We’re not harnessing the power of forests to fight climate change. Farmers for Forests will fill that gap.
In December 2019, at COP 25, UN Secretary-General Guterres concluded that the world’s efforts to stop climate change so far have been “utterly inadequate” and warned that global warming could pass the “point of no return.” The climate crisis is no longer impending. It’s here and we’re experiencing its devastating impact every day.
This is not the time to just “do our bit.” We all need to think and act big. And by “we,” we mean not just the government, that needs to implement progressive and ambitious climate policies, but also the private sector.
From this conviction stemmed the genesis of Farmers for Forests (F4F). F4F is a new not-for-profit organization with a simple mandate: to increase and protect India’s biodiverse forest cover to fight the climate crises.
A grim situation
As one of the world’s most efficient carbon sinks, forests are one of our best bets to offset man-made carbon emissions. The UN too identified protection, restoration and sustainable management of forests as a critical global goal to achieve through SDG 15.
However, the data on deforestation continues to be alarming. According to the World Bank, between 1990 and 2016, the world lost 1.3 million square kilometers of forest, an area larger than South Africa. In fact, according to a 2019 report, deforestation rates have increased by 43% in the last five years. Every year we’re losing forest area the size of the UK!
The story in India is no different. While significant gaps exist in India’s deforestation data, what does exist paints a bleak picture. According to the Indian government’s own estimates, 14,0000 sq. km of forests were cleared to accommodate industrial projects across India over the last 30 years. The government is struggling to achieve its goal of keeping 33% of its geographical area under forest cover for decades. As of 2017, only 22% of India is under forest cover.
According to India’s 1980 Forest Conservation Act, deforestation can only take place in exceptional cases and be accompanied by compensatory afforestation. The former has been largely ignored, and the latter clause has become a smokescreen behind which massive deforestation continues to take place. This is because compensatory afforestation is replete with monoculture plantations that don’t provide any benefits of native and natural forests such as carbon sequestration, soil preservation, and groundwater recharge. It in fact harms it.
F4F: A new innovative approach
F4F provides farmers conditional cash transfers (CCT) to transform their degraded and unusable land into native and biodiverse forests as well as protect standing forests.
This model- Payments for Ecosystem Services (PES)– is not an entirely new concept. Organizations and governments around the world have experimented with and adopted it in some shape and form to promote environmental conservation. PES was a part of Costa Rica’s national forest conservation program, established in 1997. PES was also used by the non-profit Nature Conservancy to protect migratory birds by paying rice farmers to temporarily expand their wetlands by few crucial weeks each fall and spring in California.
F4F will give farmers quarterly cash transfers conditional on them maintaining a certain percentage of forest cover on their land (which will be rigorously monitored by us).
CCT removes the financial motivations behind deforestation by providing farmers an alternative to clearing land or selling wood. It also provides farmers with stable, supplemental income.
Given that, demographically, farmers will be one of the most adversely affected as extreme weather events become more frequent (according to Economic Survey of India, farmer incomes could reduce by as much as 25% due to climate change), we believe this model can address both climate change and rising poverty levels within the Indian farmer community (which have also led to rise in farmer suicide rates).
Join the F4F movement
In order to fight climate change, we need to think big. While afforestation and reforestation are no substitutes to slashing carbon emissions, which is and should remain a policy priority globally, the combination of the twocan play a critical role in climate change mitigation at scale.
While relying solely on traditional government regulatory approaches conservation has not produced ideal results, we believe that the government should continue to play a critical role in advancing sustainable environmental practices. However, we think what private sector entities like F4F can do (which governments often can’t afford to do) is experiment with different innovative models and build cost-effective and evidence-based programs that can be scaled-up through public-private partnerships.
We also think advent of organizations like us in the conservation space will unlock greater private-sector capital to fill the significant conservation financing gap that exists today globally. Today, most countries are unable to raise adequate public funds for green investments.
Progress made and the road ahead
F4F is about to commence pilot afforestation and forest protection activities in the Ahmednagar and Raigad districts of Maharashtra, respectively. Over the next few years, our goal is to transform at least 50 acres of degraded land and rural wasteland into forests and protect another 300 acres of existing forestland in order to i) experiment and develop cost effective strategies that prevent deforestation and encourage afforestation and reforestation ii) calculate the impact and effectiveness of our program and come up with a scalable model and; iii) build a robust deforestation monitoring and impact assessment mechanism to further refine our operating model.
Over the next few months, we will use this platform to share more in-depth thoughts on our operating model, our short-term and long-term vision, progress made, and learnings from the field. We will also ruminate on global trends in the conservation space and the current state of the fight against climate change.
We’re a team of young and maybe overly optimistic entrepreneurs who are solely motivated to make this world more livable for us and the upcoming generations. We’re venturing into uncharted territories and we’re aware of that. We will rely on you for support, advise, and accountability. We hope you can join us on this valuable and impactful adventure.
-Arti Dhar | Co-Founder, Farmers for Forests