Green Entrepreneurship, an Approach for Biodiversity and Climate Change
Undertakings in the Western Ghats forests of India show how biodiversity conservation can be
effectively turned into profitable businesses. The Green
Entrepreneurship project is organizing the harvest of oilseeds from forests for the regional
production of biodiesel, and is promoting the sustainable collection of wild medicinal fruits for
the global market.
- 400 hectares of private forest preserved
- 1,000 marginal farmers benefitted
- Sole initiative in India that leverages private finance for biodiversity conservation and
climate change mitigation
Deforestation is the second-largest contributor of greenhouse gas emissions worldwide, thus driving climate
change. Yet underdeveloped communities living in and near ancient forests have a great incentive to cut
down trees and sell them as lumber for cash to survive.
Forests in the Western Ghats mountain range in southwestern India represent a biodiversity hotspot, rich in
flora and fauna that is not found anywhere else in the world. Yet, engaging businesses in biodiversity
conservation has been a challenge, as companies don’t see a ready economic benefit to preservation.
In terms of biodiesel in India, production is mostly based on cultivation of exotic species – a setup
that largely benefits large corporations and the government.
The Applied Environmental Research Foundation (AERF) is working with
foundations (Critical Ecosystem Partnership Fund,
Praj Foundation) and the private-sector company
Innoventive Industries to sponsor incentives for Western Ghats
communities to choose conservation over extraction. Green Entrepreneurship is engaging local communities in
collection and processing of bedda nuts from native Bahera trees, to produce oil to substitute for diesel
in industrial uses. AERF is also promoting sustainable collection of soapnut and medicinal fruit under the
Helping the planet
Since bedda nuts, soapnuts, and medicinal fruits are wildcrafted from large, mature trees, turning a profit
relies on preservation of the environments in which these trees can thrive. Thus, conservation is converted
into small-scale, economically viable business. This reduces pressure on local communities to concede lands
for logging, and spurs investment in such businesses.
On the biodiesel side, focusing on harvesting seeds from already existing native trees also promotes
protection of the forests. Preservation of Western Ghats forests allows the forests to continue to play a
critical role in water conservation, and positively influences broader climatic phenomena, like
Such forest conservation agreements are particularly attractive to Western Ghats communities because they
come with a self-renewing source of cash. The medicinal wildcrafting provides a higher level of income than
other forms of extraction, while small-scale diesel production contributes to rural fuel security. The
scheme as a whole is providing jobs in the villages, both permanent and seasonal.
The decentralized, native species-based biodiesel resource centers have already increased in scale from
their initial formation. While 20 hectares of forest were conserved in the project’s first year, this
jumped to 100 in the following two years. Now, in the project’s fifth year, 400 acres are being
The project has the potential to continue scaling up and to protect the more than 25,000 hectares in the
Western Ghats from deforestation. Implementing this model demonstrates how biodiversity conservation can be
made profitable, which could spur further projects in other regions.
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