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India was a tree planting laboratory for 200 years. Here are the results

by Dhanapal Govindarajulu

Allowing forests to regenerate on their own has been championed as a strategy for reducing planet-heating carbon in the atmosphere while also boosting biodiversity, the benefits ecosystems offer and even the fruitfulness of livelihoods.

But efforts to increase global tree cover to limit climate change have skewed towards erecting plantations of fast-growing trees. The reasons are obvious: planting trees can demonstrate results a lot quicker than natural forest restoration. This is helpful if the objective is generating a lot of timber quickly or certifying carbon credits which people and firms buy to supposedly offset their emissions.

While plantations on farms and barren land can provide firewood and timber, easing the pressure on natural forests and so aiding their regeneration, ill-advised tree planting can unleash invasive species and even dispossess people of their land.

For more than 200 years India has experimented with tree plantations, offering important lessons about the consequences different approaches to restoring forests have on local communities and the wider environment. This rare long-term perspective should be heeded by foresters today to prevent past mistakes being repeated.

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Monday, August 14, 2023