Our Land, Our Future: Embracing Cooperative Environmentalism through Familial Forestry

Under the Familial Forestry initiative, 2 million families in Rajasthan have planted 4 million saplings. Its success in combating desertification and drought and revitalising natural ecosystems underlines the importance of community-led environmental work

Prof Shyam Sunder Jyani
New Update
Prof Shyam Sunder Jyani with school students at a plantation drive

Prof Shyam Sunder Jyani (in black) with school students at a plantation drive

As we observe Desertification and Drought Day on June 17th, under the theme "United for Land: Our Legacy, Our Future," I am deeply reminded of the urgent need for innovative and community-driven solutions to combat these pressing environmental challenges. This theme emphasises the transformative power of sustainable land management to address today’s global challenges and create a blueprint for a better future on land for all generations. It serves as a clarion call to recharge global action on land restoration and drought resilience.

Familial Forestry: Reviving Our Roots

Familial Forestry is more than an environmental initiative; it is a movement that integrates tree planting into the very fabric of our daily lives. By encouraging families to plant and nurture trees, we have created a grassroots revolution that transcends mere conservation. 

Over 2 million families across 18,000 villages in Rajasthan have planted 4 million saplings, breathing new life into our land. This initiative was honoured with the UNCCD’s Land for Life Award in 2021, recognising its significant contribution to land restoration. This approach fosters a deep sense of ownership and responsibility towards the environment. Families see these trees not just as plants, but as integral members of their households, deserving of care and protection. This personal connection ensures long-term commitment and significantly enhances the survival rates of the saplings.

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The Familial Forestry initiative aligns closely with the principles of cooperative environmentalism, which emphasise community participation and shared responsibility in environmental stewardship.

By involving families directly, we harness collective action and create a network of environmental guardians across rural and urban landscapes.

This initiative underscores the belief that true environmental change begins at home and extends outward to encompass entire communities.

women plantation
Familial Forestry underscores the belief that true environmental change begins at home

Institutional Forests: Seeds of Knowledge

In our quest for sustainability, education plays a pivotal role. This led to the establishment of institutional forests within schools, colleges, and public buildings. These green spaces serve as living laboratories where students and community members can engage with nature and learn about sustainable land management practices.

By creating 200 institutional forests, we have developed micro-ecosystems that provide vital carbon sinks, mitigate urban heat islands, and create habitats for local wildlife. 

More importantly, these forests have become centres of environmental education, instilling a sense of stewardship in the younger generation. Institutional forests are crucial in promoting environmental literacy. They offer hands-on learning experiences that allow students to witness the growth and development of trees, understand the importance of biodiversity, and recognise the impact of human activities on the environment. This practical knowledge is complemented by theoretical lessons on ecology, climate change, and sustainable practices, creating a comprehensive educational framework.

Education plays a pivotal role in promoting sustainability

Moreover, these forests foster a sense of pride and accomplishment among students and staff. Participating in the planting and maintenance of these green spaces instils a sense of responsibility and achievement, reinforcing the idea that individual and collective actions can lead to positive environmental outcomes. The involvement of educational institutions in such initiatives also strengthens the connection between academia and real-world environmental challenges, preparing students to become informed and proactive citizens.

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Raabdi Day: Sustainable Food and Cultural Integration

Our Raabdi Day initiative highlights the importance of integrating sustainable food practices with indigenous culinary traditions. By promoting the consumption of Raabdi, a drink made from pearl millet, we are not only preserving cultural heritage but also encouraging sustainable agricultural practices. This initiative underscores the foundational understanding of how healthy ecosystems are crucial for our well-being and why community stewardship is essential. It represents a shift from traditional environmental education to a micro-level understanding of our immediate environment, aiming for a generational transformation through communicative and purposeful actions.

Raabdi Day is more than a celebration; it is an educational campaign that reconnects communities with their culinary roots. 

Pearl millet, the primary ingredient in Raabdi, is a drought-resistant crop that thrives in arid regions. Promoting its consumption supports local farmers, reduces dependency on water-intensive crops, and enhances food security. Additionally, Raabdi is rich in essential nutrients, making it a healthy alternative to processed foods.

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raabdi day
Raabdi Day reconnects communities with their culinary roots  

Integrating Raabdi into cultural events and daily diets helps revive traditional agricultural practices that are environmentally sustainable. It also reinforces the idea that local and indigenous knowledge can offer valuable solutions to contemporary challenges. Through Raabdi Day, we aim to create a cultural shift that embraces sustainable living and highlights the importance of food choices in environmental conservation.

