The Central India Landscape is home to approximately a fifth of the world’s remaining wild tigers. In the heart of this landscape lies the Satpura-Pench wildlife corridor. This mosaic of agricultural land and forest creates a wildlife corridor that allows vulnerable species like tigers, leopards, sloth bears and red-headed vultures to move between protected areas safely. But this landscape is under threat from infrastructure development and pressures to transform to more intensive, industrial farming practices that could destroy the wildlife corridor. In 2021, WWF and H&M Group started a regenerative farming partnership project to support small holder farmers in this region that would benefit people and nature.
Satpuda Pench lies within central India, a landscape containing some off the largest remaining forest tracts in India. These forests in combination with low-intensity agricultural areas form an interconnected landscape that allows wildlife corridors for animals to move between protected areas. This area is home to indigenous people and other local communities, and unique cultures, agriculture and livelihood systems. Cotton production is an important part of the economy here with India being one of the largest producers of cotton in the world and this is the primary cash crop for most farmers. But how can cotton’s environmental footprint be lowered? It all depends on how farmers produce the cotton and manage their land. Addressing the threats that industrial growth, urbanization, and poor land management pose to the Satpuda-Pench region is therefore an overlapping priority for H&M Group and WWF.
To contribute to protecting this important area, the WWF and H&M partnership project is supporting small-holder cotton farmers to adopt regenerative agriculture practices that enhance on-farm biodiversity, support healthy ecosystems and produce more sustainable cotton- thereby reducing the impact of the clothes we wear. The project also aims to boost soil health, increase agricultural productivity, lower input costs and improve farmers’ livelihoods, as well as helping to maintain vital wildlife corridors. The approach is called REEVA –regenerative, ecologically and economically viable agriculture.
The Satpura Pench Corridor in Central India Landscape covers an area of roughly 2500 square kilometers. Here, agriculture accounts for almost 40% of land-use and forms the backbone to the economy of the area. The agricultural fields, interspersed with forest areas, form ecologically viable corridors that can be used by tigers and other wildlife such as leopards, sloth bears and red-headed vultures to travel safely between.
”The fantastic thing with this project is that it will have so many positive outcomes. Farmers will get more money for their crops, reduce their costs and improve soil health on their farms. Animals will be able to continue moving freely along unfragmented wildlife corridors. And at H&M Group, we will be able to buy regenerative cotton, reducing our impact and helping us to achieve our goal of only sourcing recycled or more sustainably sourced materials by 2030.” – Jennie Granström, Biodiversity Lead, H&M Group
But Industrial growth and urbanization are fragmenting the forest cover and disrupting connectivity in the wildlife corridors. The landscape is amongst WWF global’s priority regions for conservation, especially for tigers and WWF India have been working in this region for many years within a variety of different initiatives. Small-scale commercial farming in the landscape is becoming increasingly unviable due to low income and limited resources causing farmers to increasingly sell or convert their land to other forms of land use.The small-scale diverse agriculture practised in the region, if sustainably managed, provides an opportunity for co-existence of farmers and forests – we cannot afford for this production model to disappear.
Figure 1:Map of Satpuda-Pench Corridor
To date, 3000 farmers are involved in the project with the aim of reaching 6000 by the end of 2025. Trainings have been held for farmers on nutrient and pest management preparations using natural fertilizers and pesticides over chemical ones. Reducing the use of chemical fertilizers and pesticides has also led to lowered input prices for the farmers as they don’t have to spend money buying chemicals and can produce these natural inputs from local resources easily available on the ground. 19 bio-input centers have been created so far. Farmers have also received trainings on regenerative field management practices with regards to soil, water and crop management. Some of these methods incorporate crop diversification, and creating habitats where beneficial insects are directed to certain plants over others. One example is marigold crops which have been sown in between cotton crops with the purpose of keeping the pests away from the cotton plants. Much remains to be done, but through these actions, we can contribute to keeping Satpura Pench corridor as a mosaic landscape where both wildlife and communities can flourish.
2021: Planning and stakeholder engagement
2022: Regenerative practices trialed with 150 pilot farmers.
2023: 3000 farmers brought on board and using Regenerative practices.
2024-2025: Aim to scale up to 6000 farmers.
This initiative provides an exciting opportunity to demonstrate how conservation organizations and corporate partners can collaborate to deliver positive outcomes for biodiversity and nature loss through work with small-scale farmers on regenerative production. Work in this landscape is important in its own right, but will also help inform further efforts by H&M Group and WWF on nature-based solutions that can restore critical habitats and reverse biodiversity loss.
We want to show that it’s possible to create a sustainable agricultural landscape- where people and nature can thrive.
The time to rebalance our relationship with nature is now.