Planting trees, uprooting livelihoods: Compensatory afforestation and forest governance in Odisha, India

Authors: Laura Valencia*,
Topics: Anthropocene, Indigenous Peoples, Asia
Keywords: Afforestation, Plantationocene, South Asia, Livelihoods, Political Ecology
Session Type: Paper
Day: 4/4/2019
Start / End Time: 3:05 PM / 4:45 PM
Room: Senate Room, Omni, West
Presentation File: No File Uploaded

India’s compensatory afforestation (CA) policy requires parties seeking to divert forest land for non-forest uses to offset deforestation by planting trees elsewhere. An exponential increase of forest-land diversion in the past decade has led to an accumulation of offset payments with the central government totaling 7 billion USD (and counting). Forest departments will use this fund to acquire and afforest millions of hectares “waste” and “degraded” lands in the coming years, often essential to forest-dwelling communities for grazing, agroforestry, and non-timber forest produce collection. I focus on livelihood impacts of mining companies’ CA plantations in two districts of Odisha. In one, CA plantations have been taken up for 15 years, with organized resistance from diverse forest-dweller communities since 2010. In the other, vast land banking for afforestation is currently underway, often linked with mines from my first site (500 km away). Through spatial and ethnographic methods, I show that CA contradicts India’s decade of forest tenure reform which sought to decentralize and decolonize forest governance. CA instead signifies the expansion of the financial and territorial power of the forest bureaucracy, while ignoring (and inhibiting) the continued protagonism of forest-dwelling communities in forest regeneration. These concerns align with political ecology, discourse of the Plantationocene, and literature of indigenous resurgence/decolonization. I bring these concepts together at the CA site to explain how plantations foreclose on multispecies forest livelihoods at various stages of their establishment, and to highlight the “patches of livability” (Tsing et al., 2017) that persist in spite of them.

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