The Western Ghats is one of the eight hotspots of biological diversity in the world and is spread across six states—Gujarat, Maharashtra, Goa, Karnataka, Tamil Nadu and Kerala. The forests in the Western Ghats are the water towers of peninsular India. As many as 58 major rivers originate here, including the sacred Godavari, the Cauvery and the Krishna.
In the last six decades, the forest cover in the Western Ghats has been severely fragmented due to human activities. People started clearing the forest for growing tea and coffee and for teak plantations. With an increase in human activity and urbanisation, a whopping 40 percent of the original forests is lost in Karnataka, Kerala and Tamil Nadu.
The ghats not only sustain 50 million people, but they are also home to about 4000 species of flowering plants, 645 species of evergreen trees, about 120 species of mammals, 500 species of birds and many reptiles, butterflies and fishes.
To understand the worth of the forests in the ghats, a team of experts from the Indian Institute of Science, Bengaluru and Indian Institute of Technology, Mumbai visited the forests and studied the villages in the Uttara Kannada district of Karnataka. The results of their findings were astounding. Just one square km of forest in Uttara Kannada provides close to Rs 7.38 million worth of timber, about Rs 1.1 million worth of fuelwood and Rs 3.2 million worth of medicinal plants and fruits. Add to that, the recreational benefits from Dandeli and Anshi protected areas which are part of a tiger reserve are worth about Rs 11.37 billion. If all these benefits come from just a portion of the forest, then one can imagine the value of over 1,29,000 sq km of the Western Ghats!
Putting an economic value on goods and services provided by these forests will aid in their conservation as economic valuation is found to be a powerful tool to advocate and champion conservation.
Considering human lives are tightly interwoven with the ecosystem, planning any infrastructure or development projects without recognising them can be detrimental to human lives.
‘Lets Invest in Nature’ (#LetsInvestInNature) is a special series of video stories designed by the Indo-German Biodiversity Programme. It is dedicated to estimating and mainstreaming the true economic value of biodiversity in business-related decisions and policy making. Watch this short video for more information.