In a bid to make planet 'Earth' more habitable, clean and green place to live, a Mumbai-based social enterprise has planted millions of trees, besides saving wildlife.
Grow-Trees offers a pioneering, web-enabled, cost-effective solution to individuals and companies for planting trees across the world and offsetting carbon emissions. The social enterprise has created the concept of 'Greet with Trees' and a 'Treebank' where one could plant and store trees, and dedicate them to their loved ones via eTreeCertificates to establish a platform that is actively working towards wildlife conservation and forest restoration while encouraging people to contribute to the same.
"We wanted to establish a platform that would help in combating climate change while advocating the necessity and value of man-environment cohabitation. We integrate inputs from local and tribal people, village institutions, in-house environmental experts, and forest departments to carry out all of our planting activities effectively and sustainably," Bikrant Tiwary, CEO Grow Trees told The Logical Indian.
Founded in 2010, the organisation has grown to become one of the world's largest non-governmental tree-planting groups, with over 9 million trees planted so far. These trees will absorb over 182 million kgs of carbon every year upon maturity. It has also resulted in over 7,53,000 direct employment days, mainly for tribals and women.
Planting Initiative Across 23 States
Grow-Trees has led several planting initiatives across 23 Indian states, including the most recent projects in Uganda, AIIMS Deogarh, the Ganga Region in Uttarkashi and Bhagalpur, and Bodhgaya, all to repair the environment via trees. The projects are categorised according to the most critical issue in each location. It promotes numerous causes like Trees for Forests and Wildlife, Trees for Himalayan Biodiversity, Trees for Rivers, Trees for Tribal Communities, Trees for Coastal Ecosystems, Trees for Urban Landscape, Trees for Memories, and Trees for Wellness.
Ever since its inception, Grow-Trees has reforested over 4,500 hectares of land in India. The positive environmental changes and biodiversity have constantly encouraged it to pursue plantation projects with renewed passion and spirit every year. Each plantation site has reported a sharp improvement in the environmental condition, quality of natural habitats, and water availability.
The Trees for Tigers project at Sariska Tiger Reserve has resulted in the plantation of over 4,00,000 trees in hamlets located on the reserve's outskirts. Plantations in this region were intended to improve the natural habitat of Rajasthan's tigers, which have been badly affected by poaching and infrastructure development.
The Forest Department stated that the tigers ST6 and T10 were spotted in the project area, and a surge in the population of peacocks and deer because of the commendable restoration of habitat. Plantation in this place also involved the revival of water bodies and helped the locals who were struggling to fetch water at a level of 400 feet under the ground. With the help of the plantation and the revival work, the water level now stands at barely 40 feet. This initiative has brought local people together to revitalise the land and wildlife by planting trees, establishing nurseries, and constructing and maintaining ponds. The villagers who were forced to travel miles to get usable water now have easy access to it in their own village.
The Project-Trees for Tigers in Ramtek, Maharashtra, has also shown a significant improvement in the environment and the health of the local communities of the region. The locals can utilise the NTFPs like fruits, tendu leaves, twigs, and fodder for consumption and livelihood purposes. The project's beneficiaries are primarily women, who claim it has empowered them and allowed them to work close to their homes. The project involves 70 households, creating 3,000 workdays for the labour force, of which 70 per cent are women. By providing villagers with a consistent source of income from forest products, the project would discourage them from engaging in illicit activities such as poaching. It will deter wild animals such as wild boars, leopards, and other wild cats from straying into human settlements and destroying personal property and croplands by developing a dense buffer zone.
However, one of our largest and most notable projects of the enterprise is in Odisha that involves the plantation of 5 million trees in the periphery of the Similipal Tiger Reserve, one of India's oldest tiger reserves. Declared in 1973 under Project Tiger, it contains 2,750 sq km of forest area and is the prime habitat for tigers, prey species, and elephants. Grow-Trees aims to link these protected areas with this initiative so that elephants can securely travel between habitats, tigers can find forest cover to mark their territories, and other species can reclaim their habitat, decreasing man-animal conflicts.
"We have completed the plantation of 9 million trees so far, however, we did encounter a fair share of challenges when the world was under the clasp of the COVID-19 pandemic. Visiting our plantation sites, ensuring that the existing plantation is tended to properly, travelling amidst the pandemic, getting permissions for transportation, and arranging for adequate resources were a few challenges that we faced initially. Our efforts eventually led to the plantation of about 2.6 million trees in 2020 alone," Tiwary said.
The entrepreneur added that the plantation drives initiated during the COVID period generated employment for locals and villagers who were struggling with the repercussions of reverse migration. The organisation also started pond restoration and beekeeping operations to give new sources of income. This not only helped the locals get through the difficult times but also safeguarded their livelihoods.
The enterprise strives to engage rural communities in carrying out fieldwork and other plantation activities, thereby, creating job opportunities for the locals. These activities help in maintaining the economic stability of these communities.
"One tree that we plant today is expected to help the community members for about 40-50 years. These plantations aim to make the tribal community members self-sustainable, providing them a scope to enhance their socio-economic life," Tiwary explained.
Surbali Singh hails from the Jharkhand village of Laylam Tola Chardungri. She has a family of seven people (three men, and four females). She works in the field with her husband. Surbali and her husband were able to gain jobs due to Grow-Trees' plantation initiatives, allowing them to support their family better. Along with many other villages, they constructed a nursery and planted tasks such as pit digging, sapling transportation, and plantation. Surbali is confident that the plantation would benefit the villagers in a variety of ways and will help them enhance their quality of life.
Similarly, Meera Bai, 32, from Bardiya, Pratipgarh, Rajasthan, is another beneficiary. Her spouse and two children live with her. Grow-Trees' plantation activities have enabled her to provide more revenue to the family, offering additional sustenance to the children and satisfying other daily needs. Meera Bai is pleased that she could participate in an activity other than domestic tasks that made her feel independent and allowed her to contribute to a healthy future for her children and others in the village and the revenue earned for the family.
Their involvement creates direct employment opportunities while also leading to great forest products used for consumption. The tribal communities can further benefit from the forest produce by selling the excess amounts in nearby markets.