Biodiversity is critical for food security and agriculture. It provides vital ecosystem services, like maintaining healthy soils, pollinating plants, controlling pests and providing habitat for wildlife, crucial for food production. These natural ecosystem services act as vital support system for strengthening agriculture and allied sector livelihoods, thus helping rural households. Adoption of nature-based solutions that work for revival of such ecosystem services also mitigate climate vulnerability.
Biodiversity loss has accelerated at an alarming level over the past few decades. Studies show that one-fifth of the world's countries is currently at risk of an ecosystem collapse which threatens the livelihood of billions. One million animal and plant species are now threatened with extinction - the highest in human history. Rampant deforestation has converted vital ecosystems like the Amazon rainforest from carbon sinks into carbon sources. While the primary cause for biodiversity loss is human activity, including use of land for food production, climate change also plays an increasingly important role in the decline as it accelerates degradation of ecosystems like forests and increases the release of carbon into the atmosphere. Loss of biodiversity can have a direct impact on business operations, impacting resource quality and availability irreversibly.
Recognising the urgent need to preserve and restore biodiversity for the long-term sustainability of agriculture and in building climate resilience, ITC has spearheaded a largescale biodiversity conservation programme in its operational areas to help preserve the nation's rich biodiversity and ensure a sustainable future for local communities. The programme follows a 3-fold approach that:
ITC's Biodiversity Conservation efforts include revival of natural ecosystem services provided to agriculture, and community-driven biodiversity conservation at the watershed level. Additionally, ITC has implemented afforestation programmes for sustainable cultivation of wood as a fibre source.
ITC has collaborated with the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN) to develop 'Sustainable Agriscape for Future' in Munger district (Bihar). IUCN has taken up studies and surveys to identify key issues that affect the ecosystem service potential of the agri-scape and farm profitability.
As per the recommendations, ITC has promoted the plantation of more than 2.54 lakh native and commercial species trees suitable for embankment strengthening of traditional ahar and pyne system of irrigation and to reduce fuel and fodder pressures on forests from fringe areas. Conservation agriculture has been promoted in over 7,900 acres in fields on Ganga river banks to make best use of silt deposited in farm fields during floods and to minimise flood damage. Based on the learnings from Munger, the 'Sustainable Agriscapes' template is getting replicated in other catchments of ITC.
ITC is also driving biodiversity conservation with a focus on livelihood generation to ensure that communities understand and value the importance of biological diversity. As part of the programme, studies are undertaken to understand the current status of floral and faunal species' richness in the watersheds, plans prepared for landscape level restoration to improve green cover and native floral species' population and mosaic restoration to rehabilitate degraded common lands as biodiversity hot spots. Accordingly, ITC has implemented a large-scale community-driven biodiversity conservation work to improve biodiversity at the landscape level and to revive the natural ecosystem services.
The company has to date developed more than 5,100 biodiversity plots involving farmers and community members covering a total area of more than 2.9 lakh acres in 12 States. The work also includes getting encroachments released by community institutions from village commons across the plots, wherever need arouse, encroachments were cleared which was in a range of upto 5 acres/plot.
As per a study done by an independent consultant in Rajasthan, in a four-year period, ITC's biodiversity conservation work has led to improvement in floral and faunal diversity, availability of fodder for animals and improvement in groundwater table. Improvement was recorded in native plant species upto 16%, animal species upto 57%, grass production by 21% and groundwater table by upto 2 metres.
To expand the scope of biodiversity conservation work, ITC has formally partnered with the Forest Departments of Maharashtra and Telangana to improve forest cover and with the Wasteland Development Board of Rajasthan to revive and restore pasture lands.
In Maharashtra and Telangana, ITC is working with the Forest Departments in building the capacities of their staff to plan and execute soil and moisture conservation work to improve biodiversity within the forest and take up fringe area development outside the forest. These two partnerships aim to cover around 79,000 acres under forest conservation planning by Forest Department. Planning has been completed for over 14,100 acres, and planned activities completed in over 3,700 acres till date.
In Rajasthan, ITC has built capacities of the staff of the Wasteland Development Board and Panchayat Raj Institutions to identify village commons and plan and to execute restoration of commons, which is aimed to benefit around 2.5 lakh acres of village commons in the state. Till date, ITC built capacities for over 900 master trainers in biodiversity conservation aspects, post which they got biodiversity conservation work done in more than 3,600 villages.
ITC's Agri-Business identifies impacts and dependencies of business operations on biodiversity of a given agricultural landscape using the Biodiversity Risk and Opportunity Assessment (BROA) tool in its core crop-growing regions and operations near key biodiversity and eco-sensitive areas. Based on such assessments, the company has designed initiatives such as micro-irrigation promotion, farmer awareness programmes on pesticide, energy conservation measures, soil protection, and integrated pest management in crops in Andhra Pradesh and Karnataka. It has increased the scale and scope of crops under Sustainability Certification by bringing harvests such as chilli, cumin, turmeric, celery, coffee and mango under Rain Forest Alliance (RFA), Global GAP and Fairtrade certifications.
ITC's Paper Business has also committed to Forest Stewardship Council (FSC) principles and has got its pulpwood plantations and supply chain certified under FSC. Till March 2023, ITC has received Forest Stewardship Council - Forest Management (FSC-FM) certification for nearly 1.5 lakh acres of plantations involving over 25,000 farmers. ITC's afforestation initiative covering over 10 lakh acres and its support for Bamboo Cultivation in the country contributes to enhancing the green cover and reducing pressure on forests for wood requirements, whilst also generating 190 million person days of employment.
ITC has undertaken two technical studies through 'The Energy and Resources Institute' (TERI) and 'IORA Ecological Solutions'. These studies covered over 1 lakh acres of biodiversity conservation work done by ITC in two years across 7 states. The studies have recorded improvement in carbon stocks, i.e. carbon sequestered by trees, as well as floral and faunal biodiversity compared to control areas. The studies have recorded improvement in carbon stocks, i.e. carbon sequestered by trees, as well as floral and faunal biodiversity compared to control areas.
As part of its Sustainability 2.0 vision, ITC has committed to restoring degraded village commons & pasturelands and plans to enrich biodiversity in 1 million acres, which is also in line with ITC's commitment to conducting its operations in a manner that protects, conserves and enriches biodiversity.