Economic study pegs value for Sundarbans and other tiger reserves

Tiger reserves may not be solely about conservation. They also have tremendous economic value, the first ever Economic Valuation of Tiger Reserves in India, published by the Centre for Ecological Services Management (CESM) and Indian Institute of Forest Management, Bhopal, a couple of months ago has revealed.

Of the six reserves studied, Sundarbans Tiger Reserve (STR) sequestrates the highest volume of carbon. This was valued at Rs 46.2 crore per year. The service provided by STR in moderating cyclones is also worth Rs 27.5 crore per year. 

“The current study on ‘Economic Valuation of Tiger Reserves in India: A VALUE+ Approach’ with support from the National Tiger Conservation Authority is a first-of-its-kind study in the world. The study attempts to provide an assessment of economic benefits from tiger reserves across a range of tiger landscapes in India. While a large proportion of benefits that these tiger reserves provide are difficult to estimate, the study provides quantitative and qualitative estimates of those benefits which manifest their important but unaccounted national and global contribution. These findings provide adequate justification for enhanced investment in such areas which is critical to ensure continued flow of vital life-supporting ecological, economic, social and cultural services from these genetic repositories,” Prakash Javadekar, Union minister of state (independent charge) for environments, forests and climate change wrote about the report. 

According to the report, the total forest cover in the Indian Sundarbans is 2,585 square km. Declared a biosphere reserve in 1989, STR has at least 1,586 species of Protozoa and Animalia apart from 69 floral species belonging to 29 families. Nearly 270,000 people live in the 46 fringe villages around STR.

The report notes that STR is a source of regular employment for the local communities living in the vicinity. In 2013-14, a total of 157,600 man-days were generated by the tiger reserve for various management activities in which local communities were involved. “Conservatively using the wage rate for unskilled labour of Rs 206 per man-day prevalent in the area, the economic value of employment generated by STR is estimated to be Rs 3.25 crore per annum,” the report states. 

“The economic value of fish caught from STR is approximately equal to Rs 160 crore per year. It may be noted that this estimate is still conservative. It does not account for quantity of crabs and prawns caught from STR which are sold at premium to fish. It doesn’t include the quantity of fish caught for self-consumption or the inputs that shrimp farms receive from STR as seeds. Considering that fish is the main source of protein for the underprivileged communities living around Sundarbans, the economic value of STR for fishing is very significant — economically and culturally,” it adds. 

The study has also estimated that STR has nearly 31.43 million cubic metres of standing stock of timber. The market price of this has been estimated at Rs 62,870 crore. This is significantly higher than Corbett, Ranthambore, Periyar, Kaziranga and Kanha, the other five tiger reserves included in this study. It has also been estimated that STR has carbon stock of more than 22.38 million tonnes.

“Based on a recent study by Yale University that has estimated the social cost of carbon for India the total economic value of carbon stored in STR is estimated to be Rs 2,410 crore,” it has been noted. 

The net biosphere-atmosphere exchange of carbon in the Sundarbans has been estimated at 2.79 tonnes per hectare per annum. Assuming this rate of carbon sequestration across the entire forest area (1,538 square km) of STR, the annual quantity of carbon sequestered in STR is nearly equal to 0.43 million tonnes. Using the social cost of carbon for India the total economic value of carbon sequestered in STR is estimated to be RS 46.21 crore per annum. 

Another important value that has been estimated is the cost that needs to be considered for providing waste assimilation service to Kolkata. The city doesn’t have a sewage treatment plant and the Sundarbans provide this service.

Taking the population of Kolkata at 4.5 million, it has been estimated that the city would require a sewage treatment plant of 250 million litres a day. Considering the costs involved in operating such a plant, the economic value of waste assimilation services attributable to STR for Kolkata city alone is nearly Rs 150 crore per year, the report states.

Sundarbans Biosphere Reserve director Pradip Vyas believes that this study is a move in the right direction. “Eco-system services are going to be really big in the future. Such studies will help people realize the importance of the mangroves. Maybe, some day, people living in Kolkata will be ready to pay for protection of the mangroves. A study in Odisha after the Super Cyclone revealed that loss of life was nil in places where mangroves existed. Where mangroves had been destroyed, loss to life and property was colossal. If the mangroves in the Sundarbans are lost, the fish catch will also go down by 60-70 per cent. Take the case of Catskills’ catchments that have been supplying clean drinking water to New York city for ages. New York has now started sharing a portion of what it saves to farmers in the Catskills to keep the catchment area clean,” he says.

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