Children presented with a tree sapling from World Vision as part of the climate change project.
This is part two of a four part series looking at deforestation and the state of trees in India. This is Annila Harris’ first-hand account of her time visiting the World Vision special climate change project with technical expert Salmon Jacob Advisor – Environment (Climate Change), World Vision India. Photos by Annila Harris.
Programmed to sound off a wakeup call, the alarm rings aloud at 04:00 am, jolting all those peacefully entranced in beauty sleep. Racing against the break of dawn, Salmon, steps out in the darkness of early morn, to embark upon a day long journey through the blistering hot and semi-arid Baran district of Rajasthan. Utilising the travel time to draft a detailed programme packed with follow-up activities, Salmon draws attention to the urgency for a Climate Change Project in the region. According to the Forest Survey of India, the forest area in Rajasthan has shrunk considerably. In 1987, the forest cover (31,151 Sq. Km) was 9.1% of Rajasthan state’s geographical area but within a span of 26 years, the record reports a considerable drop (16,086 Sq. Km) to 4.7% of the geographical area, in 2013.
Passionate about the environment, Salmon grasped the enormity of his calling earlier on in life which ultimately shaped his career path. Devoting himself completely to the cause he acquired in-depth knowledge of the subject by completing his Masters in Environmental Management (MEM) and MPhil in Environmental Science. “Hailing from the green state of Kerala, where greenery is found in plenty, I was always fascinated by nature. From childhood I have pursued issues of environmental conservation,” says Salmon.
The clock strikes 05:00am, gradually dispelling the gloom of the night, light hits the sky, disseminating vibrant hues of colour across the large expanse. The temperature indicator on the mobile displays in bold, Baran is 36 degrees Celsius at 5am. “Just imagine if it is 36 degrees Celsius now what would be the temperature at noon,” says Salmon in a concerned tone. Passing by parched rivers running dry and large spaces of scanty foliage and barrenness, Salmon takes a moment to point out the region’s history deeply associated with forest pocket that was home to a vivacious variety of flora and fauna. But over time the region had lost its green treasures.
Sighting extracts from his conversation with Hajarilal, the former Sarpanch of Khankhara Gram Panchayat, Salmon says, “The Sarpanch mentioned that this region used to be considered as the Kashmir of Rajasthan with streams of water meandering through the land and greenery found everywhere. Even during peak summer people slept with a shawl, as the nights were cool. Sugar cane filled the landscape of the fields. Water shortage was an alien concept for the villages. The forest teemed with different wildlife like deer, nilgai, wild boar, monkey, sarus crane, vultures and peacocks. But oblivious to the negative effects of deforestation people kept cutting trees for firewood to fuel their traditional stoves. The forests possessing a large composition of teak wood attracted the attention of forest mafia, who hacked the trees down for profit making businesses.
The degradation of the forest has affected the natural environment in many ways, the rainfall has become more erratic and lesser rains compared to earlier times. The degraded forests have significantly reduced the infiltration of rain water and also the water holding capacity of the area. The rain water run-offs have significantly increased, and the water table has fallen significantly in many areas, which in turn propelled farmers to adopt the desperate measure of bore welling to acquire the much needed water for their farmlands. These ecological imbalances are contributing to the issues of global warming & climate change. One of the places in Rajasthan this year (2016) has recorded the highest ever temperature, 51 degree Celsius, in the country. All are evidence of climate change and the repercussions of environmental degradation and deforestation. It is a herculean task to bring the forests back to somewhat close its original state.”
A traditional Rajasthani folk song narrating the desperate longing of a young girl’s heart to, once again, indulge in simple pleasures of the lush green environment present in her maternal home, is an analogy that emotionally depicts the plight of the people in Baran who earnestly yearn for their long lost forest. The district data available in the Forest Survey of India reports, the percentage of forest area in Baran during 2001 was 16.3% has fallen to 15.5% in 2011. 2011 data states 0 sq. km. of Very Dense Forests (VDF) and 149 sq.km of Moderately Dense Forests (MDF), while in 2001 the dense forest area in Baran accounted for 226 sq. Km.
“In order to make efforts towards tackling the environmental issues, the climate change project was implemented by World Vision India, in Baran district of Rajasthan, which included Indian Chapter for Farmer Managed Natural Regeneration (FMNR), called Community led natural environmental regeneration. The purpose of the climate change project is to promote an environmentally sustainable development approach in the rural context that is low on carbon emissions, and also protects and improves the tree cover of the area. The tree cover is improved by reducing the use of firewood, planting more trees and safeguarding the existing foliage. This requires a multi-pronged approach at the community level.
Apart from the special project interventions in Baran, in order to promote FMNR interventions across the country, cluster level workshops were conducted on FMNR in all nine regional zones. The workshops included different people groups like farmers, women, children, and others with the sole intention of engaging everyone in the community. The FMNR programme has now also been included in some of the ongoing technical programmes in drought prone locations, towards building resilient communities,” says Salmon.
Elaborating on the challenges while implementing the programme Salmon mentions that forest degradation particularly in operational areas of Baran had been so severe that fields no longer had any tree stumps left, there were restrictions on the community by forest department to enter the forest area for any pruning activity, plus behavioural changes in the community to put into practice on a day-to day basis would take time. Stopping at the nursery, Salmon gets off to browse through plant saplings.
Scanning the yard he selects a few indigenous saplings to present at the children’s club. Giving an explanation for the sapling purchase Salmon says, “Children, being the future of tomorrow, are one of the major focus areas for us because they are among the most vulnerable groups in the community who would be impacted by the issues of climate change. With issues of climate change increasing in the recent future, children born today will definitely be impacted by them. We have to educate them about the causes and consequence of environmental degradation and climate change, how it affects their lives and the world around them. Educating children transforms them into future guardians of their natural vegetation. World Vision has a education programme for children which include the basic science of climate change. What are the impacts? How are their own local communities impacted? Through programmes we help them understand the small things they can do to contribute in addressing issues and reducing impact of environmental degradation and climate change.”