Afforestation is the planting of trees, siblings or seeds in an area where there is no forest, usually for commercial purposes. The National Afforestation and Eco-Development Board (NAEB) is mainly responsible for promoting afforestation, tree planting, ecological restoration and eco-development activities in the country.
The term ‘afforestation’ should not be confused with ‘reforestation’, which is the planting of native trees into a forest that has decreasing numbers of trees. While reforestation is increasing the number of trees of an existing forest, afforestation is the creation of a ‘new’ forest. The best part about afforestation is that once the trees are fully grown, they become self sustainable, which means that they do not require a lot of. Afforestation is also relatively cheap compared to other flood management schemes.
Why should we encourage afforestation?
Trees and plants absorb carbon dioxide is an established fact. Carbon dioxide, a greenhouse gas, is increasing in today’s world for various reasons viz., deforestation, burning of fossils fuels, industrialization, mining etc. Therefore, the need to plant more trees and plants for higher absorption of carbon dioxide from the atmosphere is imperative. When non-forest areas are converted to forests, the growth of additional trees boosts forests and their ability to store carbon. It has also been suggested that large scale afforestation could successfully absorb the CO2 generated by the burning of the fossil fuels, coal and oil.
Continuous deforestation over the past centuries has disturbed and harmed the earth’s ecosystem at an increasing rate. In addition to that, greenhouse effect, climate changes, soil erosion are some other dangers to the ecological balance that we are facing today. Therefore, afforestation is considered an important environment tool. The practice of planting more trees on available lands is being increased commendably. According to a report published by the Australian National University, the area under plantation forests globally had increased to 135 million hectares by 1997, with annual plantation afforestation and reforestation rates nearing 10 per cent of the total area.
With the never ending demand for wood fuels and building materials, the need for plantation of more trees has also increased. In woodlands the trees are heterogeneous and due to their sensitivity, usage and slow growths cannot be used incessantly for commercial purposes like wood products. Afforesting specific types of trees both for the industries and for the environment will be a smart move. Afforestation ensures trees and plants that hold the soil in these sensitive areas, remain protected. Deforestation can lead to the depletion of trees in water catchments and riverside zones.
Agroforestry, that is a combination of agriculture and forestry, is another way of planting trees and plants and something being practiced extensively with constant assiduity in many countries. Here, trees along with agricultural crops are grown in croplands and the benefits of agroforestry include:
i) Checks soil erosion
ii) Enables better retention of water
iii) Protects crops from excessive heat and sun damage
iv) Provides supply of timber, fruit, and fodder for cattle apart from crop production
India is a developing country which is facing problems in controlling the carbon emission. Increase in population has led to clearing of more forest areas for building houses, factories, shopping complexes etc. As a result, nowadays afforestation is very much necessary in India to maintain the biodiversity in the environment.
The increase in the percentage of the land area under forest cover in India after 1950 till 2006 was quite minimal. In 1950 around 40.48 million hectare area was under forest cover. In 1980 it increased to 67.47 million hectare and in 2006 it was found to be 69 million hectare. Of the total land that is available, approximately only 23% land is under forest cover and can be grouped into 5 categories:
- Subtropical Dry Deciduous (38.2%)
- Tropical Moist Deciduous (30.3%)
- Subtropical Thorn (6.7%)
- Tropical Wet Evergreen forests (5.8%)
- Other categories ( Pine, Temperate and Alpine, Tropical semi evergreen) – 17.5%
However, of lately the indigenous people of the country has shown major concern toward this problem and are aiding in solving it by planting more trees. Considering the need of afforestation in India, many government, private and NGOs are engaged to create new forests through afforestation method to maximize the carbon capture or control the soil erosion.
Benefits of afforestation
I) Controls flood
Afforestation in drainage basin enhances interception and storage and reduces the surface run off. This reduces a river’s discharge and so makes it less likely to flood. Afforestation when combined with floodplain zoning can be very effective at reducing the risk of flooding. Forests help reduce the impact of flooding by delaying and reducing the size of floods, dispersing the water in a more gradual manner than over bare ground. The tree roots decrease erosion and stabilize the soil, this means that less soil is carried by surface runoff and through flow into the river, reducing the channel capacity.
II) Provides home
Due to afforestation new habitats are created for wildlife. Vast destruction of forest areas leave animals homeless. Forests provide home, food source and place of protection for most species of animal. Therefore planting new trees and plant and creating forest lands will provide shelter to these animals. It will also provide grazing facilities and solve the problem of fodder for cattle.
Planting specific type of trees, especially the ones that are beneficial for commercial purposes, will definitely be good for the economy of the country. Production and supply of these woods will lead to increased economy. The extensive afforestation will not only provide direct employment of lac of poor people but will create a permanent capital of immense value.
Afforestation needs a lot of laborers. Digging, sowing, weeding, watering requires to be done with a lot of care and these are mostly done by landless and poor laborers. Approximately eighty per cent of the total amount of expenditure is incurred on account of wages given to the laborers responsible for the works related to planting and growing the trees in afforestation.
The vast amount of raw material that will be available from the increased forests will open up unlimited scope for a number of cottage industries such as furniture, sports goods, match industry, wood carrying, basket making, pencil making, hand-made paper industry, house building and provide works to thousands..
V) Environmental solutions
More forests mean more rain and the benefits of rain are known to everyone. Besides, it also controls acid rain. It minimizes the effects of droughts and global warming. Trees and plants are also helpful in curbing pollution level. It also improves water quality by filtering pollutants out of rainwater. Afforestation controls soil erosion and binds the soil together.