Creating value from standing forests for healthy business, climate and communities in India

Conservation of biodiversity rich forests by establishing scale-able community based certified value chains

Photo of Jayant Sarnaik
0 3

Written by

Eligibility Criteria

  • I confirm that I am fully aware of the eligibility criteria and terms of the Act for Biodiversity Challenge and that I am eligible to apply.
  • I am 18 years old or older.

Initiative's representative name

Jayant Sarnaik

Initiative's representative date of birth


Initiative's representative gender

  • Man

Headquarters location: country

  • India

Headquarters location: city


Where are you making a difference?

1) Bhimashankar Wildlife Sanctuary, Tal-Ambegaon, Dist-Pune 2) Devrukh, Tal- Sangameshwar, Dist.Ratnagiri 3) Mahajane, Tal -Alibaug , Dist-Raigad 4) Taleran, Junnar block, Dist-Pune

Website or social media url(s),

Date Started

July 2012

Project Stage

  • Growth (have moved past the very first activities; working toward the next level of expansion)

Yearly Budget : What is your current yearly budget for the initiative?

  • €100k - €250k

Organization Type

  • Hybrid

1. Founding story: Share a story about the "Aha!" moment that led the founder(s) to get started or the story of how you saw the potential for this project to succeed.

While tackling challenges of biodiversity conservation, we always felt the absence of business community as a key stakeholder. We worked on quite a few models starting with creating a private reserve through purchase of forests, however it was difficult to raise capital. So we looked at options to maximize the value of non-timber forest produce, it is at this point that we met Sebastian Pole- Founder of Pukka Herbs - leading herbal tea company in Europe. He was keen about setting up sustainable supply chain for his products in India. In one of the field visits , we saw Giant trees of Terminalia bellirica with a pair of Great hornbill. Quite a few products were made from fruits of this tree. We looked at each other and the deal was struck!

2. The problem: What problem are you helping to solve?

Avoiding deforestation for saving biodiversity in the Western Ghats biodiversity hotspot is the problem we are trying solve. This problem exists due to poor understanding about the role biodiversity plays in human well being among the key stakeholders. It is imperative to stop deforestation as forests are critical for regulating climate and ecosystem services such as freshwater, pollination and clean air provided by them are key for survival of human beings and many other species.

3. Your solution: How are you working to solve this problem? Share your specific approach.

We have been working to address the challenge of deforestation using economic tools. For farmers it is a very simple equation to understand. The money they get from logging contractor for clearing the forest needs to be either matched or it should be higher. Understanding this we launched India's first incentive based forest conservation initiative in the Western Ghats in 2007. Through this initiative, we sign a conservation agreement with the forest owner for not cutting the forests for a period of 10 years in lieu of direct monetary incentive and a year around employment to at least 2 persons in the village. Though we struggled with the initiative initially due to perception issues and small support, it took off in year 2010 and now has reached 22 villages resulting in conservation of 7000 acres of private forest. However this was only the first step in solving the problem. We realized that ensuring sustainability of this initiative is critical. In absence of functioning carbon market, we needed alternative mechanisms to generate revenues to sustain conservation of these lands. Thus we formed a conservation enterprise-Nature Connect for building a business case for biodiversity.

4. Innovation: How are you innovating or using unique approaches to solve the problem?

The innovation in our approach is at 5 different levels 1 ) investing in conservation of forests- the very foundation of the supply chains 2) Building capacity of local communities in building supply chain that are ecologically sustainable and meet the quality norms of the global market 4) Promoting Great Hornbill as flagship of the conservation enterprise 5) Using FAIRWILD certification for maximizing the value of forest resource. Our research showed that large trees that provide nesting habitat to Hornbills were chopped down due to lack of understanding about the value creation potential its fruits have. Our study indicated that a certified value chain based on sustainable collection of fruits would save the trees and the hornbills.

