The Great People's Forest of Eastern Himalayas – one of the largest reforestation initiatives in South Asia – launches today
September 2, 2023
- This historic initiative aims to raise US$1 billion, plant 1 billion trees and protect and restore 1 million hectares of land while placing the Eastern Himalayan ecosystem – and the 1 billion people who rely on it – on the global conservation agenda.
- Led by the Balipara Foundation of Assam and global environmental leader Conservation International, the Great People’s Forest will be delivered by a network of leading local organisations from Northeast India, Bhutan, Nepal and Bangladesh.
NEW DELHI, India (Sept. 2, 2023) – A million hectares of land will be protected and restored by communities across the Northeast India, Bhutan, Bangladesh and Nepal in a historic initiative inspired by India’s historic G20 presidency, announced today in New Delhi.
The Great People’s Forest of the Eastern Himalayas, one of the largest restoration and conservation efforts in the history of South Asia, is a partnership between Conservation International of Washington DC, USA and the Balipara Foundation of Assam, India. This initiative seeks to raise US$1 billion, plant 1 billion trees and restore and protect 1 million hectares of land across the Eastern Himalayas, from the mountains to the mangroves, indirectly benefiting around 1 billion people who depend on this connected ecosystem.
An unprecedented network of local organisations will work together to deliver this project, born out of over a decade of cooperation and knowledge sharing through the Eastern Himalayas Naturenomics™ Forum.
The Eastern Himalayan region spans the mountains, valleys, plains and delta of Northeast India, Bhutan, Nepal and Bangladesh. It is a massive single connected ecosystem, with its two major rivers – the Ganges and Brahmaputra – fed by the glaciers of the world’s tallest mountains. These rivers meet to form the world’s largest delta in Bangladesh, which is in turn guarded by the world’s largest mangrove forest in the Sundarbans. It is a region of staggering ecological significance, representing over a twelfth of all biodiversity on the planet, including two biodiversity hotspots.
It is also a region of vital significance to humanity, home to some of the most densely populated areas on Earth with 1 billion people relying directly on its land and water for their livelihoods and survival. Despite this, the region’s status as an environmental and societal asset of global importance has not been matched by international awareness of its significance, nor investment in its protection and restoration. But there is an urgent need for greater awareness as every year 100,000 hectares of tree cover is lost in the region. Just last year, 1.5 million people in the region were displaced by extreme weather events. By 2050, a third of its glaciers could be lost as a result of climate change, with devastating consequences for those living in the valleys and along the rivers below.
The Great People’s Forest initiative is an urgent response to the shared challenges of climate change and biodiversity loss, through which local conservationists are joining together to protect the region they call home. Partners from every corner of the Eastern Himalayas are putting forward oven-ready plans for the urgent scaling of their work to protect and restore their forests for the benefit of people and the planet. All of the conservation work undertaken through this mission will prioritise the lives and livelihoods of local people, with a pro-nature and pro-economy approach. The initial implementing partners of the project will be:
- The Ashoka Trust for Research in Ecology & the Environment
- The Balipara Foundation
- The Energy and Resources Institute
- Bhutan Trust Fund for Environmental Conservation
- Bhutan Ecological Society
- Green Hub
- Friendship NGO
Ranjit Barthakur, President of the Balipara Foundation, said: “This historic effort will put the Eastern Himalayas, and the 1 billion people who rely directly on it, on the international conservation agenda. The Great People’s Forest is our movement to protect the region we call home. India’s G20 presidency has encouraged us to design this ambitious, creative initiative and we hope to better the lives of the people who rely on the land and water of this beautiful region.”
