Forest and the importance of a Sustainable Developmental Path

Forests provide a myriad of services over and above the consumptives services such as timber and NTFP resources it provides, such as regulation of water regimes, microclimatic conditions, and stabilization of soil and enhancement of its fertility just to name a few. These are collectively known as eco system services and are intangibles (cannot be quantified directly into monetary terms). Maintenance of ecological balance is by far the most important role played by forests. Nagaland is located in one of the identified global biodiversity hotspots1 and ecologically sensitive areas. Forests, covering 81.21% (FSI 2009 report) of the total landmass, form an important component of the state’s ecosystem. Although the State of Nagaland has a geographical area of only 16,579 sq km, it harbours very rich and unique biodiversity with the state being a part of the Indo-Burma biodiversity hotspot. Nagaland is endowed with salubrious climate and luxuriant and diverse forest types ranging from alpine in the Saramati to tropical evergreen forests in the foothills which abound with a large diversity of flora and fauna. Forests have always been intrinsically linked to the economy of the Nagas. They support and sustain jhumming, especially in the fallow cycle by replenishing the fertility of the soil. The rural population depends on forests for fuel wood, food, medicine and other non-timber forest produce.

With majority of the population dependent on agro forestry for livelihoods, increasing population, and the aspirations of the state towards a faster developmental growth trajectory with its concomitant requirement for greater exploitation of its natural resources, the pressures on ecosystems and hence forests and environment, are enormous. Traditional practices like jhumming, though sustainable in the past, when the population of the state was low are contributing to the stress on ecosystems. Over the years, extensive uncontrolled logging coupled with the practice of extensive jhumming have resulted in loss of virgin primary forests the reservoir of species and genetic diversity, within which may be hidden the answers to many of the problems facing the world today, thereby wiping out vast resources comprising of valuable wild fruit trees, edible shrubs and herbs, medicinal plants etc. and habitat loss for the diverse faunal population in the state. Other factors such as increasing population along with a GDP based developmental strategy have further accentuated this loss. Remedial measures have to be adopted for restoring degraded forests through afforestation and reforestation in all degraded lands and at the same time conserving existing forests with active participation of communities.

The result is an imbalance in the ecosystems and their continuous degradation. Of the total forest cover of the state, only 6171 sq. km (37.22%) remain as very dense or dense forests, with the remaining classified as open or degraded forests. The loss of forest cover in the state for the period 2005-2007 has been put as 201 sq. kms by the State of Forest Report, 2009 published by the Forest Survey of India. This degradation of forests has far reaching consequences and adversely affects the climate, hydrology with many water sources drying up and agriculture productivity due to loss of soil fertility which in turn affects the livelihood of a large section of the populace.Water is fast becoming a very scarce commodity in the state. At present the state especially in urban settlement areas is gripped with scarcity of water. Water, both quantitative and qualitative, is fast becoming a scarce commodity in Nagaland. In addition to the general water scarcity experienced, as a result of degradation, Jhum cultivation and other factors such as ownership, there is a of failure to manage water and water sources in Nagaland. Natural water catchment areas have been disturbed owing to both developmental as well as anthropogenic pressures. As such, perennial water bodies are now fast becoming seasonal. With the grim spectre of climate change looming in then horizon appropriate remedial strategies have to be put in place stem the loss of water catchment areas.

One dimension of the challenge facing Nagaland may be summed as the need to adapt its land use patterns and production systems for the increasing population pressures while making them both environmentally and economically sustainable and compatible with local socio-economic conditions.

