Expanding the Green Lungs

The Trees Outside Forests in India program is helping boost the country’s natural environment and economy by nurturing trees in farms, cities and parks.  

By Michael Gallant

July 2023

Expanding the Green Lungs

The Trees Outside Forests in India program works to enhance tree planting in the country’s regular farming system, where farmers nurture saplings alongside other crops. (Photograph courtesy Sakshi Gaur/CIFOR-ICRAF)

Trees fill beautiful forests across India—but they also grow in countless other places, from the biggest cities to the smallest villages. 

A new collaboration between the governments of India and the United States seeks to increase the number of trees in urban and rural areas, fighting climate change and helping local communities in the process. 

The Trees Outside Forests in India (TOFI) program was launched in 2022 as a collaboration between India’s Ministry of Environment, Forest and Climate Change and the U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID). The multimillion-dollar partnership was created to help farmers, businesses, and community organizations plant trees to cover 28 lakh hectares of non-forest land. 

The newly-planted trees are expected to help India remove almost half a billion tons of harmful carbon dioxide from the atmosphere in the coming years. More trees across India will also help purify water and stabilize natural habitats for many species.

Greener farms

“Growing trees is one of the easiest and most sure-shot ways to address climate change,” says Varghese Paul, deputy director for environment at USAID India, and the lead for TOFI. “At the same time, it provides other social and economic benefits like enhanced income for farmers.”

The TOFI program will help farmers and other tree planters gain access to high-quality tree planting materials, guide them as they establish tree-based businesses, help them access the technical and market information they need to be successful, and connect them with finance and insurance resources that can help their tree-farming activities thrive. 

Through the TOFI program, Paul expects to enhance tree planting in  the country’s regular farming system, where farmers nurture saplings alongside other crops. 

Increasing stakeholders

Paul says the program will collaborate with Dabur India Limited, an Indian consumer goods, pharmaceuticals and cosmetics company, to provide quality seedlings and technical information to farmers participating in TOFI and offer to purchase products of medicinal and aromatic value from farmers. More partnerships with private companies are coming soon, he adds. 

“The program can support a vibrant tree-based economy that is inclusive and combines ecological security with economic prosperity and environmental sustainability,” says Y. Madhusudhan Reddy, principal chief conservator of forests-wildlife and chief wildlife warden for Andhra Pradesh.

Paul has seen great enthusiasm for the program across multiple Indian states. In addition to Andhra Pradesh, he says that organizations from Tamil Nadu, Odisha, Rajasthan, Haryana, Uttar Pradesh and Assam have contacted USAID for tree-planting collaborations. 

Odisha’s minister for environment, forest and climate change, Pradip Kumar Amat, says the TOFI program aligns with the state’s efforts to augment its green cover. “A notable growth in green cover over the past two years is an outcome of the Government of Odisha’s unwavering commitment to improve the natural environment. The Trees Outside Forests in India program is well placed to supplement and reinforce existing efforts to increase farmer incomes and also make agriculture more climate resilient.”

Fighting climate change and supporting local communities takes commitment and effort, and Paul encourages the youth to get involved. “Many youth and youth organizations are at the forefront of the fight against climate change and raising awareness about it,” he says. “Interested youth can join TOFI campaigns and outreach efforts to expand tree cover.” Readers can reach out to Sakshi Gaur (s.gaur@cifor-icraf.org), communications specialist at World Agroforestry, USAID’s implementing partner for TOFI.

Michael Gallant is a New York City-based writer, musician and entrepreneur.

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