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Rethinking the reforestation project
The process of reforestation is an accepted element in correcting environmental degradation, so there should be no good reason for groups employed in the National Reforestation and Watershed Rehabilitation Programme (NRWRP) to be concerned that the project might be scrapped.
But that’s exactly what Akilah Jaramogi, project manager of the Fondes Amandes Community Reforestation Project, was worried about on Thursday as she expressed concern about the future of the project. Ms Jaramogi did acknowledge that “a lot of the groups were politically formed to address poverty, etcetera, without the information about environmental conservation.”
It certainly wouldn’t be the first time that government subsidy was shared with the unemployed in this way, and the new Minister of the Environment and Water Resources, Ganga Singh, should ensure that the taxpayer is getting value for their investment in a project with such wide-ranging environmental impact.
With responsibility for this aspect of governmental overview currently in limbo while it makes its way bureaucratically from Minister Moonilal to Minister Singh, the civil servants charged with a supervisory role for the programme should prepare themselves to advise the new line minister about the status of the project and recommended actions to take it forward.
A shutdown may not be the best course. The NRWRP has a mandate to pursue reforestation on 33 thousand acres of denuded lands, 11 thousand of which are identified as watersheds. The programme, active since 2004, has replanted just short of 7,000 acres, and it remains unclear whether watersheds were identified as a priority for the project.
Reforestation is a common way for companies to demonstrate a commitment to the environment through public tree-planting ceremonies and as a way of appearing to respond to shocking environmental gaffes like the quarrying that endangered the ASA Wright sanctuary, so there’s clearly a need for more of it, properly done. Perhaps part of the problem is the patina of subvention that accompanied the programme’s implementation.
In March 2011, Minister Moonilal was equating the reforestation programme with Cepep, promising that among 60 workers about to be laid off, some might be accommodated in the reforestation project. In January this year, the former Environment Minister drew another line connecting Cepep with reforestation work, planning to use both resources to do reforestation works after the devastating floods in La Seiva in November 2011.
This misunderstanding of the potential of the NRWRP reforestation initiative and the ways it might be designed to create a mindset of nature awareness and sustainable employment unnecessarily limits its development potential.
If the workers of the NRWRP believe that once they have finished their planting exercise they will be out of work, it shouldn’t be surprising that barely a fifth of the replanting exercise has been completed since the project began eight years ago. If they were being trained to become forestry professionals charged with reforestation, then the project might evolve quite differently.
On the way to achieving their formally stated goals, committed NRWRP professionals might have an opportunity to become better informed about the forest they work in, learn from ecologists, biologists and wildlife specialists about the environment they are rebuilding, while crafting and maintaining tourism-focused nature trails. That level of engagement might lead them to become invested in the care of natural spaces as a sustainable livelihood.
That understanding and involvement set fire to the kindling of possibility at Grande Riviere when residents realised that saving turtles could save their community. Changing the essential underpinnings of this relationship between the workers of the Government’s reforestation project and their work would shift the focus of the NRWRP from a make-work project to a making-lives project, first for its participants and ultimately, for all who would enjoy our nation’s forested environments.
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