Northeast India’s famed biodiversity under threat due to mismanaged growth
Though the northeast region, which covers 8 per cent of the country’s total geographical area, has around 65 per cent of the region’s 2,62,179 sq km area under forest cover but the region
GUWAHATI/AGARTALA: Though the northeast region, which covers 8 per cent of the country’s total geographical area, has around 65 per cent of the region’s 2,62,179 sq km area under forest cover but the region, according to experts, would not be spared from the effects of the changing climate and global warming.
Once considered as a biodiversity hotspot, the northeast region, comprising eight states, earlier received one of the highest rainfall in the country and was a top humid region of India.
Experts said that besides the effects of climate change and global warming, gradual declining of the forest cover and the number of water bodies, increasing urbanisation, expansion of human habitations, indiscriminate implementation of developmental projects and other activities are adversely affecting all aspects of human life, wildlife and nature.
Climate change and global warming have also adversely affected tea plantations in Assam, Tripura and other states for the last few years, experts said and said that without irrigation, tea plantations are finding it difficult to survive. The tea industry is the biggest organized industry in Assam and Tripura.
Assam, which produces roughly 55 per cent of India’s tea, has more than 10 lakh tea workers in the organized sector, working in about 850 big estates. Besides, there are lakhs of small tea gardens owned by individuals.
After Assam, Tripura is the second largest producer of tea in the northeastern region, producing around 10 million kg of tea annually on an area of 6,885 hectares.
Dr P Soman, agronomist and plant physiology expert, said that climate change is one of the top five challenges for the tea industry in Assam.
Noting that tea plantations are highly climate dependent, Soman, as a key speaker at a recent workshop in Assam’s Golaghat, explained “how changes in agronomy help micro irrigation technology to enhance crop performance.”
Various official and unofficial studies revealed that between 2001 and 2021, the northeast region witnessed the highest loss of forest cover.
According to India State of Forest Report 2021 (ISFR 2021), the forest cover in the 140 hill districts of the country has shown a decrease of 902 sq km (0.32 per cent) with all eight states of the northeast region, especially in the mountainous districts, also showing a decline.
Arunachal Pradesh, that has 16 hill districts, has shown a loss of 257 sq km forest cover compared to a 2019 assessment followed by Assam’s three hill districts (- 107 sq km), Manipur’s nine hill districts (- 249 sq kms), Mizoram’s eight hill districts (- 186 sq km), Meghalaya’s seven hill districts (- 73 km), Nagaland’s 11 districts (- 235 sq km), Sikkim’s four districts (- 1 sq km), and Tripura’s four districts (- 4 sq kms).
The total forest cover in the northeastern region is 1,69,521 sq km, which is 64.66 per cent of its total geographical area.
Incidentally, Assam, as a whole, has shown smaller negative change (- 15 sq km) compared to just three of its hill districts (- 107 sq km).
Experts said that the climate of the mountainous northeast region of India is changing with the rainfall patterns over the region in the last century having considerably altered, resulting in its overall drying up.
As per the Climate Vulnerability Assessment in 2018, among the eight northeastern states, Assam and Mizoram have been identified as the states most vulnerable to climate change.
Centre for Aquatic Research and Environment (CARE) Secretary and environment expert Apurba Kumar Dey said that as the effects of climate change are sweeping and multifarious, the government and all other stakeholders in close association with the people must jointly come forward to mitigate the situation.
Dey told IANS: “People living in remote and hilly areas, tribals, poor and vulnerable people, farmers are disproportionately affected by the climate crisis. From rice to tea, farming across the board has been affected by variations in temperature and rainfall, causing distress to the concerned people directly and the others indirectly.”
Principal Scientist of the Indian Council of Agricultural Research (ICAR), Sankar Prasad Das. said that extreme events of climate change including excessive rainfall, frequent floods, increase in the number of dry days and rainless days, repeated cyclones and hailstorm in a short period are more challenging and disastrous.
“Though the overall rainfall pattern in the region has not yet changed much, the distribution of rainfall has changed in the region. For some of the effects of climate change including rising temperatures, science and scientific arrangements are ready to tackle the situation for the next many years, but for the extreme events of climate change, we are not prepared,” Das told IANS.
He said that many crop varieties have been developed to sustain the rising temperatures and floods in a limited sphere.
Das said that in India there is only 50 per cent cultivable land under irrigation while 35 to 40 per cent cultivable land in the northeastern region is irrigated.
India’s northeastern region, home to 45.58 million people (2011 census), bounded by many beautiful hills with the sun rising amidst a valley, clouds floating by your side, the greenery rich area has something extraordinary to experience.
However, in the near future climatic conditions and the overall environmental milieu would face a serious threat in the northeastern region.
In the four-month long (June to September) southwest monsoon three of the eight states of the region — Assam, Manipur and Mizoram — witnessed deficient rainfall due to lack of rain-bearing clouds and monsoon troughs from the Bay of Bengal.
According to the India Meteorological Department (IMD), of the four IMD regions across the country, the northeast region has recorded 82 per cent rainfall in this year’s monsoon period.
Experts said that as per the long period average estimation, during the past three to four years, though the northeastern states witnessed normal rainfall, uneven distribution of monsoon rain has affected various crops in the region where agriculture is the mainstay.
According to the IMD data, Assam, Manipur and Mizoram during this year’s monsoon witnessed deficient rainfall while five other northeastern states — Arunachal Pradesh, Nagaland, Meghalaya, Sikkim and Tripura — have experienced normal rainfall since the southwest monsoon began in June.
In Arunachal Pradesh, Nagaland, Meghalaya and Tripura, there is 12 per cent to 16 per cent deficient rainfall while in Sikkim, 5 per cent excess rain has been recorded since June.
As per the IMD norms, up to 19 per cent deficient or excess rainfall is categorised as normal.
The IMD data revealed that in Manipur, there is 46 per cent deficiency, in Mizoram the shortage of rainfall has been recorded at 28 per cent, while Assam recorded 20 per cent deficit monsoon rain since June.
Senior technical officer in the Gramin Krishi Mausam Sewa under the ICAR, Dhiman Daschaudhuri said that rainfall in the four-month-long monsoon period in the northeastern region was more or less normal for the past few years, but proper distribution of rain has become a factor for agriculture.
“We have observed that there are dry spells at the beginning of the monsoon, affecting the seedling of the seasonal crops. Subsequently, sufficient or excess rain occurred. The imbalance of the monsoon rain affects the timely sowing of different varieties of rice and other crops,” Daschaudhuri told IANS.
He said sometimes after the dry spell, cyclone-triggered rain benefits cropping in the region. (IANS)