Maharashtra village steps up reforestation

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Pune (Maharashtra)Sep 13 (IANS/ 101Reporters) Hirpodi villagers in Velhe taluka of Pune district are making steady progress in transforming a barren hillside into forest using contour trenches and drought resistant trees.

Janabai Laxman Kuditkar (70) shows the hill behind his newly built pucca house while explaining how barren it was when they started. “There were only a few scattered trees at the top. Until about 10 years ago we grew ragi and sesame. But the long summers and scarcity of water made everything difficult,” she says . Therefore, she sold this land to an NRI couple.


The hill covering around five acres along the slope is now owned by Ravindra and Sadhana Swar, who approached FORREST (Forest Regeneration and Environment Sustainability Trust) – a biodiversity NGO – to restore it in a way that would benefit the village which lies along its lower reaches.

Responding to 101Reporters via email, the Swars said they bought the land, unseen, to help the owner who was deeply in debt. “The original purpose was to build a nursing home. But when we finally visited the site ourselves, we found that there was no suitable access road or nearby facilities. was just a barren hill.” And Sadhana Swar, who had a green thumb herself, decided to spend the money to make it a green zone, or even a bird sanctuary.

“This land is half a mile from the village at an elevation of 760m above mean sea level. stripped of any vegetation, just seasonal grass and a few shrubs,” says Neha Singh, Founder and Director of FORREST.

Located 60 km from Pune, Hirpodi is home to about 900 people. Singh and his team decided to work on two fronts – water and forestry. “We planned to dig contour trenches and plant drought-tolerant native species on their bunds. The first stage of marking trenches all over the hill began in July 2019,” she told 101Reporters. .

Trenching is one of the main environmental engineering measures to conserve water and control soil erosion in non-arable land. Areas with steep slopes are more prone to soil erosion, especially if they lack vegetation cover.

“Velha receives good rainfall, but the water drains off very quickly due to the slope. Hardly any water seeps into the ground. The contour trench solves this problem,” says Singh. “We found a part on the slope where soil erosion was much more pronounced. The hillsides are more prone to gullying (the process by which deep channels or gullies are created by flowing water) when they are cleared of vegetation by deforestation, overgrazing or forest fires. . To stop soil erosion, we have covered a small plot with dense plantings.”

Restoration plans began when the COVID-19 pandemic was at its peak. Holding meetings with the villagers was not even an option at the time. So his team tried different methods to increase local participation.

“We decided to involve the villagers by appointing a local project coordinator for the works, and Vitthal Rajiwade was keen to help us when he realized how much the village would benefit from it,” explains Prachi Pawar, Deputy Director of FORREST . Anything to do with water generally arouses the interest of people here. The promise of improved groundwater levels, flood prevention during the monsoons and the prospect of income from small non-timber forest products were enough to convince them to join hands.

“The NGO provided us with trenching tools and we got the bamboo provided by the village,” adds Reshma Sonawane, Rajiwade’s neighbour.

Residents were paid cash for all materials and the hard work of walking uphill with tools, plants, compost, soil nutrients and bamboo. “We had to take several trips with the NGO volunteers, and they offered us some money which helped us through those days of pandemic fatigue,” Sonawane recalls gratefully.

The joint team of volunteers and villagers constructed about 250 contour trenches and planted 530 trees on their bunds.

“We felt that the native forest trees are stronger and easily adapt to adverse climatic conditions. Most of them have medicinal properties and bear fruits, such as Reetha (soap nuts), Baheda (Terminalia bellerica) and Harad (Termialia chebula)”. inform Pawar.

Trees belonging to the genus ficus have been chosen to improve the green cover, since their fruits are available to birds and mammals even in times of drought. “About 200 ficuses were planted for this purpose,” says Pawar.

After the trenches and planting were completed, 40 villagers collected thorn bushes from nearby hills and transported them to the site to build a fence that would protect the plants from free-roaming livestock. Only 300 of the total 530 trees remain, with the rest destroyed by forest fires.

Rajiwade, a wrestler and rice farmer, understands the importance of maintaining irrigation sources. “When we started planting trees, I didn’t realize how important it was. But now we have pits filled with enough water for our crops,” he beams.

The Rajiwades have taken on the role of overseeing the upkeep of the saplings, which includes watering them at least four times a month during non-monsoon months with help from the community. “The trees are still small and need at least three years to grow. Once they get big, I hope there will be even more rainfall in the area,” says Rajiwade.

He and his family – including his wife and three college-going children – motivated many to join the project in its early days. Sonawane, for her part, urged women to lend a hand.

Singh thinks his NGO is no longer needed here. “The goal of conservation is that it should be self-sustaining. Even without any monetary benefit, the community should take care of its environment. And I think that has happened here before,” she concludes.

(The author is a freelance journalist and a member of 101Reporters, a pan-India network of local journalists.)

Source: IANS

Maharashtra village steps up reforestation

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