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HomeEnvironmentSPECIAL REPORT : Tree plantation has not achieved much in Kangra, latest...

SPECIAL REPORT : Tree plantation has not achieved much in Kangra, latest research shows

Meenakshi Kapoor | Dharamshala

A latest study by researchers from the United States of America, Sweden and India has found that tree plantations in Kangra have neither achieved better forest cover nor supported livelihoods for local people. The study found out that tree plantations did not lead to increase in forest canopy cover. In fact, they altered the forest composition away from the tree types preferred by the local people for fuelwood, fodder and grazing animals. 

The study was conducted by a team of researchers from Florida State University, University of Chicago, Swedish University of Agricultural Sciences, Texas A&M University, University of Minnesota, the Centre for Ecology, Development and Research, Dehradun, Indian Forest Service and Kangra Integrated Sciences and Adaptation Network.

In India, as of 2015, 12 million hectares of tree cover has been established through planted forests, according to the paper. Under the National Determined Contributions from the Paris Accord, India has committed to create an additional carbon sink of 2.5 to 3 billion tonnes of CO2 through increase in tree cover by 2030. But impact of large-scale tree plantations needs to be understood in relation to the broader goals of forest restoration, the paper cautions. 


As per the study, Himachal Pradesh was selected as the state has performed better than several other states in India at public service delivery, basic welfare, education, health, and other local governance duties. In Kangra, land loss due to plantation projects is rarely reported and the state officials and the communities have co-managed the forests with clearly defined use rights for locals, according to the paper. Thus, the researchers believed that the likelihood of success of such programs was relatively higher in the state. With the help of communities, boundaries of plantation projects were mapped and matched with the existing land cover maps for Kangra district of Himachal Pradesh. Based on it, 430 tree plantation sites developed between 1965 and 2018 in Palampur, Daroh, Dharamsala and Shahpur forest ranges were selected.  Their forest canopy cover and composition were estimated at six points in time: 1991, 1993, 1996, 2009 and 2018. Additionally, 60 of the 181 panchayats falling within these forest ranges were randomly selected. Between March 2018 and May 2019, 40 households were surveyed in each panchayat. 

No increase in forest cover and decrease in number of trees of local importance

The research paper published on September 13 in the Nature Sustainability journal notes that plantations, as old as even 20+ years did not have more forest canopy cover than the recently-planted areas. The Forest Survey of India defines Forest Canopy Cover as area with more than 40% tree canopy density. In fact, the paper finds that 20-year-old plantations have ~10% less broadleaf cover than the younger plantations. Broadleaf trees such as Sal, Khair and Shisham are important as they meet the fodder and fuelwood needs of the locals. Due to this shift, tree plantations have not been able to enhance livelihoods dependent on forests. 

Low reliance on forests

Survey of 2400 households situated close to the plantations revealed that most plantations had few direct users. While plantations are accessed for fuelwood, fodder and grazing but most households use these products/services only from a few plantations, according to the study. The study found out that plantations closer to the road that were also likely to contain the broadleaf species were more useful from a livelihood perspective. 

The study offers several possibilities for the failure of plantations at making a difference in forest cover and livelihood dependence. It notes that most tree planting has taken place in areas that already had some tree cover. This has constrained regrowth. It also suspects that a target approach to tree plantation has proved to be negative. Trees of low livelihood value are planted presuming that they would survive but continued-tree growth becomes difficult for trees without “longer-term socio-ecological benefits”, according to the paper.

The research has once again brought the purpose of large-scale plantations and investments made for these into question. It has proved that carbon-sequestration and livelihood support are not the default outcomes of plantations. Tree planting needs to be planned with the local context at its center.

“After decades of costly investments, we find no evidence that tree-planting projects secured substantial benefits for carbon mitigation or livelihood support in Northern India,” conclude the authors. “Further research is needed to understand the ecological, socioeconomic and institutional conditions that might make tree planting more successful.”

(The writer is an researcher in environmental policy)



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