The earth is faced with the challenge of sustaining rapid development and growth while dealing with the impending threat of climate change. Climate change may alter the distribution and quality of the state’s natural resources and adversely affect the livelihood of its people. With an economy closely tied to its natural resource base and climate sensitive sectors such as agriculture, water and forestry, Nagaland may face a major threat because of the projected changes in climate. Adaptation to and mitigation are the two accepted strategies for combating climate change. The forestry sector is a cross cutting sector wherein it plays both an adaptive as well as a mitigative role. This sector is also responsible for the release of GHGs in the form of logging (when trees are harvested, trapped carbon is released into the atmosphere) as well the natural process of respiration by trees wherein carbon dioxide is released. However it has been found that the sequestration of carbon (Indian forests act as sink for around 20% of Global carbon emission) by far outweighs its release (Indian forests contribute around 17.4% of the total global carbon emission) into the atmosphere by forests. Climate projections available with us indicate the lowering of agricultural productivity in the state due to climate variability. This would in turn lead to added pressure on forests, as forests play the role of a safety net during distress. The long term strategy to combat Climate Change would be by mainstreaming low-carbon growth and development in critical sectors specially development sectors and also evolving sector specific adaptation strategies, in line with the framework given in the National Action Plan for Climate Change. Adaptation to, and mitigation of, the effects of climate change, require inter-sectoral collaboration and greater stress on meeting the needs of the marginalized sections of society, who are likely to be the most affected due
to climate change and the environmental degradation thereof. There is need for coherence between climate change strategies at both the national and state levels. Unless addressed adequately, the development gains by various sectors could be undone and may even be reversed by the negative impacts of climate change.

The predominantly private/community ownership of natural resources and absence of ‘eminent domain’ rights of the state when coupled with traditional practices pose a different set of challenges for land and forest management, from traditional forestry issues and strategies keeping in view the ownership of resources in the state, to look at the much wider canvas of management of natural resources and environmental planning, harnessing the strengths of, and rising up to the challenges arising out of, the traditional individual and community forestry ownership systems in the state.
Greater emphasis on planning and facilitation of communities and individuals for management of natural resources, including forests and conserving biodiversity by using the existing institutions such as the State Forest Development Agency and the opportunities arising out of the National Mission for a Green India has to become areas of core competency.

Nagaland is also naturally blessed with abundant bamboo resource and this crop is a very important Non timber Forest Produce in the state. Bamboo is intrinsically linked to the custom and tradition of the Nagas and features very prominently in the everyday life of the people of the state given its versatility in use. The State’s bamboo resource accounts for 5% of the national bamboo resource which amounts to 4, 48,000 hectares. So far 46 species of bamboos have been reported from the State. The predominant species found are Dendrocalamushamiltonii, Bambusatulda, Bambusapallida, Schizostychumdullooa. Developments of the proper propagation techniques, uses and application of bamboo through scientific interventions have the potential to enhance the value of bamboo manifold.
Bamboo, as compared to other industrialized processes allows the rural communities to partake in a larger proportion of value addition. Bamboo as a value added industry can provide an integrated solution that uses abundant natural resources, which is environmentally protective and can be processed and generated through community owned enterprise both small and large.

The annual growth habit of bamboo also makes it a very important species to mitigate climate change in the form of carbon sink.The opportunities created by these interventions and prospects have
made bamboo a viable vehicle suitable for sustainable livelihood generation particularly for the people in the rural besides the important role it can play in the mitigation of climatic change.

The development of bamboo in the State is being taken up from two perspectives; Development of bamboo as a resource and the development of bamboo as an enterprise. The development is focused on tapping the attributes of bamboo as a potential resource for sustainable economic development and ecological security and is being carried out through the Nagaland Bamboo Development Agency. As the Forest Department has also been mandated for raising bamboo plantations on a large scale in the state, it is envisaged to dovetail the activities of the two agencies so that the development perspectives of the bamboo resource of the state can be fulfilled.

It is therefore imperative to have an integrated, state specific approach for treating forests and thus solve the interlinked problems of food security, livelihood options and environmental degradation in order to address the issues of deterioration of forest cover quality, depleting ground and surface water, loss of soil fertility due to erosion and jhumming, climate change and ecological balance, biodiversity conservation while also catering to the development requirements of the people of the state in a sustainable manner.

This richness is evident in the fact that there are more than 2,431 species of angiosperms (Flowering plants). Gymnosperms (Non- flowering) also register their presence with 9 species, a large number of these plant species being endemic to the State or the north-eastern part of India.

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