Dr. Richard Jeo, Senior Vice President of Conservation International-Asia Pacific, said: “People have rightly highlighted the urgent plight of the Amazon and the Congo Basin. But we don’t speak with anywhere near the urgency we should about the Eastern Himalayas and its vast ecological significance for the planet. The people of the Eastern Himalayas are some of the most climate vulnerable on our planet, threatened by melting glaciers, rising sea levels and ever more frequent and more violent storms. And they have contributed only the tiniest fraction of the historic emissions that have caused the climate crisis that they are now on the frontlines of. The Great People’s Forest is their response to this crisis and its historic ambition and scale should rightly bring international attention to the ecological importance of this region. We are excited to partner with the Balipara Foundation, regional partners and India’s G20 presidency to design and deliver this historic initiative.”
Quotes from Implementation Partners:
Runa Khan, Founder & Director of Friendship NGO, said: “Mangroves are a source of livelihood for millions. The communities living near the Sundarbans know the value of mangroves and indigenous communities can balance the biodiversity and ecosystem. Uncontrolled demographic growth and over extraction of resources and land depletes the forest ecosystem, weakening the natural protection provided to lives and land against cyclones and natural disasters, destroying livelihoods in the long run.
"Green infrastructure provides the first line of defence, protecting grey infrastructure such as embankments whose erosion causes untold sorrows. The coveted mangroves provide livelihoods in the form of fish, honey, crabs, shrimps, medicinal plants and fruits. Over the past decades, cyclones, tidal surges and salinisation have been intensifying and lives and livelihoods are being ruined due to salinisation and repeated disasters. Mangroves are a natural barrier against these disasters, shielding the people and their land and helping communities flourish.”
Anita Arjundas, Executive Director of the Ashoka Trust for Research in Ecology & the Environment (ATREE), said: “Over 350 new species were discovered in the Eastern Himalaya alone between 1998 and 2008, equating to 35 new species found every year, and many species are still unknown. This mega-biodiversity region with high endemic species is under great threat. The Great People’s Forest initiative is best poised to generate knowledge, conserve and restore much of the threatened biodiversity for future generation and for enhancing ecosystem services benefiting over a billion people.”
Dr. Vibha Dhawan, Director General of The Energy and Resources Institute (TERI), said: "In the heart of the Eastern Himalayas, a powerful initiative takes root, offering hope for our planet's vital ecosystems. The Great People's Forest, a partnership between Conservation International and the Balipara Foundation, signifies unity in the face of environmental crisis. Urgently restoring a million hectares of land across India, Bhutan, Bangladesh and Nepal, it addresses both climate challenges and the well-being of over a billion people dependent on this region.
"TERI recognizes this effort as pivotal, amplifying existing restoration work in the Northeast. Beyond borders, it unites communities for ecological resurgence. As climate threats grow, the Eastern Himalayas' significance deepens. The initiative extends beyond planting trees; it's about nurturing resilience, preserving lifelines and securing civilizations. The Eastern Himalayas merit action, demanding our commitment. TERI supports The Great People's Forest—a pledge for the future we desire, for ourselves and generations ahead."
Rita Banerji, Founder and Project Director of Green Hub, said: “Through the Green Hub project we have been working with empowering youth to engage with conservation action and social change. To scale up work for a sustainable future, especially in the eastern Himalayas, collaboration is core. The Great People’s Forest initiative is a great step in this direction, keeping restoration and youth at the centre of it.”
Dr. Karma Tshering, Managing Director of Bhutan Trust for Environmental Conservation, said: “Bhutan has long played a key role in fighting the climate crisis by putting the environment first, recognising how important the environment is for the wellbeing of its people. The Bhutan Trust Fund for Environmental Conservation has played an integral role in this proud history, as the world's first trust fund for the environment. We are keen to be part of the Great People's Forest initiative and through it, support the scale, expansion and growth of restoration efforts in Bhutan and protect its rich, biodiverse forests for the country's future.”
Dr. Nawang Norbu, Founder and Executive Director of Bhutan Ecological Society (BES), said: "The climate crisis needs to be addressed at multiple scales, with urgency, intent and ambition. The Bhutan Ecological Society intends to play its part. By planting 10+ million trees by 2030, the partnership with GPF will enable BES to build rural prosperity while helping Bhutan remain carbon negative and climate positive."
