Standing on the banks of the River Narmada at our project site in the state of Madhya Pradesh in India.
River Narmada, India Standing on the banks of the River Narmada at our project site in the state of Madhya Pradesh in India. © Ashok Biswal

Stories in India

Hope for the River Narmada

The Nature Conservancy is creating science-led solutions to help conserve India’s iconic and sacred rivers for people and nature.

Standing on the banks of the River Narmada at our project site in the state of Madhya Pradesh in India, Project Associate Ashok Biswal and Ecological Economist Dhaval Negandhi take in the breath-taking view of the river meandering its way through thick forests into the far horizon. With clear blue skies above and scenic beauty all around, they are reminded of what’s at stake to conserve as they gear up for an ambitious and exciting journey of restoring this iconic and sacred river.

A view of the River Narmada in Central India, which supports millions of people living in its basin along with unique wildlife such as tigers, leopards, various species of dee
River Narmada The River Narmada in Central India, which supports millions of people living in its basin along with unique wildlife. © Ashok Biswal/TNC-India

Narmada is India’s 6th longest river flowing a distance of 807 miles through the Central Indian highlands, which is a globally significant biodiverse region that supports more than 30% of India’s tiger population. The river and its basin of 23 million acres provides water, food and livelihood to more than 25 million people, as well as supports roughly 8 million acres of forests. Restoring the Narmada is a national priority for India, and the government has launched a massive effort to undertake large scale reforestation activities along its riverbanks to protect riparian zones. Reforesting Narmada’s riverbanks would increase natural habitat and improve connectivity between important forests for safe movement of wildlife; contribute to India’s climate commitment of creating an additional carbon sink of 2.5 – 3 billion tonnes of CO2eq through reforestation; as well as create income and jobs for rural communities, along with providing ecosystem services.  

Guided by Science for Conservation

The Nature Conservancy is supporting the Indian Government’s efforts to reforest Narmada’s riverbanks by providing science-based pathways for plantations.

“We have conducted a scientific analysis of the entire Narmada basin and identified locations where plantation drives would have the maximum conservation benefit to the river and people, and improve survival rate. We have also identified the most appropriate native species for plantation which would benefit the people as well as nature.”

This is the first such study conducted at a basin scale and classifies sites along the Narmada and its tributaries based on the impact of land use, population and infrastructure development. Subsequently, it identifies sites that are degraded as well as the most suitable for restoration, thereby allowing the government and other stakeholders to deploy resources efficiently by prioritising degraded areas for restoration. This massive study was conducted in partnership with the Narmadapuram Division and Environmental Planning and Coordination Organisation of the Madhya Pradesh Government.

Ashok Biswal, who is overseeing the project on-ground, adds, “We also documented more than 200 species of native trees, herbs, shrubs, climbers and grasses that are best suited for plantation along the Narmada. This has been published as a book that also documents how each plant benefits the people, biodiversity and river hydrology; along with information on where it should be planted in a riparian zone.”

Community members fencing off a portion of the riverbank to prepare for sapling plantation during the monsoon.
Fencing on River Narmada Community members fencing off a portion of the riverbank to prepare for sapling plantation during the monsoon. © Ashok Biswal/TNC-India

This book “Common Plants of the Riparian Zones of River Narmada” is a first of its kind publication that can be used by any stakeholder interested in scientifically undertaking conservation efforts along the Narmada’s riparian zones. It has been endorsed by the Chief Minister of Madhya Pradesh Shri Shivraj Singh Chouhan, who contributed a message for the people in the book as well as released it at an event in Hoshangabad.

 “Our endeavour will be to disseminate this book to all district governments of Madhya Pradesh through which the Narmada flows, regional NGOs, local communities, and businesses and corporates to encourage scientific plantation activities for maximum conservation impact,” says Ashok.

Proving Success on the Ground

Scientific research alone cannot lead to conservation unless its applicability is proved on the ground. To demonstrate the effectiveness of this science, we are implementing a reforestation project along a 3 mile stretch of the Narmada by planting roughly 50,000 tree saplings. This would create an additional natural habitat of roughly 125 acres, sequester close to 4,500 Metric tonnes CO2 over 10 years (equivalent to taking 1000 cars off the road), and benefit close to 3,000 people through income generation and ecosystem services.

Our long-term vision is to catalyse reforestation along the entire length of the Narmada by providing this science-led, tried and tested reforestation model to state policy makers, businesses, NGOs and local communities. Restoring just 10% of Narmada’s riverbanks in the Central India state of Madhya Pradesh would create 5,500acres of rich natural habitat and improve wildlife connectivity, directly benefit over 100,000 people and sequester approximately 200,000 MtCO2 over 10 years.