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Cycle 8 (2019 Deadline)

Planning plantations: past learning, toward triple wins in carbon, biodiversity and livelihoods

PI: Rajesh Thadani (, Centre for Ecology Development and Research (CEDAR), in partnership with Kumaun University
U.S. Partner: Forrest Fleischman, University of Minnesota
Project dates: November 2019 - October 2021

Project Overview:

Governments worldwide are increasingly aiming to increase tree cover, yet the impacts of afforestation programs are poorly understood. Recent evaluations find that they often have unintended negative impacts or tradeoffs between the triple goals of carbon storage, biodiversity protection, and livelihoods. This proposal complements an existing NASA-funded project evaluating the impact of plantations on land cover and livelihoods of poor forest dependent people in the Indian state of Himachal Pradesh. PEER funding will allow CEDAR, an Indian research NGO, to measure carbon storage and biodiversity in the same plantation areas and disseminate results through planned events, working in partnership with a local university. This project will make it possible to evaluate when–and how–afforestation projects achieve the triple win of storing more carbon, protecting biodiversity, and enhancing rural livelihoods, more fully accounting for the potential benefits and costs of plantations in the Himalayas. This project will provide important data on carbon and biodiversity in plantations of multiple age cohorts in diverse ecological types, and develop methodological innovations for analysis of carbon storage, biodiversity, and its relationship to land cover and livelihoods. India provides an ideal environment for exploring the impacts of afforestation programs due to its history of nearly 50 years of plantation programs, the presence of important biodiversity and carbon stocks, and the large number of people at the base of the economic pyramid in India who meet their daily livelihood needs from forests. There is a growing demand in India for accurate estimations of carbon stocks and biodiversity impacts resulting from tree plantations in order to evaluate the effectiveness of afforestation. This proposal will address this demand while also filling a long-standing gap in scientific information about the Himalayas, where social and ecological data are seldom collected together. With the results of the proposal, the researchers involved will contribute to understanding which kinds of afforestation programs have been most effective at achieving triple wins, contribute to policy development in Indian forestry through planned events, and enhance potential for triple wins by developing innovative methods that can be adapted by other countries.

This project is also expected to contribute to USAID’s Partnership for Sustainable Forests in India (Forest PLUS) program and to provide technologies and practices that can be transferred to other developing country contexts. This will be done in three ways. First, they will develop innovative methods to identify conditions when synergies among triple goals of carbon storage, biodiversity, and livelihoods are realized. Their findings will provide inputs to India’s forest policy and management, enabling governments and external funders to evaluate tradeoffs between afforestation goals, especially those impacting forest dependent people at the bottom of the pyramid (BOP), in designing future afforestation programs. Second, they will engage with three communities—forest-dependent people at the BOP, forest departments, and NGOs—to enhance impacts of this project by providing training and workshops. BOP populations will also be engaged during data collection and dissemination, and in this way, and by involving elected local governments, the PEER team will increase the representation of vulnerable groups in forest decision making. Third, the researchers will assist in the development of curriculum related to assessment of triple wins in afforestation. They will partner in developing field-based courses with partners at educational institutes, including Kumaun University, the University of Minnesota, India’s Forest Research Institute, the G.B. Pant Institute, and the International Centre for Integrated Mountain Development. The proposal will directly educate two women researchers at CEDAR and a team of local youth in field methods and forest policy.  

Summary of Recent Activities:

In the first quarter of 2020, Dr. Thadani and his colleagues conducted two training programs for local youth who will take part in project research activities in the forest. The young participants learned how to measure tree height and circumference at breast height, identify shrubs for forest biomass/carbon studies, and carry out protocols for soil sampling for soil carbon status. The trainees also gained skills in operating handheld GPS devices to mark plot boundaries and geo-tag the plots. Tree data collection and soil sampling efforts subsequently began, with 39 of the total of 60 planned plots begin studied and measured for biomass stock and soil carbon by the time COVID-19 caused the imposition of travel restrictions in mid-March. Other accomplishments before the epidemic-related shutdown included identification and georeferencing of forest boundaries and the opening of a field office at Palampur (Himachal Pradesh).

In the next quarter, CEDAR staff planned to continue and build on community engagement and impart training on biodiversity estimation with respect to mycorrhizal sporocarp density. With the coronavirus containment strategy of the Indian Government being among the strictest in the world, all non-essential travel is banned, making field work and public gatherings impossible. Activities will not resume before May 15 at the earliest, depending on Government permissions and the public health safety situation. Plans for the coming months include data collection for the remaining 21 plots and measurement and estimation of carbon both in standing vegetation and in soil in those plots. Project participants will also identify mycorrhizal sporocarp density in the forest for estimating biodiversity in the plantations, with the timing dependent not only on travel restrictions but also on the onset of the monsoon rains. The team will also analyze field plantation data with household data. One challenge identified by the PI is the relative lack of participation by women in the training and field activities. He feels this could be due to the remoteness of the study area, which is quintessentially a male-dominated region where women’s participation is typically restricted to household chores. Another reason could be the lack of female frontline staff in the forest department, hence a lack of trust in and encouragement for the participation of women in such activities. Women researchers from CEDAR are working hard to increase the involvement of women in the project activities.

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