Three-day International Conference on ‘Sustainable Forestry in South Asia’ concludes at TERI SAS

New Delhi: The three-day international workshop and meeting on Sustainable Forestry in South Asia: Current Status, Science and Conservation Priorities successfully concluded today at TERI School of Advanced Studies, New Delhi.

The conference was held as part of the NASA Land Cover/Land Use Change Program funded South/Southeast Asia Research Initiative. This was in collaboration with several international partners including Global Observation of Forest and Land Cover Dynamics (GOFC–GOLD), Virginia Tech University, University of Maryland College Park, USA, Michigan State University, USA, Columbia University, USA, University of Illinois at Urbana Champaign, USA, NASA SERVIR, START, etc.

The last day of the conference encompassed three sessions that saw deliberations on critical themes surrounding forest fires, air pollution, social forestry and community forest management. This began with a gripping session on Fires and Air Pollution, chaired by Krishna Vadrevu of NASA MSFC, USA, which included keynote as well as technical presentations. It was summarised by eminent researchers studying the fires and air pollution that the impacts of fires have aggravated since the last decade and the major contribution has been from the agricultural fires. Surprisingly, the Agricultural fires have been the same on the Pakistan side of Punjab (Western Punjab), while the fires have increased in Punjab (India) since 2008.

Forest in the northern Himalayan states of Himachal Pradesh and Uttarakhand have been under constant stress from forest fires and this problem is now being tackled by providing early warning to forest departments from real time monitoring using High Resolution Remote Sensing Data.

Moreover, various initiatives have been taken by FSI to monitor and manage forest fire for entire India, which includes providing real time monitoring of forest fire and burnt area assessment through a Geo-portal called “Van Agni”. According to the National Forest Inventory program, 9.89% of forest areas are heavily affected and 54.40% mildly affected due to forest fires.

It was deduced in an important conclusion about Western Ghats that 80% of forest fires were between January to March, which were majorly due to human induced low intensity surface fires.

There has been around 2% increase in aerosol concentration since last 3 decades. The BC (black carbon) concentration and absorbing aerosols over Indo Gangetic plain has been increasing due to biomass burning and other activities which peaks during post-monsoon seasons (October-December). This was recorded using satellite data products of Moderate Resolution Imaging Spectroradiometer (MODIS), and the Multiangle Imaging Spectroradiometer (MISR).

This was followed by a session on Social Forestry and Community Forest Management, chaired by Jefferson M. Fox of East West Center, USA, which also included a series of captivating presentations and a discussion. Addressing fellow delegates, presenter Dr. Sharachchandra Lele of Ashoka Trust for Research in Ecology and Environment, India, remarked, “We need to have a land change science that speaks directly to decentralised forest governments. Particularly, the benefits of implementing community rights under the FRA”.

In her presentation on the lessons from FRA implementation in India, Dr. Smriti Das, HoD and Associate Professor, Department of Policy Studies at TERI SAS, concluded by saying, “Community Forest Resource rights is not just the granting of rights, but the commitment to sustain collective efforts for inclusive resource outcomes. If the perceived collective benefit of institutional participation is high, the chance of collective mobilization of CFR would be high. The challenge that would remain is of process mediation”.

“Overall CFR provisions still hold immense promise in balancing the power dynamics in India’s forest governance. Thus, there is a need to identify all institutions with similar characteristics and actively expedite implementation of the community resource right provision of the act”, she added.

In his concluding remarks, Dr Sudipta Chatterjee, HoD and Associate Professor, Department of Natural Resources at TERI School of Advanced Studies, thanked the participating delegates, partners, researchers, colleagues and students. He said, “I would like to thank TERI School of Advanced Studies and J.K. Garg for providing this opportunity to further the science of sustainability. At the outset, I would like to thank our sister organisation TERI for their invaluable support”. “With the galaxy of researchers and students present here, I’m certain we will find the in-roads into the science of sustainable forestry in the region”, he added.

“It has been very hard-working days for all of us here but in the process, we have enriched our knowledge significantly”, said J. K. Garg of TERI SAS, while thanking the delegates and participants.

The three-day conference witnessed speakers and participation by leading international and national scientists, policy makers, academicians, ecologists, researchers and professors such as Dr. Krishna Vadrevu (SARI Lead, NASA Marshall Space Flight Center, USA), Shri Siddhanta Das (Director General of Forests and Special Secretary, Ministry of Environment, Forests and Climate Change, Govt. of India), Dr, Prakash Chauhan (Director, Indian Institute of Remote Sensing, India), David Skole (Michigan State University, USA), Dr Ritesh Kumar (Director, Wetland International South Asia), Dr Vinay Dadhwal (Indian Institute of Space Science and Technology, India), Jefferson M. Fox (East West Center, USA), J. K. Garg (Local Host, TERI SAS) among several others.