5. Collaboration: How does your initiative seek to bring key players together to preserve biodiversity?

Our initiative could break new ground mainly due to collaboration between 4 different and key stakeholders- local communities ( resource owners), private sector ( Pukka Herbs, Nature Connect ), research institutions ( DICE, UK validation of approach/data) and civil society( AERF-execution) right from the beginning. It was critical understand and match expectations of all the partners. Importantly, we shared a common vision - achieving biodiversity conservation through commerce. In absence of which achieving following milestones would not have been possible a) Establishing India's first FAIRWILD certified enterprise 2) Setting up two certified value chains at two different locations 3) empowering indigenous communities as suppliers of certified material of international quality standard 4) Achieving business growth with FAIRWILD certification 5 years in a row . We as suppliers of certified natural products would engage mainly with private sector for investment to save biodiversity.

6. Impact: how has your project made a difference so far — in terms of both business outputs and social impact? How do you plan on measuring progress?

In the first year of FAIRWILD certification, the initiative brought 6 old growth forests and 12 community owned resource areas under conservation management. Some 20 registered collectors received training in sustainable wild collection and organic processing. In the first year, the enterprise managed to collect and process 4.5 tonnes of Terminalia chebula fruits and 4 tonnes of Terminalia bellirica fruits from the certified resource area at two different locations. In year 5, the initiative's footprint grew by 2.5 time and brought 15 old growth forests and 30 community resource areas under sustainable management. The collection and processing volumes for both the species had increased to 11.5 tonnes and 12.7 tonnes respectively in year 5. The economic benefits of these activities were reaped by 45 families belonging to indigenous community at one site and to 25 marginal farmer families at the other location. We measure impact on biodiversity and economic growth as indicators.

7. Growth strategies: what are your main strategies for scaling your impact?

We will be adding economically important high conservation value species to the FAIRWILD certification program as we scale up our business model. Secondly, we intend to use innovative approaches such as branding to bring visibility to certified forest products and grow revenues in the retail market. We would be bringing out novel products for targeting large number of consumers and to make efficient use of the raw material for production a reality as the scale goes up. We would expand our geographic focus to bring more diversity in the product offerings. Lastly, we would build a strong business case for biodiversity by launching novel products which will help us attract large investment in standing forests and biodiversity conservation.

8. Creating shared value: How does your initiative create value for society? Or different stakeholders?

Our initiative creates monetary visibility to biodiversity and thus brings it on radar of financial institutions. Secondly, it creates sustainable value from standing forests. This offers long term benefits to the resource owners as well as society as large since standing healthy forests provide many critical ecosystem services such as freshwater, pollination, carbon sequestration free of costs. Since the initiative is about business case for biodiversity, it improves the brand value of stakeholders engaged in this initiative. It is in this manner that our initiative create value to each stakeholder.

9. Financial sustainability plan: can you tell us about your plan to fund your project and how that plan will be sustainable in the short, medium, and long term?

Financial sustainability of conservation focused business model depends on using right kind of finance mechanism. Knowing well that such initiatives will take longer time than business as usual cases to achieve break even, we mobilized resources from institutions and donors for whom socio-ecological returns on investment were more important than financial returns. Secondly, we maintained our leadership position being the only FAIRWILD certified operation in South Asia by building reputation as a reliable supplier of certified material in the global market and explored the full value chain. It helped us secure long term supply contracts and realize higher profit margins. When scaled up, the initiative is bound to attract impact investment.

10. Team: what is the current composition of your current team (types of roles, qualifications, full-time vs. part-time, board members, etc.), and how do you plan to evolve the team’s composition as the project grows?

Our team is composed of field researchers, botanists, community experts, chemical engineers and entrepreneurs. We draw upon the expertise and credibility of our associate non-profit - Applied Environmental Research Foundation in the field of biodiversity conservation. Most of our team members work full time but are paid partly. As we grow we will hire professionals from the field of management, e-commerce , finance.

11. How did you hear about this challenge?

  • Social media

12. Connection to Biodiversity: How does your project directly contributes to preserving and/or restoring biodiversity? Please share data to support your answer.

