India’s Commitments to Increase Tree and Forest Cover: Consequences for Water Supply and Agriculture Production within the Central Indian Highlands

Clark, Benjamin D; DeFries, Ruth S.; Krishnaswamy, Jagdish

As part of its nationally determined contributions as well as national forest policy goals, India plans to boost tree cover to 33% of its land area. Land currently under other uses will require tree-plantations or reforestation to achieve this goal. This paper examines the effects of converting cropland to tree or forest cover in the Central India Highlands (CIH). The paper examines the impact of increased forest cover on groundwater infiltration and recharge, which are essential for sustainable Rabi (winter, non-monsoon) season irrigation and agricultural production. Field measurements of saturated hydraulic conductivity (Kfs) linked to hydrological modeling estimate increased forest cover impact on the CIH hydrology. Kfs tests in 118 sites demonstrate a significant land cover effect, with forest cover having a higher Kfs of 20.2 mm h−1 than croplands (6.7 mm h−1). The spatial processes in hydrology (SPHY) model simulated forest cover from 2% to 75% and showed that each basin reacts differently, depending on the amount of agriculture under paddy. Paddy agriculture can compensate for low infiltration through increased depression storage, allowing for continuous infiltration and groundwater recharge. Expanding forest cover to 33% in the CIH would reduce groundwater recharge by 7.94 mm (−1%) when converting the average cropland and increase it by 15.38 mm (3%) if reforestation is conducted on non-paddy agriculture. Intermediate forest cover shows however shows potential for increase in net benefits.

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Ecology, Evolution, and Environmental Biology
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January 28, 2022