Forests are the important part of all living creatures on the Earth. A forest is defined as a large area of land covered with trees or other types of vegetation cover. These are huge source of oxygen and have direct and indirect impact on our ecosystem. Forests cover almost 31% of the world’s total land area. But nowadays, humans are destroying this precious forest cover at a large scale. This widespread destruction of forests is termed as deforestation.
The UN Food and Agricultural Organisation (FAO) has defined deforestation as “the conversion of forest to another land use or the long-term reduction of tree canopy cover below the 10% threshold.” In other words, deforestation is the permanent destruction of forests in order to make land available for other u
Causes of Deforestation
There are a number of causes of deforestation for which human activities greatly responsible. Some of the major causes are given below-
According to a report by UNFCCC (United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change), agriculture is one of the primary cause of deforestation. This can be linked to increasing population and shrinking space available for humans. Among different types of agriculture, subsistence agriculture (farming for own consumption) is responsible for 48% of forest destruction; commercial agriculture is responsible for 32% of deforestation and logging is responsible for 14% of degradation.
According to a report by Food and Agricultural Organisation, almost 50% of forests in tropical regions have been cleared. This is majorly done by Tribal communities which are involved in subsistence farming. This type of agriculture is technically called slash and burn agriculture or shifting cultivation. The tribals fell the trees and burn them to clear the area for agriculture. They move from one area to other in search of more fertile piece of land thus giving rise to shifting cultivation.
Urbanisation and Industrialisation
Deforestation is also caused by the rapid rate of urbanisation and industrialisation. This can also be attributed to the rising population globally. Large areas of dense forests are cut down to clear spaces for urban development and setting up industries. This results in loss of forest cover. In 2015, Government of India passed the Compensatory Afforestation Bill to manage funds which were allocated for diverting forest land for non-forest purposes.
Another major cause of deforestation is the economic significance attached with forest products. Trees like Sal, Teak, Sheesham etc provide valuable timber. Forest woods are used mainly for construction purpose, furniture industry, news print and stationery etc. sports equipments etc. Cutting down forest for commercial use in different industries is a lucrative business.
It is a very destructive human activity which destroys a large area of forest cover. It also causes many environmental impacts like erosion, formation of sinkholes, loss of biodiversity and contamination of soil, groundwater and surface water by chemicals from mining processes. Large number of forests are cleared every year for the purpose of mining mineral resources.
Increase in Population
With the rise in population, there is greater need for land. To meet the demands of food and housing, forests are cleared indiscriminately. Land cleared for agriculture and settlements is the biggest cause of depleting forest cover all over the world.
Effects of Deforestation
There are many effects of deforestation which directly and indirectly affects us. Some of the effects of deforestation are given below
Impact on Global Climate
The most adverse effect of deforestation is global warming and climate change. Plants absorb Carbon Dioxide (CO2) from the atmosphere and use it to produce food. In return it gives off oxygen. Destroying the forest means CO2 will remain in the atmosphere and addition, destroyed vegetation will give off more CO, stored in them as they decompose. This will alter the climate of that region.
Impact on Water Cycle/Hydrology
Another effect of deforestation on the biosphere is on water cycle. Reduced vegetation cover leads to loss of water from the ground and reduced evapotranspiration. Without tree cover, water does not get absorbed by the soil. This leads to depletion of ground water and less moisture in the atmosphere. The precipitation in turn gets affected leading to a skewed water cycle.
Also, oceans work as carbon sink as carbon dioxide readily dissolves in water and gets concentrated in oceans. Due to less forest cover, the acidification of oceans may take place leading to disturbance in the ocean ecology.
Impact on Soil quality
Soil is also affected as a result of deforestation. The surface runoff of water leads to removal of the top fertile layer of soil. This happens when soil is without the protective layer of vegetation on it.
The rate of erosion increases in a deforested area and results into soil degradation. In mountainous areas where the soil is loosely packed it gets affected which can lead to risk of landslide. Desertification increases as sands spread to nearby areas that are without any tree cover.
Impact on Biodiversity
Deforestation also affects the biodiversity as a whole. The loss of vegetation leads to extinction of species which are reliant on forest cover. As deforestation leads to destruction of animals habitats, wild animals start trespassing human habitats, thus, get brutally killed by humans. Zoonotic diseases are also caused due to deforestation. Gadgil Report on Western Ghats has restricted human activities in certain areas. Western Ghats is one of the biological hotspots of the world. Its conservation has been supported by UNESCO for preserving rich biodiversity.
