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Green Entrepreneurship, an Approach for Biodiversity and Climate Change Mitigation

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.

Fast facts:

  • 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

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The problem

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 solution

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 FairWild scheme.

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 precipitation.

Helping people

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.

Spillover effect

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 protected.

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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