to about fifty three million sq. km. The tropical forest and non-tropical forest account for 19 and 16.9 million sq. Km respectively. In recent years these are vanishing at a much faster rate.

Forests, like oceans, are the most important ecosystem for our survival. These play an extremely important role in atmospheric cycles of substances like carbon, nitrogen and oxygen. Forests help in regulating the climate and are involved in water balance and in hydrological cycle.

In addition, these protect soil from erosion, promote soil formation, provide different types of food, as well as a variety of economic and social benefits. Originally forests covered about one fourth of the land on this earth. These provided shelter to most of the animal and plant species and contributed considerably towards the development of new species than any other ecosystem.

In tropical countries, conversion of forest to crop land is by far the leading direct cause of their loss. The fast increasing population in developing world has transformed fuel wood collection into an unsustainable practice. The craze of developed world for tropical hard woods has encouraged many countries to ruthlessly cut their forests. In Latin America, the lure of cattle ranching is another cause of deforestation. Between 1961 and 1978, pasture in Central America, expanded to almost 53 percent more while forests and woodlands declined by around 39 percent.

The amount of carbon released by the conversion of forest areas in to farmland is estimated to range between 0.7 to 1.7 Gt. Since the beginning of industrial revolution, atmospheric carbon concentration has increased from 275 ppm to 355 ppm. About 50 percent. of this, is due to carbon dioxide emission by deforestation.

Intense industrialization, resulting in air pollution and acid rain, posed a substantial threat to European forest. These covering about 31 million hectares in central and northern Europe, are showing signs of very significant damage due to air pollution. During the last thirty years, the forest area in USA has also declined as grain export markets encouraged conversion of forest areas to crop land and urban and industrial expansion have encroached on woodland. During 1963 to 1982, there has been a drop of 10 percent of the total forest area.

In developing countries, with increase in population and at the same time with appreciable improvement in standard of living, the gap between availability and requirement of fuel wood is increasing. Some years back, the International Development Community has rightly recognized that, the villagers in developing countries possibly can form the labour force sufficient enough to plant trees on barren areas.

In this task, it is necessary to mobilize villagers to promote plantation of multipurpose trees in order to meet their immediate needs while providing fuel woods, oil seeds, organic pesticides etc. Nitrogen fixing trees can be planted in shelter belts or interspersed with crops. This can enhance soil fertility, moisture content of the soil and at the same time reduce erosion.

In 1985, an international task force has estimated that, about 395 million acres of upland tropical watershed have been severely degraded due to cutting of trees, over grazing, low standard crop production practice etc. In the world, at least 247 million acres of tree plantation programme seems to be highly essential in order to restore and maintain the productivity of soil and water resources.

Financial investment for plantation of such a big area just for ecology seems to be unattractive. In this regard, innovative projects are to be taken up in various parts of the world. For example, such a programme has been implemented in Colombia. Revenues from a tax on electricity sales from hydro power, are earmarked for afforestation and soil conservation in upland watershed. As a result, the people living in low land areas are being benefitted from reduced flooding and protection of their power supply and the farmers in the uplands gain from more crop production and better ecosystem.

In order to greening the earth effectively, it is necessary for every nation to stop growth of human population, so that any further clearing of forest can be avoided. In addition to this, each country should implement projects for creating forests in mined areas and other barren lands and also planting more trees in catchment areas of the rivers as well as on both sides of the rivers. It would be more profitable to plant fruit bearing trees like mango and jack fruits and oil seed producing trees like Neem, Karanj etc.

Reforestation projects can be successfully implemented by involving local people in planning and implementation stages and giving them due benefits. Some selected non-government organizations can also be involved in such programmes in a big way, by providing sufficient financial incentives. Forest being a major sink for green house gases, protector for ground water reserve and supplier of wood and other essential products, without further delay, efforts should be made all over the world to reforest the barren earth.

Greening the earth through application of scientific methods for rapid afforestation should be taken up jointly by the developed and developing nations as it is very vital for all human beings. This can be done through application of better technology and developing genetically improved tree species, to maintain the soil fertility, to improve water resources and above all for diminishing the global warming. It is high time for all human beings in their interest to change the present living style to a sustainable one in harmony with the nature.

* Former Director General, Council of Scientific & Industrial Research, India

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