Importance of Forests
Forests are important in many ways. We depend on forests for our survival and our dependence on forest is due to their various usage. Some of the advantages of forest are as follows
• Forest provide oxygen to all living beings and also consume carbon dioxide, thus maintaining the delicate balance in nature. They also help in preventing global warming
•They control the climate and purify the atmosphere. They provide shelter to both tribal people and wild animals.
•They provide forests produce for human consumption and also for industrial uses thereby sustaining the economy in a big way. They also contribute to GDP and also a large number of people depend on them for their employment. Thus, forests are important to conserve.
• Forests prevent soil erosion. They reduce floods and rapid runoff of water by binding the soils intact with their roots. They help to maintain the ecological balance and provide water, food and various other products.
Mitigation Measures to Control Deforestation by the Indian Government
To increase the tree and the forest cover in our country and to deal with the rising menace of deforestation, the government has introduced several initiatives. Some of the initiaties taken by the government are as follows
• The Indian Government introduced the Indian Forest Act, 1927. It defines the procedures for declaring an area of a reserved forest, a protected forest or a village forest by the State Governments. Reserved forests are those where hunting, grazing and felling of trees are banned. In protected forests, these activities are regulated and permitted with some restrictions.
• Establishment of the National Forest Policy in 1952 was also one of the major initiatives by the Indian Government to ensure compensatory afforestation, sustainable utilisation, maintenance, restoration and enhancement of forest areas.
• Forest Conservation Act was passed in 1980 (with an amendment in 1988) by the Central Government. The main aim of this act was to conserve the forests and to look into the matters connected therewith.
•The Ministry of Environment and Forests constituted the National Afforestation and Ecodevelopment Board (NAEB) in 1992. It evolved specific schemes for promoting afforestation and management strategies through participatory planning.
•In 2009, Compensatory Afforestation Fund Management and Planning Authority (CAMPA) was constituted by the Central Government to channelise money towards compensatory afforestation. Other initiatives include Joint Forest Management (JFM), Social Forestry, National Bamboo Mission and so on.
• Besides these, the Indian Government has also established the Forest Survey of India, an organisation under the Ministry of Environment, Forest and Climate Change. The survey publishes the biennial State of Forest Report’. According to the latest report of 2019, India has a policy of keeping one-third of country’s area under forest.
• At present, Indian forest cover is 21.67%. Madhya Pradesh has the largest forest cover in India followed by Arunachal Pradesh, Chhattisgarh, Odisha and Maharashtra. The mangrove cover has also increased in Indian coasts. Still the forest cover of India is much below the set criterion given by the Forest Policy of India.
• The forest dwellers like tribals are dependent on minor forest produce. Therefore, in 2006, the Schedule Tribe and other Traditional Forest Dwellers Act was passed to secure their right over forest resources.
Recently, Central Government has published the draft Environment Impact Assessment (EIA) Notification 2020 which provides for scientific estimate of the likely impacts of a project such as mines, irrigation, dams, industrial units or waste treatment plant.
People’s Participation in Conservation of Forests
Besides the Government initiatives, the participation of people and local communities is essential to conserve forests resources. There are number of socio-ecological movements that practised the Gandhian methodology of Satyagraha and non-violent resistance, through the act of hugging trees to protect them from falling.
In 1970s, Chipko Movement started in Uttarakhand, in India. Due to state policy, forest cover in these area was reducing and the benefit was getting accrued to industrialists. Under the leadership of Chandi Prasad Bhatt and Sunderlal Bahuguna, the Chipko Movement took off. Due to their efforts large swathes of forest cover was secured from deforestation.
On the similar lines, Apiko Movement was launched in 1983, by the villagers of the district of Karnataka province by hugging the trees in Kalase forest to save their forest areas. Another such movement was ‘Silent Valley Movement which was started in 1973 by an NGO led by school teachers and the Kerala Sastra Sahitya Parishad (KSSP). It aimed to save the silent valley from being flooded by a hydroelectric project in the Palakkad district of Kerala.
Despite many governmental efforts, social initiatives, the analysis need to be done in order to put an end to the menace of deforestation. Participatory efforts on the part of community need to be initiated. Forests are an important part of our ecology. For sustainability and preserving the biodiversity of the Earth, deforestation should be checked. Human greed leads to disbalance in nature and in extreme cases may raise a question on their own sustenance. It is therefore imperative that we make sustained efforts to secure forest cover.
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