When the Great Depression devastated the world in 1929, closing businesses and rendering millions out of jobs, President Franklin Roosevelt put three million men to work in national parks across the United States. The men earned a living wage reforesting the parks, creating fire breaks, and improving irrigation and drainage.
South Korea too supported economic recovery in the aftermath of the Korean War (1950-53) and the financial crises of 1996 and 2008 by creating jobs to restore degraded forest lands. Since 1973, the country’s focus on forestry has enabled it to plant over 10 billion trees, increasing its forest cover by 63 percent and providing $184 billion worth of public benefits – or 12 percent of its GDP.
Can India do something similar today? Can it generate productive employment for the innumerable migrants who have returned to their villages due to the pandemic, while also conserving the country’s natural resources and restoring its dwindling forest base?
“We need to seize the moment,” emphasized Dr. Sanjay Kumar, India’s Director General of Forests. Speaking at a recent webinar on Growing Back Greener organized by the World Bank’s India office and the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN), he said,
“Evolution never happens in a uniform manner. Changes are cataclysmic, and it is these changes that bring about a change in the world order. This maybe a period for such a change.”
Today, every dollar spent on restoring the landscape has the potential to generate at least $9 in economic benefits. In the US alone, ecological restoration is a $9.5 billion industry, employing 126,000 people and indirectly generating $15 billion and another 95,000 jobs (IUCN).