JFM can Help Combat Climate Change in Himalayas

Climate change is a serious concern in the Himalayas, where it is seen to have debilitating effects on biodiversity, and will likely have several other serious effects if left unchecked. According to environment expert Umesh Dwivedi, Joint Forest Management can be effectively used to combat climate change.

Said Dwivedi: “The flora and fauna of the Himalayas are unique, and there are many endemic species. Climatic changes increase the rate of extinction of these species, particularly the endemic and threatened species, and the risk factor in the Himalayas is very high because the flora and fauna are sensitive to climatic changes. The species in sub alpine and alpine zones are particularly vulnerable as they cannot move any further.”

He added that climate change will have a serious impact on agriculture-based economies and food security. The early flowering and ripening of fruits may have an adverse effect on pollination patterns, which will impact the productivity of the ecosystem, thereby affecting food security.

Dwivedi is also concerned that climate change will impact the hydrological cycle, particularly in regions where the water supply is dependent on snow melting. River flow increases during the monsoons and decreases in summer, which affects the recharging of groundwater and water accessibility for plants. Climatic change will also impact wetlands in the Himalayas, which provide potable drinking water to the mountain people and have spiritual and cultural values apart from attracting tourists.

According to him, joint forest management may provide natural climatic solutions which are also cost-effective. The forests are the key to climatic change and provide a solution to global warming. Checking deforestation levels, restoring the forests and improving forestry practices can help to reduce carbon emissions and keep a check on global warming rates. Afforestation will also improve forest-based products, strengthen food security and reduce carbon footprints.

Talking about the indicators that show climate change’s reality in the Himalayas, Dwivedi gives a list of indicators in a research paper written by him on the subject. These include warm winters in the Himalayas, early flowering (rhododendrons and magnolias now flower in February instead of April), early ripening (Kafal fruits are available in February and March instead of May and June), and the observation that apple orchards have shifted to higher altitudes in Himachal. The orchids have also been observed to be shifting upwards, which is a telling sign – they are particularly sensitive to climate change and this is made evident in Sikkim.

Forest fires are also rampant all over the Himalayas, with an increase in the frequency of reported hazards like floods, landslides, intense rainfall and drought. Rainfall patterns have been observed to change, and there has been a rapid reduction in glaciers. Other indicators include an increase in pests, vectors and exotic species invading the Himalayas, with climatic change increasing the transmission of malaria and dengue in the lower regions of the area.

The ecological restoration of denuded forests is not possible without the involvement of the forest dwellers. Therefore, a number of support activities aimed at low-income generations can be undertaken. These can include mushroom cultivation, poultry farming and compost making.

Other measure that can be undertaken to combat climate change include the planting of fuel and fodder species on degraded land, growing medicinal crops as inter-crops, the patrolling of forests against grazing, and felling and taking away forest produce. The mountain people should be encouraged to utilise their traditional knowledge to use forest resources without destroying them. They get their livelihood from the forest including fuel, timber, fruits and medicinal herbs. Unfortunately, due to a rapid increase in population and developmental activities, the mountain forests are depleting too quickly, and it is important to protect and preserve the mountain forests with the involvement of the forest dwellers.

 “The forest department must take their wellbeing into account. The forest dwellers can participate and be actively involved in these efforts. They can be stakeholders.  This will lead to a great reduction in the illicit felling and theft of forest produce,” says Dwivedi.