The Government of Assam is set to redefine environmental stewardship with a pioneering initiative to plant one crore commercial saplings on 17 September 2023 under the Amrit Brikshya Andolan(ABA). This endeavour aims to sow the seeds of change with multifaceted benefits for both communities and the State. The massive Jan Andolan is a clarion call by the Chief Minister of Assam, Dr. Himanta Biswa Sarma, to achieve a remarkable goal of planting one crore commercial saplings in a single day, within a stipulated time frame. It would bolster the tree economy in our State while fostering numerous other benefits for our people and environment.
ABA is designed to contribute towards the State’s ambitious goal of increasing the existing green cover from 36.09% to 38% of our total geographical area. This multi-year endeavour would play a pivotal role in enriching Assam’s landscape and enhancing its verdant allure.
Furthermore, this monumental drive would also address the pressing issue of deforestation and its adverse ripple effects on climate change. Planting these new saplings would serve as a beacon of hope leading towards environmental sustainability. As these saplings grow and flourish, they would transform into vital carbon sinks by efficiently absorbing the carbon dioxide from the atmosphere.
Globally, afforestation initiatives involving tree plantation have been demonstrated to enhance the terrestrial carbon sink and decelerate carbon accumulation in the atmosphere. ABA would enable a major leap in this direction and contribute prominently towards the net zero emission target for the country as well as the achievement of Sustainable Development Goals. The wood harvested in due course from the plantations would also help in reducing the climate impact of the construction sector and decline in fossil fuels consumption.
A set of 23 commercially valuable species, including Teak, Boga Chandan, Agaru, Gamari, Hollong, Garjan, Tita Sopa, and Bogi Poma, would be planted during this drive. This selection of trees would not only act as an environmental initiative but also as an economic stimulant. Through this transformative initiative, the State Government aims to invigorate a crucial sector of its economy – the wood-based industry.
Recognising the immense potential of this sector and fostering a business-friendly environment, the Government recently promulgated the Assam Wood-Based Industries (Promotion and Development), 2022, and the Tree Outside Forest (Sustainable Management), 2022 Rules. The new regulations are drafted with the objective of streamlining operations to foster the “Ease of Doing Business”. This forward-thinking approach would shift the regulatory role of the Department to that of a promoter and facilitator. These legislations emphasise partnership and collaboration with the stakeholders to bolster the economy without compromising environmental sustainability. This will not not only attract investments and propel the growth of wood-based industry but it holds the potential to offer promising avenues of employment and entrepreneurship, especially among the rural youths.
ABA represents the initial step towards ushering in a paradigm shift that beckons the communities to adopt agroforestry in their homesteads. Through plantation of the commercially viable tree species, the communities could take up an active role in shaping the wood-based industry’s supply chain. This transition of becoming a stakeholder, would not only empower the individuals but also increase the economic resilience of communities.
Community ownership and people’s participation is the essence of this Jan Andolan that envisions a synergy of efforts from the grassroots level. The drive involves a wide spectrum of institutions ranging from Self Help Groups (SHGs), ASHA workers, Anganwadi workers, and tea garden workers, among others to create a sense of ownership and responsibility for the trees and green spaces. The uniqueness of the initiative lies in its women-led approach towards tree plantation.
The participants would not only be incentivised by the government to plant and raise the saplings but also be able to reap the benefits from the yield of these commercially valuable species upon maturity. The incentivising of the initiative is aimed at stimulating investment in commercial plantations grown for profits while recognizing that these plantations could also be established to meet broader social and environmental objectives. Once the trees are fully grown, they would serve as a carbon sink – an essential contributor to environmental balance. This presents an opportunity for growers to harness carbon credits, adding another layer to the economic advantages of this pioneering initiative.
Besides, in alignment with the recently notified National Carbon Credit Trading Scheme 2023, introduced by the Ministry of Power, ABA would also open pathways for the generation of carbon credits through plantation and investor-based projects, and their trading in both regulatory and voluntary markets.
These initiatives while empowering grassroots level communities, as agents of change, will help build new pathways or accelerate the transition to sustainability. It will aid community participation in environmental conservation while highlighting their role as climate change stewards for the State.
ABA, which is being targeted to be executed as a multi-year initiative, is essentially about bringing a fundamental shift in our approach towards sustainability. The Andolan has been designed in consonance with Mission LiFE seeking to encourage individuals to take up plantation, or sustainable agroforestry practices in the homesteads, badis, or community lands and also act as a catalyst/enabler of sustainable choices in the long run.
The writer is Additional Chief Secretary (Environment & Forest), Govt of Assam.