1. Agriculture World

'More than Half' of Himachal Pradesh's Tree-Planting Budget is a Waste: Study

The findings add to an expanding body of knowledge about India's plantation policies. Despite the fact that the study was limited to Himachal Pradesh, the researchers believe the findings could serve as a model for similar assessments across the country.

Shivam Dwivedi
Degrading Forest
Degrading Forest

Planting trees has long been considered an antidote to environmental degradation, with the added benefit of carbon dioxide absorption. According to new research, if tree plantation schemes continue in their current form, they may not only fail to increase tree cover, but also result in significant financial losses.

According to a recent study looking into the success of tree plantations in Himachal Pradesh, "at least half of all spending is likely to be wasteful," amounting to at least Rs 20 crore.  The research, titled 'Predicting wasteful spending in tree planting programmes in the Indian Himalaya,' was published in the peer-reviewed journal World Development. Researchers from India and abroad are among the authors.

Findings of Study:

The findings add to an expanding body of knowledge about India's plantation policies. Despite the fact that the study was limited to Himachal Pradesh, the researchers believe the findings could serve as a model for similar assessments across the country.

"This is the first study to link plantations with financial impact," said Pushpendra Rana, the study's lead author and a serving officer in the Himachal Pradesh Forest Department. “Our research contradicts the popular belief that tree plantations are a cost-effective way to combat climate change."

"We've applied for grants to study this in other parts of India as well," said Forrest Fleischman, a co-author of the study and associate professor of environment and natural resource policy at the University of Minnesota.

Only 14% of Spending is deemed ‘Effective’

According to the study, effective tree planting in Himachal Pradesh faces three major challenges. The first is that target-based programmes prioritize short-term gains over long-term ecological restoration goals. Another issue is that tree-planting schemes and programmes don't always address the unintended consequences of their implementation or the underlying causes of degradation.

Furthermore, there is a "focus on meeting quantitative planting targets," which may lead to the planting of trees that are "biophysically unsuitable or undesirable for socioeconomic reasons."

The study looked at the $5.67 million spent on plantations by Himachal Pradesh- forest department between 2016 and 2019. (Rs 43 crore). According to the study, the state government has spent $248.24 million (Rs 1,892 crore) on afforestation activities since 2002.

To arrive at their conclusions, the researchers calculated how many of these trees fell in patches likely to experience tree cover loss based on land use data collected over a 12-year period beginning in 2003 and compared that to the budget spent on those same plantations.

The biggest reason for possible wasteful spending, according to the paper, is that 47.7% of the budget for tree plantation, worth over Rs 20 crore, was spent on "nonforest unproductive areas," where tree cover loss is high.

Planting trees in areas where dryness is likely to limit growth (33 percent of budget spent), where contested land tenure is likely to lead to conflicts with local communities (28.9%), and planting in forests with more than 40% tree canopy cover are among the other reasons (38.9 percent).

"Only 14.1% of spending is likely to be effective, with tree planting taking place in low-density forest areas (density between 10% and 40%), which are likely to be degraded forests with high reforestation potential," according to the paper.

This, according to Fleischman, indicates that the state's plantation ambitions may not have enough physical space to be realized. According to the Indian State of Forests Report (ISFR), Himachal Pradesh's forest and tree cover has increased by 912 square kilometres since 2019, covering 68 percent of the state's land area.

According to the study, if the status quo is maintained, the state government will spend "$167.37 million (Rs 1,275 crore) on tree planting between 2020 and 2030," much of which will be wasted.

According to the study, tree planting can be effective when it is designed to be more in sync with "local biophysical and social contexts." The state government could save $63.6 million (Rs 484 crore) by avoiding plantations in areas where forest density is already high, according to the report. Experts say that while topography, ecology, and climate vary across Indian states and regions, the research from Himachal Pradesh could have implications for other states.

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