A recipe for Indian home cooking to help mitigate climate change

Photo: GIZ India

Photo: GIZ India

Extraction of fuelwood is a foremost driver of forest degradation in India. An IKI project specifically designed for the forestry sector is addressing India's ecosystem and biodiversity conservation goals as well as the Nationally Determined Contribution (NDC). The project presented the endeavor to "climate proof" Indian homemade cooking through sustainable fuelwood management at the United Nations Forum on Forests in New York.

Bobita does it as her mother does it and her grandmother did it and all her ancestors before: going to the woods, 4 times a week, collecting firewood for cooking; from Assam's picturesque forests surrounding one of the famous tea plantations where she and her family call home. Although there is subsidised LPG gas available, using it for cooking, does not give the traditionally slightly burned taste to the national bread called chapati every Indian loves. And it still costs more compared to the firewood from the forest.

For sure, sustainable lifestyles are still common among rural Indians - but the unsustainable extraction of fuelwood is a frightening driver to the alarming pace of forest degradation in India.

What to do about it? India has submitted ambitious NDC commitments, the most ambitious probably being the goal to create an additional carbon sink of 2.5 to 3 billion tonnes of CO2 equivalent through additional forest and tree cover by 2030. The 'reduction in consumption of wood/biomass as fuel' shall be a way to achieve the goal of 'Reducing emissions from forest degradation through sustainable fuelwood management'.

Precisely, this is what India´s first Forestry NAMA supports with a Pilot-Implementation in 4 districts of Assam: The Energy and Resources Institute (TERI) is the implementing partner for the pilot in the districts of Sonitpur, Nagaon, Dibrugarh and Cachar. To get all parties on board, the project is collaborating with Assam Forest Department, Assam Energy Development Agency and Assam Branch of India Tea Association among other stakeholders. 

More than 72% of Assam's households use fuelwood for their daily cooking.  It seems to be available in plenty and is easy to collect, though the depletion and degradation of Assam´s forest resources are already visible. At the same time, as delicious as traditional slightly burned chapatis taste, Bobita's family is feeling the heat, the fuelwood smoke is bad for the eyes, the nose, respiration and general health. Furthermore, it´s collection and the requirements of firewood cooking consume a significant amount of their time, which can be used in more productive ways.    

Bobita`s family is among the 15,000 households with roundabout 75,000 members that will get access to clean cooking energy to reduce smoke within their homes and improve health in particular of women and children. Further, it reduces their dependence on forests for fuelwood thereby reducing forest degradation. This will also reduce drudgery for women. These efforts will be supported further by developing business models of activities for self-sustenance - and overall at least 84.000 tCO2e will be reduced by 2021.

The approach was showcased at the 14th Session of the United Nations Forum on Forests (UNFF) on 6th May 2019 in New York. The side event displayed the tools of the Indo-German bilateral project "Development and Management of NAMA in India", financed by the German Ministry for Environment (BMU) under the International Climate Initiative (IKI) and jointly implemented by India's Union Ministry of Environment, Forest and Climate Change (MoEFCC) and GIZ.

The event was jointly organized by MoEFCC, GIZ and TERI and chaired by Dr. Siddhanta Das, Director General of Forests, at the MoEFCC. He highlighted that up to date more than 300 million people in India are dependent on forests for their livelihoods.

Mr. Kundan Burnwal, Technical Advisor, GIZ India highlighted that the project will address the demand as well as the supply side of fuelwood management by deploying fuelwood saving technologies and in parallel increasing earmarked fuelwood plantations in the region. There are about 500 forest villages and about 800 tea estates in Assam that could benefit from the project. To accelerate change, the project will develop a fuelwood decision support tool that will support investment decisions on the best type of fuelwood saving technologies matching local conditions.

Mr. Noyal Thomas, Inspector General of Forests, Government of India, speaking on the policy and regulatory regime said, 'Assuming, for example, that Bobita´s family will adopt clean cooking technology but would still want to prepare Chapatis in the traditional way with fuelwood, they could benefit from state policies associated with raising sustainable fuelwood plantations in the state'.

Thus, Bobita´s family and their neighbors in Assam now see a way to contribute to India's ecosystem and biodiversity conservation goals by generating rural livelihoods while also improving the forest-based raw material supply needed for continued economic growth - as well as practicing a recipe for Indian home cooking to help mitigate climate change.