In many low-income countries, rural populations faced great difficulties from COVID-19. As a result of lockdowns, people lost their income, was forced to return home from jobs in cities, and some were unable to access enough food. Rural populations often rely heavily on forests and local natural resources for their survival, particularly during times of distress. However, increased forest use may also lead to degradation, threatening longer-term human welfare and other environmental objectives.
The COVID-19 pandemic and associated lockdowns increased food insecurity in many low-income countries. Forest products and other local natural resources play a critical role in household responses to many kinds of livelihood shocks; however, intensified forest use risks forest degradation.
The situation offered an unprecedented opportunity to study the role of forest policy interventions in helping to safeguard human wellbeing alongside other sustainable development goals during times of great rural distress.
Aim and method
This project aimed to study the role of forest policy in helping to promote more secure and sustainable livelihoods in the context of the present shock. To do so, we built on an existing large dataset on forest use in north India.
Specifically, we analyzed satellite imagery to better understand how increased forest use had altered land cover since the pandemic, develop strategies to detect interaction of people with forests through satellite-image analysis, and undertook a survey of 600 households to understand how forest use had changed during the pandemic.
Toward that end, we collected new, time-sensitive data to build on a large existing dataset on forest use and policy interventions in Himachal Pradesh, India. Through analysis of satellite remote-sensing data, intensive livelihood surveys across 600 households, and systems modeling, we pursued the following specific objectives:
1) Quantitatively measure the extent of land-cover/land-use change (LC LUC ) within forest plantations during the C OVID-19 pandemic;
2) Remotely detect the interaction of people with forests as a quantitative measure of forest-plantation utilization;
3) Measure and understand the relationships between forestry policies, LC LU change, and rural livelihoods during the COVID-19 pandemic.
Results and expected societal values
This research contributed critical knowledge for building more resilient human-environment systems for recovery from the COVID-19 pandemic as well as other future livelihood threats resulting from climate change, market shock, and other stressors.
This knowledge is important for policy makers to devise strategies to recover from the COVID-19 pandemic as well as to confront many future challenges such as climate change, market shock, and other stressors.