Panel discussion on Building Sustainable Forest based Economies
“If we want Climate Action, create a Forest Economy where the people who live closest to the trees have an incentive to protect them”– Prof. Ashwini Chhatre, ISB
Bharti Institute of Public Policy and the Special Interest Group on Sustainability at the Indian School of Business organized a thought-provoking panel discussion on “Building Sustainable Forest Based Economies” at the institute’s annual alumni event ‘Equinox’.
The panel discussed the challenges and the way forward to turn forests into spaces of production and opportunity, for a sustainable future where conservation and development are achieved together The experts on the panel were Prof. Ashwini Chhatre, Executive Director at BIPP, Ms. Lakshmi Venkatesan, Founding and Managing Trustee of the Bhartiya Yuva Shakti Trust, an enterprise building and facilitating grass roots entrepreneurship amongst the marginalized young women and men & Srini Pappula, Chief Scientist & Global Head of the Digital Farming Initiatives @ TCS. The panel was moderated by Sankha Som, Chief Innovation Evangelist at TCS.
The session was attended by senior professions in the public and private sector with experience in different aspects of the forest economy.
The panellists discussed about the invisibility of the first mile in the value chains of the Seasonal Forest Products (SFPs); with only about 5 percent of the value reaching the primary collectors of the SFPs and with value being destroyed due to poor market mechanisms in the informal economy and inadequate use of technology. Our current approach of protecting forests by excluding the people who live close to and care for the forest results in poor incentives for these people who are caring for the forests. Further, the approach turns forests into spaces of poverty and not productivity and opportunity. 200 million people are directly involved in the collection and sale of SFPs, who harvest resources from the forest for their livelihoods and are some of the most disadvantaged sections of our society. It, therefore, becomes important to create a forest economy where people living next to the forests are incentivized for nurturing the forest; it is the best natural solution. The current forest economy is likely to be worth Rs. 18,000-25,000 crores; this is only set to increase manifold with the demand for the SFPs continuously increasing as these SFPs constitute valuable raw material to multiple industries such as personal care, health and wellbeing, foods & confectionary, and paper & pulp. There is an urgent need to formalize this economy such that both, the industry, and the primary collectors of SFPs do not lose out and the sustainability of these forests is not compromised.
The panel discussed that to build a thriving and sustainable forest economy, fostering grassroots entrepreneurship and targeted deployment of digital technology will be immensely helpful. These interventions would lead to the creation of a supportive eco-system that brings increased value to these communities; not just economic value but social value and recognition, particularly to the women. “You provide people with dignity by empowering them with technology” – Prof. Chhatre, along with Srini Pappula, on technology.
“Mindset change creates a more dramatic impact that skillset change” – Ms. Venkatesan, BYST.
The panel emphasized that a key part in building the solution lies in changing the mindset on multiple fronts. 1) Forests need to be looked at as spaces of production. 2) Rural youth and women need to be mentored as entrepreneurs, such that they carry the required skillsets and a mindset of self-worth and confidence towards building their own businesses. 3) the mindset of separating the territories between the corporate and government needs to change to create win-win solutions in creating vibrant ecosystems.
The panel gave out specific areas of call to action to its audience – a) for conversations around forests as productive spaces as an approach to the problem of invisibility , b) for collaborating with the administration at the state and district level to create/build large scale pilots where producers of SFPs aggregate and connect with the industry buyers through formal channels and c) for newer ideas to achieve the goal of building sustainable forest-based economies and thereby, achieve sustainable development.