Forest ecosystem is mostly covered by various species of flora and fauna with water bodies, hills, and mountains which have significant impacts on maintaining ecological balance, promoting food chain, controlling environment, and enhancing human well-being. Numerous services are provided by the system, which is diverse at the spatial and temporal level.
Researchers have identified over 100 forest ecosystem services, which are grouped into provisioning (food and water); regulating (regulation of floods, drought, land degradation, and disease); cultural (recreational, spiritual, and religious); and supporting services (soil formation and nutrient cycling). Biodiversity, an integral part of the forest ecosystem, influences, both climate change and peoples’ ability to cope with some of its damaging impacts. Forests cover 31% of the land area on our planet. Around 1.6 billion people rely on direct benefits of forest, including food, energy, freshwater and for medicine, but forests around the world are under threat from deforestation, jeopardising these benefits.
Forest is the second largest land use in India after agriculture; covering about 23% of the total land area. In India, the Forest Survey of India estimated the forest cover of the country to be around 69.2 million hectares, which is 21% of the geographic area of the country. A study by the Indian Planning Commission (Niti Ayog) shows almost 27% of the Indian population, comprising about 275 million rural people, depends partly or completely on forests for their ivelihood. Regionally, states in the North-East and states such as Chattisgarh, Odisha, Jharkhand and Madhya Pradesh have a higher percent of forest cover to their total geographic area. These states also have a higher proportion of marginalised tribal populations who are concentrated in these forest areas and largely dependent on them for their livelihood.
Forest is also used for other developmental activities like industrial, mining and infrastructure purposes. India’s per capita forest area has shrunk today to 0.08 hectare while the world average is 0.64 hectare. Any discussion of the sustainability of forests, therefore, must consider not only the imperative of forest and biodiversity conservation but also the livelihood concerns of local forest dwelling communities, their role in managing and protecting forests and the growing demands for forest resources.
(Read the full article from the October 2015 issue of the Safety Messenger Magazine)