It is only “when the last tree is cut, the last fish is caught, and the last river is polluted; when to breathe the air is sickening, you will realize, too late, that wealth is not in bank accounts and that you can’t eat money.” Quite scary, isn’t it? Even if one were an atheist of climate change, he or she would start discerning their beliefs after reading this quote.
The daunting repercussions of our callous habits have put the entire humankind at the risk of extinction. Today, every stakeholder in our ecosystem are relooking at their habits and re-strategizing in order working in tandem with the environment by putting sustainability at the forefront, or at least trying to.
Forests not only act as the lungs of our Planet Earth but, are often the source of many rivers, which act as a lifeline for communities. Forests not only act as an origin for many rivers, but for numerous streams and tributaries, which ultimately go on to feed major rivers. These ecosystems such as wetlands, rivers, aquifers, and lakes are indispensable for life on our planet.
Countries like India are dependent on these rivers for irrigation and power around these freshwater ecosystems. Forty percent of India’s poor live on the periphery of forests and these forests are important to people for firewood, non-timber forest products, and livestock grazing. Due to this massive pressure on forest reserves to sustain their livelihood, communities have been indulging in monocropping practices, which have resulted in deforestation and increasing barren lands.
Conservation and economic development have always been at opposing ends of the spectrum. The idea of achieving development along with conservation has always seemed like a distant dream. While governments play a crucial role in initiating environment protection programs, one needs to gauge the livelihood prospects of the communities existing in those regions alongside to pave way for development. However, there has been an increasing movement in the field of conservation to a more pragmatic approach that could address generating alternatives and improving livelihoods, like Mission Prakriti.
Social Forestry – for restoring the balance
Conceived initially as an initiative to bring nature back to cities, Mission Prakriti is the very first collaborative effort between communities, corporations, veterans of the Indian Army to achieve the common goal of enhancing the quality of life for all and Mother Earth. However, this effort would not be enough to restore and conserve ecosystems in a country where livelihood extensively relies on agricultural practices. Today, Mission Prakriti is working at grass-root levels – with NGOs and farmers to bring nature back into life.
Which brings us to the pressing question: How does Mission Prakriti aim to work towards conserving the forest ecosystems and at the same time support livelihood of communities?
The answer lies in their model of Social Forestry, a unique model positioned to solve multiple social and ecological problems. The model works on two levels – firstly, it aims to conserve forest ecosystems through rapid afforestation, lakes and river rejuvenation, and biodiversity regeneration. Through conservation, Mission Prakriti aims to create opportunities for livelihood to local communities with support from responsible corporates.
With this model, Mission Prakriti aims to address multiple environmental and ecological challenges simultaneously, and in doing so create a livelihood for the local communities through projects such as BIAL City Forest Project, NavSahyog Food Forest Project, FarmVeda Food Forest Project, and Narmada Valley Food Forest (NVFF).
Going the Vertical Miyawaki Way
The forests of Amarkanthak gave birth to River Narmada. Many rivers originating from Satpura and Pachgarhi regions culminate in Narmada, which makes the Narmada valley ecosystem diverse, rich, and lucrative for livelihood. In recent times, the valley has been subjected to extensive agricultural practices such as monocropping and tribal farming, eventually robbing it off of its fertility. With barren lands, the communities struggle with meeting their day to day livelihood needs. The Narmada River itself has been adversely impacted due to the deforestation and persistent sand-mining in the belt.
In a bid to restore and rejuvenate the forest ecosystem, BuzzonEarth initiated a special project under Mission Prakriti – Narmada Valley Food Forest (NVFF) By partnering with a locally present NGO in Madhya Pradesh, the plan is to convert 50 acres of barren land, which was once part of the Kanha Reserve Forest, into a rich food forest and generate livelihood opportunities for the local Adivasi farmers.
The project adopts the Vertical Miyawaki or the multi-layered forest technique where combinations of flora like nitrogen-fixing trees, pollination trees, fruit trees, creepers, herbs, and shrubs with high carbon sequestration potential will be cultivated on barren lands. By multi-layering, the plant combinations facilitate the collective growth of other plants grown alongside. With this technique, the yield tends to be 4-5 times more superior than the conventional quality especially when the produce is grown without chemical fertilisers, pesticides, or insecticides.
The food forest is said to cater to over 50 farmer families from the Gond and Baiga tribal communities living in the valley.
Creating Opportunities in Circular Economy
What is interesting is to look at how this initiative attempts to develop a green economy and benefit an array of stakeholders present throughout the value chain.
If we are talking about a green initiative, it would be incomplete to gauge its success without understanding its carbon footprint. The initiative aims to sequester 20kg carbon per sqm on four different levels. Firstly, through foliage – shrubs are cultivated in the food forest with high carbon sequestration. Secondly, the food forest refrains from using any chemical fertilisers produced by industries thereby reducing emissions.
Third and the most interesting method to look out for in this project is the utilisation of rock dust approach also known as Enhanced Rock Weathering (ERW). The technique involves rock dust being dispersed on swatches of farmlands to trap in CO2 from the atmosphere. Through this method, scientists believe that two billion tonnes of carbon could be removed from the atmosphere each year! To reduce waste and generate bio-fuel, a Compressed Bio Gas Plant (CBG Plant) will be set up, which will utilise Agri-waste generated during stubble burning to produce bio-manure for cultivation and biofuel for transportation. The plant also offers job opportunities for locales and farmers benefit by selling their Agri-waste for generating bio-manure.
This brings me back to the question – Is conservation and development really at the end of the spectrum? If we look at the NVFF initiative closely, the project not only offers to reverse the environmental impact but, also facilitates livelihood prospects and opportunities. For instance, the project offers local farmers an opportunity to work in these food forests and start their own small scale businesses. The benefit is not just restricted to local communities.
Urban consumers will be able to benefit from the supply of locally harvested natural produce from the regenerative food forests to their cities. All wellness products produced through the initiative will be made available for urban consumers on Mission Prakriti’s online shop for the naturopaths and wellness lovers. This will help propel funding nutrition and education in the region through a percentage of the harvest produced.
An initiative like this not only promises of reversing the ill-effects of deforestation and urbanization but, at the same time aims to address a multitude of environmental and ecological challenges without hurting any livelihood prospects for local communities.