A common thread runs between the Indus Valley Civilization, the Rig Vedic age, the Chipko Movement and the Padma awardee Jamuna Tudu.

    Yes, that’s right! It is their love and respect for trees and forests. The people of the Indus Valley Civilization and the hymns of the Rig Veda revered forests and wildlife. The participants of the Chipko Movement realised the importance of forests and hugged them to prevent their felling. More recently Jamuna Tudu achieved a similar feat and saved around ten thousand trees from the timber mafia.

    Thus, since time immemorial, our civilization has had respect and admiration our environment. This is reflected in our vernacular saying, ‘Van hi jeevan hai’, i.e., forests themselves are our life. These forests provide us with materials to sustain life like oxygen, food, water and shelter. But more importantly we can learn several lessons from them that can make our life more pleasant and meaningful.

    Forests and economic excellence

    Forests are the best-case studies for economic excellence in several ways. Firstly, they use the resources available to them in the most efficient manner. For instance, we have never heard of a case where a plant took more sunlight or oxygen than it needed. However, that is not the case with humans. Our government gives higher subsidy on urea compared to other fertilisers. This has led to our farmers only providing urea to the crops irrespective of which nutrients the soil is lacking.

    Secondly all the products of a tree have multiple uses. The bark can be used to build furniture or extract items like rubber, the leaves of some are edible like mahua, or give fruits like mangoes. We can learn from this and manufacture goods with multiple uses. This would ensure innovative manufacturing which can help boost employment and lower costs to consumer.

    Thirdly Balance is another lesson we can imbibe from forests. Various species of trees grow together in a forest. There is no domination of one over the other and they exist in sustainable cohabitation. Similarly, our economy should be a balanced one. One sector should not dominate over the other, like it happens in our country where 54% of the population works in agriculture.

    Fourthly there is also diversity and variety in forests. Various kinds of forests are found all around the world - Tropical evergreen in Mexico, deciduous in India, coniferous in Canada etc. Each has its own utility and such diversity is enriching. The economy of a nation should also be diverse in its production, consumption and export. It should not be just an oil economy, like Kuwait or a labour-exporting economy, like Vietnam. Such dependence proves very harmful when crisis like the COVID-19 pandemic knocks on our doors. Economist Raghuram Rajan has thus aptly observed that ‘diversity is the foundation of a strong economy.

    But perhaps the most important lesson that forests can teach us is that of adaptability and resilience. Forests are always adapting to the changing weather, climate and even disasters like cyclones. The trees shed their leaves during winters and close their stomata to control evaporation during summer. The world economy has to imitate this example, especially in today’s time when some or the other crisis is always around the corner.

    Relevance today - A stitch in time saves nine

    The world is facing a poly-crisis today. Economically, the pandemic took away several jobs. Nations are now becoming ‘fortress economies’, not letting in firms of other nations. Economic borders are contracting, not only for goods and services, but also for human resources. Add to that the Russia-Ukraine war, which has wreaked havoc by disrupting global supply chains.  

    Environmentally, climate change is the greatest peril for the entire human race. As per the UN Environment Programme, it would hamper food security, worker productivity and the extreme disasters would destroy infrastructure and take lives. We saw this play out in the Pakistan floods of 2022 and more recently, when Cyclone Biparjoy made its landfall in Gujarat.

    Socially, we see inequality persisting in the society. As per the Oxfam Report, top 3% in India own more than 50% of the nation’s wealth. The falling ranks in the Global Hunger Index also shows the grim effect of such inequality and poverty.

    In such a gloomy situation, the teachings from forests would be our glimmer of hope. All of the learnings mentioned before, if learnt, would ensure the best use of our scarce resources and enable us to tide over such hiccups. A balanced, diversified economy would raise the standard of living of the people by taking them out of the disguised employment of agriculture. It would also manoeuvre the economy of India out of services or the software exports, into other domains like handicrafts, textiles, infrastructure etc. Imbibing these lessons is thus the need of the hour

    Learning from the best

    We are now aware of the teachings that we need to emulate. But how should we emulate them? Our government has already taken some steps to achieve economic excellence at par with the forests.

    For adapting to crisis, the PM Garib Kalyan Anna Yojana was rolled out, so that the vulnerable have a safety net during the lockdown. An amount of Rs. 500 was also given, for three months, to women Jan Dhan account holders. Moreover, the Insolvency and Bankruptcy Code was paused to save businesses from vanquishing.

    The share of employment of people in manufacturing is being improved through schemes like Start Up India, Stand Up India and MUDRA. With this, India will see a number of sectors contributing to the GDP, not just the agriculture.

    For diversity, like in forests, the PLI scheme and the One District, One Product has been launched. Finally, to tie all of them up together and ensure efficient utilisation of resources, the Gati Shakti masterplan has been rolled out by the Ministry of Finance.

    In a nutshell

    Forest indeed is the best-case studies for economic excellence. We only used to consider them as providers of food, air and shelter, but now we know we can learn so much more from them - in life and in economy. The Indus Valley and the Rig Vedic people had knowledge about this and therefore, worshipped them. Let us take a cue out of their books and try to put to use the various values that forests teach us. That would help us lead a fruitful life and also stay true to our ancient wisdom -

    “Vruksho Rakshati Rakshitah”

    (The trees would save you if you save them.)

    Must Check: Best IAS Coaching In Delhi