Van Mahotsav 2022: Why should we worry about planting more trees?

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As Margaret Thatcher rightly mentioned, we are not owners of this earth, nor have we inherited it from our forefathers. We are in fact, just as our ancestors were, mere tenants who enjoy life tenancy over here. It is of great importance that we remember this fact, that we do not own this planet, but we owe it. We owe it the care and repair it requires, for the damage that was caused mostly by our activities. In our country, every year, the first week of July is celebrated as Van Mahotsav. Citizens will be planting trees across the country for 7 days, celebrating the environment and forests, while spreading awareness about the need for forest cover and green areas, and how much we need to protect the environment and rebuild it.

Forests cover 31 percent of our land. According to the United Nations, loss of forest cover means loss of livelihoods for rural communities, loss of biodiversity, land degradation, and an increase in carbon emissions. When dealing with so many things for us earthlings, the lungs of our planet struggle to survive, thanks to the pursuits that have led to us erasing over 420 million hectares (about a billion acres) of forest, since 1990. One-third of our forest covers have been lost, that much is twice the size of The United States of America. There is no doubt that it is a significant loss to our planet, and ourselves.

As part of the Van Mahotsav or tree-planting festival, thousands of trees will be planted all over the country by government organizations, civic bodies, and individuals alike. This festival was initiated in 1950, by Kanhaiyalal Munshi, then Union Minister of Agriculture and Food, with the vision to increase the area under forest cover and motivate the masses to conserve forests and plant trees. Week-long festivals are well and good, but, why did this visionary, and many others after him, worry about planting more trees?

There are a plethora of reasons why we urgently need to pay attention to the alarming rate at which we are losing forests, and immediately take action to secure the balance of life on earth. Forests are vital to all life on the planet. They are the lungs of the earth since they purify the air we breathe. They are the kidneys also as they filter the water we drink. They prevent soil erosion, the process where the soil becomes soft and starts to flow because nothing holds it. Forests are acting as an important hedge (pun intended) against climate change.

 According to a recent research published in Nature Climate Change, forests sequestered (carbon sequestration) about twice the amount of carbon dioxide they emitted between 2001 and 2019. What this means is forests provide a carbon sink that is absorbing 7.6 billion metric tonnes of CO2 per year! Moreover, in the last 20 years, South-East Asian forests have collectively become a net carbon source because of clearing for plantations, uncontrolled fires, and drainage of peat soils.

Thus, the declining rate of forest cover is alarming and scary and requires the urgent attention of the highest bodies of governance. The Van Mahotsav proves to be a creative and efficient way to spread awareness among the people of a country to plant more trees and conserve the forest covers of our nation.