As the world is observing the International Day of Forests on March 21 today, it is crucial to understand the relationship that humans and other living organisms share with the forest, both directly and indirectly. At a time when the climate is changing rapidly, and we are living with frequent floods and droughts, it is of utmost importance to protect and grow our forests to improve our ecology and environment.
According to the National Forest Policy of 1952, the percentage of forest cover in India to sustain an ecological balance is 33 percent. But India's forest cover is 21.71 percent of its geographical area or 7,13,789 square kilometres, as per the India State of Forest Report-2021.
From a plant to forests
Various organisations, governments and individuals are working towards increasing the green cover by planting more trees and restoring natural habitats in the toughest of landscapes like deserts. Any improvement and growth in India’s forest cover are achievable only through collective collaboration.
The need to change is a pushing factor in becoming the change. That’s precisely the story of Thuvakkam. It is a Tamil word which means ‘The Beginning’ and Thuvakkam was started by a group of students in Chennai, who planted the first sapling in their college at SRM University in Katangulathur in 2014.
That one plant laid the foundation for a long journey ahead. Thuvakkam is today focused on planting trees to create urban forests. It works to improve the landscape of concrete jungles by increasing the green cover through urban forests.
The lack of green cover results in human health issues, and pollution and it adversely impacts the life cycle. Chennai, despite being a coastal area, faces these issues. Thuvakkam created its first mini forest in 2018 in a private school with about 100 trees.
Since then, it has created over 37 forests in South India, which cover about 12.5 acres of land, housing over 1.5 lakh indigenous plants and trees. The native species increase the sustainability of the forest by enriching the soil conditions, improving the water table, and positively impacting the health of residents living in proximity to the forest. Some of the indigenous species planted by Thuvakkam include Oleander, Indian Beech, Golden Shower, and Indian Blackberry.
Forests act as oxygen pockets, a bio wall - wherein the extreme noise disturbances in the environment are reduced – and are home to biodiversity.
Awareness generation is important in forest creation and conservation. Thuvakkam, since the beginning, has been focused on creating awareness and instilling a sense of responsibility among people. The volunteers are involved in the plantation and also rope in other stakeholders like local community members and work in synergy with the government bodies and various CSR partners. Their employees are also involved in plantation and maintenance drives, and creative events to better engage with the environment, where the volunteers learn about our environment and our native species.
The creation of forests demands innovation and its sustainability depends on proper maintenance and monitoring. To achieve these, sustainable infrastructure is added to the urban forest, which along with strenuous manual maintenance and monitoring results in the creation of a sustainable ecosystem.
The success of efforts being taken at Thuvakkam in the last eight years has been possible because of its members, partners, volunteers and the constant innovation in the scope of implementing greener initiatives. The key to increasing our forest cover lies in constructive collaboration with all stakeholders.
(Krishna Kumar Suresh is the founder of Chennai-based NGO Thuvakkam)
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