The project contributes to biodiversity conservation by bringing old growth forests with significant population of fruiting trees of Terminalia bellirica ( target species) under FAIRWILD certification. Once certified different species across taxa are managed for conservation. For example. one certified resource area as small as 2.5 hectares contributes directly to conservation of 87 large trees of Terminalia bellirica. In addition the same resource area provides critical habitat to 50 species of plants, 66 species of birds, 28 species of butterflies, 10 species of amphibians and 7 species of reptiles. Importantly, out of 15 certified resource areas, 5 resource areas provide nesting habitat to Great hornbill and Malabar pied hornbill called as Farmers of the forests. In addition, the certified sites are home globally threatened species of birds, amphibians and mammals ( Indian pangolin). Total 250 hectares of biodiversity rich forests are being conserved through this initiative.

13. Example: Please walk us through one or two concrete examples that show how your solution will solve the problem you’re trying to address.

We are trying to address the major threat to biodiversity - deforestation by developing supply chains from standing forests in the Western Ghats. We understood that communities lack necessary skills, infrastructure and access to market for turning sustainable biodiversity use into a viable livelihood alternative. For example- prior to our intervention, local people used to chop down big trees of Terminalia bellirica and sale it as minor timber. Through our initiative, we are engaging around 80 community members in sustainable collection and processing of fruits of these trees among 18 different communities. In this manner, we are saving about 1200 large trees of Terminalia bellirica and some 3000 trees of Terminalia chebula. Typically a registered collector is engaged in mapping the trees, collection and processing of fruits as well as looking after the certified resource area from which he is allowed to collect the fruits. Locals take care of documentation required for processing too.

14. Marketplace: Who else is addressing this problem in your environment? How does your proposed project differ from these other approaches?

At present there are few initiatives in India that are focusing on developing products based on medicinal plants that are offered in the local market. Other initiatives are engaged in honey collection and marketing. None of these however address the problem of deforestation even remotely or nor do they offer direct incentives for keeping the forests standing to the owners. Our initiative is unique in the way that it established two value chains at the grass root level that have earned reputation in the global market. Secondly, the initiative is implementing the provisions of Nagoya protocol concerning ABS mechanism and also contributing positively to biodiversity conservation. The value chains developed through the initiative are inclusive, transparent, scale-able. Importantly, the model is very well suited for decentralized governance. It is the first initiative where in local communities receive a premium price for their harvest for adopting sustainable collection practices .

15. Awards & Recognitions: What awards or recognitions, if any, has the project received so far?

The project was shortlisted for the finals of the Equator prize in 2015. The applicant was AERF. In 2018, the project entered finals of MoMo for Climate- an impact investment competition organized by IUCN NL. The project established south Asia's first FAIRWILD certified operation in 2015. It won the Darwin Initiative grant in 2013. It was was selected as model project for implementation of ABS mechanism by State Biodiversity Board of Maharashtra.

16. Financial Sustainability – funding breakdown: Please list a quick breakdown of your funding, indicating an estimated percentage that comes from each source.

The initiative is currently funded through CSR grant and conservation bridge grant. It's contribution to overall budget is 75%. The rest 25% is managed through revenues from the enterprise and promoters contribution.

17. How do you plan to influence your field of work if you are a winner of the Act for Biodiversity Challenge? How would you invest the prize money to leverage your work?

If selected as winner, we would give a loud and clear message to the key stakeholders- forest owners, logging contractors and investor community- that business case for biodiversity conservation is a viable proposition and that it is scale-able as well as replicable. We would like to use the prize money to reward the communities who have adopted the sustainable collection practices as well as to strengthen the local biodiversity management committees located near the certified resource areas for improved management of the biodiversity at village level. In addition, we would use the prize money to train lot more number of knowledge holders and entrepreneurs engaged in promoting forest based products in sustainable collection and hygienic processing protocol as per the international standard. It will help us expand our footprint and promote conservation focused enterprise in other areas.
View more

Attachments (4)

NCI-Value chain booklet final.pdf

Diversity of forest based products brings the necessary flexibility to and builds resilience to the business model

Certificate MoMo finalists '18_Nature Connect India.pdf

The certificate is evidence that the Nature Connect's business model has found appreciation among the impact investor community at global level.


It is an article published in a journal of American Botanical Council about how the conservation enterprise- Nature Connect is helping save threatened giant trees and Great hornbills- famously known as farmers of the forests- in the Western Ghats through its business activities.


Join the conversation: