Healthy Forests for Healthy People – International Day of Forests with students of Auckland House School, Shimla

Shimla: International days are occasions to educate the public on issues of concern, to mobilize political will and resources to address global problems, and to celebrate and reinforce achievements of humanity. The existence of international days predates the establishment of the United Nations, but the UN has embraced them as a powerful advocacy tool too.

Every year on March 21, the International Day of Forests, also called World Forest Day, is celebrated to promote environmental awareness across the globe. In addition to commemorating the green cover around the world and its importance, the day reminds us of the importance of forests in our daily lives.

Forests cover one third of the earth’s land mass, performing vital functions and supporting the livelihoods of 1.6 billion people. Forests are home to more than half of the world’s land-based species of animals, plants, and insects. They combat climate change because of their capacity to remove carbon from the atmosphere and store it, which is called forest mitigation. By feeding our rivers, forests supply drinking water for nearly half of the world’s largest cities. They also provide shelter, jobs and security for forest-dependent populations, besides acting as buffer to shield the impacts of storms, floods and avalanches.

Today the challenges are many, global deforestation continues at an alarming rate. During the period 2015-2020, almost 10 million hectares of forest were converted to other land uses each year, an area roughly the size of Iceland. Thus, the challenges are many and solutions few, and in order to highlight such issues, we celebrate the International Day of Forests on March, 21each year.

The theme of this year focused on ‘Forest and Health’ – We benefit a lot from forests, when it comes to our health issues. We benefit because the forests purify the water we drink, cleans the air we breathe, capture carbon to fight climate change and global warming, provide food and medicine for our well-being, and improve our well-being in general. Therefore, it is up to us, to safeguard these precious forests for maintaining our benefits and at the same time sustaining them for future generations.

Himalayan Forest Research Institute (HFRI), Shimla in partnership with the Himachal Forest Department (Wildlife Wing) celebrated the International Day of Forests, at the HFRI campus at Panthaghati. Earlier planned to be held in the serene locale of the Western Himalayan Temperate Arboretum at Potters Hill, got a venue shift due to the inclement weather prevailing in the region for some days now.

Participation was about 100 students and faculty from Auckland House School, Shimla, which included Class 10 students accompanied by their science faculty, Scientists, and research staff from HFRI.

The program was presided by the Director, HFRI, Dr. Sandeep Sharma, who while speaking on the occasion, stated that the Himalayan forests are the reservoir of rich biodiversity and are deeply embedded into the lives of the local communities. He also cautioned that due to the increased anthropogenic activities in the form of rapid development is posing a serious threat to the forests, resulting in biodiversity loss. Dr. Jagdish Singh, Head Extension, HFRI welcomed all the participants and apprised about the theme of this year’s International Day of Forests. The importance of the theme in this programme is to discuss and create awareness among all stakeholders, he said.

As Coordinator, I provided a brief about the programme along with some background to the theme. I, specifically, reflected on how communities and the forests are inter-dependent, providing insights to the innumerable ecosystem services provided by forests. Reiterated, that it was a global celebration, a platform to raise awareness of the importance of all types of forests and celebrate the ways in which they sustain & protect us.

The key note address was delivered by Padmasree, Sh. Nek Ram Sharma, also referred to as the “Millet Man”. Sh. Nek Ram Sharma is Himachal’s sole Padma Shri awardee of 2023, and has been conferred with this fourth highest civilian award for his distinguished service in the field of agriculture, especially natural farming and reviving traditional ‘Nau-Anaj’ intercropping method. His lecture was an amalgamation of poetic, humor, and knowledge about the “ethnic food” of the region. He truly left a lasting impression on the audience.

Open discussions, skit, speech, and experience sharing by the young participants made the celebration more interactive and livelier. The overall motive of celebrating this day was to spread awareness regarding the preservation and protection of our forests.

Later, the participants were taken along the various trails of visited the institutes, various laboratories and herbarium to experience the research being conducted, and also learn about the latest instruments being used for research.

Forests’ impact one and all across the planet, thus, we must put sincere efforts to reduce forest loss and degradation and take care of this natural resource. This day helps us in spreading the word of importance about the forests and the invaluable benefits it provides.

It enlightens us about the fact that these forests are under tremendous pressure from habitat destruction, climate change, over-exploitation and pollution. The day also provides an opportunity to celebrate the beauty and diversity of the planets forests and to recognize the important role they play in our lives.

“Let us join hands to save forests because without them, this planet would be a dead one.”

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