Public Nurseries: Ensuring a Greener Tomorrow

A robust network of public nurseries supports these initiatives by providing over 200,000 native saplings annually to local communities free of cost. These nurseries ensure a steady supply of high-quality planting material, crucial for the success of our reforestation efforts.

Public nurseries are more than sapling suppliers; they are hubs of community engagement and education. Here, residents are trained in nursery management, plant propagation, and sustainable agricultural practices. This empowerment not only enhances the success of our projects but also ensures their scalability and sustainability.

The nurseries play a pivotal role in preserving and propagating native plant species, which are essential for maintaining local biodiversity. By focusing on native species, we ensure that the planted trees are well-adapted to the local climate and soil conditions, increasing their chances of survival and growth. This approach also helps to restore the natural habitat for various flora and fauna, promoting ecological balance.

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Moreover, these nurseries act as community centres where knowledge is exchanged, and environmental awareness is raised. 

Workshops and training sessions conducted at these nurseries equip community members with the skills needed to care for their environment. This hands-on experience fosters a sense of ownership and pride in the community, encouraging ongoing participation in environmental conservation efforts.

Holistic Habitat Healing: An Inclusive Approach

Our approach to cooperative environmentalism is grounded in holistic habitat healing, making our initiatives inclusive and impactful. By addressing the interconnectedness of ecosystems, community well-being, and sustainable practices, we foster a comprehensive understanding and commitment to environmental stewardship.

Holistic habitat healing involves restoring entire ecosystems rather than focusing on isolated components

Holistic habitat healing involves restoring entire ecosystems rather than focusing on isolated components. This approach recognises that the health of our land, water, and air are interdependent and that sustainable management practices must consider this interconnectedness. 

By restoring degraded lands, reforesting barren areas, and protecting water bodies, we create a balanced and resilient environment that supports diverse life forms.

This inclusive approach also emphasises the importance of community involvement in environmental conservation. By engaging locals, we ensure that the benefits of our initiatives are shared equitably and that communities are empowered to take charge of their environmental future. This participatory model fosters a sense of unity and collective responsibility, strengthening the social fabric and enhancing the overall well-being of the community.

Our Collective Impact

The impact of cooperative environmentalism extends beyond immediate ecological benefits. It has influenced public policies, with the state government of Rajasthan adopting Familial Forestry practices. The initiative has even been discussed in the Parliament of India, showcasing its potential for nationwide replication.

The impact of cooperative environmentalism extends beyond immediate ecological benefits

International recognition has further amplified our efforts. As a member of the Nature Positive Universities Network by UNEP and the University of Oxford, we promote sustainable practices globally. 

Our successful restoration of 207 acres of degraded land at Dabla Talab through community engagement exemplifies a scalable model for land restoration.

The global recognition of our efforts underscores the effectiveness of cooperative environmentalism. By demonstrating tangible results and showcasing the power of community-driven initiatives, we have inspired other regions and countries to adopt similar approaches. The replication of our model in different contexts highlights its flexibility and adaptability, making it a viable solution for diverse environmental challenges.

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Our approach also aligns with several UN Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), including SDG 13 (Climate Action), SDG 15 (Life on Land), and SDG 2 (Zero Hunger). By addressing these interconnected goals, we contribute to global efforts to mitigate climate change, preserve biodiversity, and promote sustainable agriculture. This holistic impact underscores the potential of cooperative environmentalism to drive meaningful and lasting change.

Looking Ahead

As we reflect on this year's theme, "United for Land: Our Legacy, Our Future," it becomes clear that the health of our land directly influences the quality of our future. Cooperative environmentalism offers a powerful blueprint for sustainable development, emphasising community engagement, education, and long-term stewardship.

By embracing these principles, we can combat desertification and drought, revitalise our ecosystems, and secure a sustainable future for generations. On this Desertification and Drought Day, let us renew our commitment to nurturing our land and safeguarding our future.

Our land is not just a resource; it is our legacy. Through cooperative environmentalism, we can ensure it remains vibrant and life-sustaining for all.

About the Author

Professor ShyamSunder Jyani is an associate professor of sociology at Government Dungar College, Bikaner, Rajasthan. He is the visionary behind the Familial Forestry initiative, which won the UNCCD Land for Life Award in 2021. Professor Jyani has mobilised over 2 million families to plant 4 million saplings, developed 200 institutional forests, and established a network of public nurseries that provide over 200,000 native saplings annually. He is known as the founding father of cooperative environmentalism, which promotes forestry, the development of micro-ecosystems, and sustainable food practices through a holistic habitat healing approach, significantly contributing to the UN Sustainable Development Goals.

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