About Conservation International: Conservation International protects nature for the benefit of humanity. Through science, policy, fieldwork and finance, we spotlight and secure the most important places in nature for the climate, for biodiversity and for people. With offices in 30 countries and projects in more than 100 countries, Conservation International partners with governments, companies, civil society, Indigenous peoples and local communities to help people and nature thrive together. Go to Conservation.org for more, and follow our work on Conservation News, Facebook, Twitter, TikTok, Instagram and YouTube.
About Balipara Foundation: Balipara Foundation is focused on a community-based approach to conservation which uses a proprietary approach, Naturenomics™ (Nature + Economics). Building on the principle of ecology is economy, the Foundation equips Eastern Himalayan communities making them stalwarts of change in the region. These changemakers conserve and manage their natural assets, creating resilience against the climate crisis for both biodiversity and people.
About Friendship NGO: Friendship is an international Social Purpose Organisation guided by a vision of a world where people—especially the hard-to-reach and unaddressed—have equal opportunities to live with dignity and hope. Friendship’s vision is almost unchanged for over 20 years and is more relevant than ever in a world facing increasing global challenges such as exclusion from vital services, environmental crisis, extreme poverty, inequality and injustice.
About Ashoka Trust for Research in Ecology and the Environment (ATREE): Ashoka Trust for Research in Ecology and the Environment (ATREE) is a nonprofit organisation which generates interdisciplinary knowledge to inform policy and practice towards conservation and sustainability. For over two decades, ATREE has worked on social-environmental issues at local policy levels. ATREE envisions a society committed to environmental conservation and sustainable and socially just development. ATREE's mission is to generate rigorous interdisciplinary knowledge for achieving environmental conservation and sustainable development in a socially just manner, to enable the use of this knowledge by policy makers and society, and to train the next generation of scholars and leaders.
About The Energy and Resources Institute (TERI): TERI is an independent, multidimensional organisation, with capabilities in research, policy, consultancy and implementation. They are innovators and agents of change in the energy, environment, climate change and sustainability space, having pioneered conversations and action in these areas for over four decades. Their research, and research based solutions have had a transformative impact on industry as well as communities. TERI has fostered international collaboration on sustainability action by creating a number of platforms and forums. We do this by translating our research into technology products, technical services, as well as policy advisory and outreach.
About Green Hub: Green Hub is an initiative that seeks to engage and empower young individuals in conservation education, climate sustainability, and social change using the visual medium. Through this endeavour, they aim to establish a digital repository of wildlife, environmental, and indigenous knowledge, fostering sustainable livelihoods within the community. By harnessing the potential of youth as catalysts for change, Green Hub envisions a future where ecological security forms the foundation of a healthy and robust economy. Their mission involves scaling up ideas and actions for a socially equitable and ecologically sustainable world, leveraging technology to accelerate progress.
About Bhutan Trust for Environmental Conservation: The Bhutan Trust Fund for Environmental Conservation (BTF) is the world’s first environmental trust fund, established in 1991 as a collaborative venture between the Royal Government of Bhutan, United Nations Development Program, and World Wildlife Fund. An endowment of US$20 million was set as the target for an innovative mechanism for sustainable financing of conservation programs in Bhutan. Its vision includes promoting the socio-economic welfare of Bhutanese citizens by funding conservation of their flora, fauna, diverse ecosystem and biodiversity; and addressing the adverse effects of development on Bhutan’s natural environment
About Bhutan Ecological Society (BES): Bhutan Ecological Society is a nonprofit organization that connects science, business, and policy with the goal of building and sustaining resilient communities and functional landscapes. Leveraging the power of enterprise, Bhutan Ecological Society aims to create and sustain functional physical environments (built and natural) that provide for human needs and foster prosperity, while ensuring the integrity of ecosystems.