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Forests can empower communities and reverse climate change: experts

Feb 03, 2015

People sustaining themselves through forests have already started to feel the pinch of climate-induced changes.

MP Forest

Bhopal: It is well known that forests play a major role in mitigating the challenges of climate change, and Madhya Pradesh, which has the largest area under forests in the country, is keen to utilise this resource not only for addressing climate change issues but also for boosting the forest-based livelihoods of local communities.

One of the pioneering initiatives in this regard has been the adoption of the bamboo in Madhya Pradesh to not only construct houses but also use it as part of a healthy diet. Bamboo, a grass, is one of the most environment-friendly species, as it produces 35 per cent more oxygen compared to other species. A hectare of bamboo forest sequesters 62 tons of carbon dioxide per year, while a young wood forest sequesters only 15 tons per year.

Dr AK Bhattacharya, Mission Director, State Bamboo Mission, Madhya Pradesh, and Additional Principal Chief Conservator of Forests, says that if local communities get involved in natural resource management, impacts of climate change can be greatly reduced. He says that the state government has introduced a series of resolutions in the direction of joint forest management.

L Krishnamurthy, Conservator of forest (CF), Bhopal division, believes that religious sentiments of local communities go a long way in forest conservation and says that the state is doing all to promote such practices. “We at our level motivate people about such practices which let them have an enhanced sense of ownership of natural resources like forests,” he said.

Krishnamurthy shared how women are the major collectors of forest produce like tendu leaves and other floral and medicinal plants. “Forest-produce adds to the income of these women and supports them financially. These people may not talk about climate change directly, but they do share how the produce of one commodity has been affected over the years, or how the rains have reduced or increased during their lifetime,” he said.

People sustaining themselves through forests have already started to feel the pinch of climate-induced changes. Lesser rainfall in forests has led to less availability of wood. At Budhni village, located in Sehore district of Madhya Pradesh, families are involved in making wood toys for children, their main source of livelihood. While the men craft the toys from wood, these are generally decorated by the girls and women in the family. But the rising cost of wood has resulted in reduced profit for the toy-makers of Budhni.

On the other hand, those collecting tendu leaves too are feeling the pinch. “Climate change has harmed our age-old occupation. Earlier, the heat was limited to six months in a year which now continues for eight months. Certain trees are drying out due to less precipitation. Tendu leaves are falling prematurely because of less rainfall,” said Leeladhar Manjhi, a fifty- year-old.

Rajya Sabha MP and social activist Anil Madhav Dave believes that climate change is impacting all living beings including rivers and forests. “The only difference is that the impact is visible in some areas while it is not so much visible in other areas,” he says. “Investment in forests can reverse the process of climate change. All politicians, policy makers and individuals need to come forward and walk the talk. Preaching alone will not be helpful in forests conservation or climate change mitigation,” he said.

Dave urged the society, government and local bodies to come together against deforestation. “Forests will grow automatically if remain untouched,” Dave stressed.

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