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Limited effects of tree planting on forest canopy cover and rural livelihoods in Northern India


Many countries have adopted large-scale tree planting programmes as a climate mitigation strategy and to support local livelihoods. We evaluate a series of large-scale tree planting programmes using data collected from historical Landsat imagery in the state of Himachal Pradesh in Northern India. Using this panel dataset, we use an event study design to estimate the socioeconomic and biophysical impacts over decades of these programmes. We find that tree plantings have not, on average, increased the proportion of forest canopy cover and have modestly shifted forest composition away from the broadleaf varieties valued by local people. Further cross-sectional analysis, from a household livelihood survey, shows that tree planting supports little direct use by local people. We conclude that decades of expensive tree planting programmes in this region have not proved effective. This result suggests that large-scale tree planting may sometimes fail to achieve its climate mitigation and livelihood goals.

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Fig. 1: Study site.
Fig. 2: Cumulative number of active tree plantations.
Fig. 3: The effects of plantations on land cover.
Fig. 4: Boxplots for plantation-use outcome measures.

Data availability

Replication data and materials for this analysis are available in the Data Repository for University of Minnesota:

Code availability

Replication code for statistical analysis is also available in the Data Repository for University of Minnesota:


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We thank our field researchers for data collection. B. Lawrence assisted with geospatial processing tasks. Research was funded by NASA Land Cover and Land Use Change (LULUC): NNX17AK14G, which supported the work of all authors.

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Authors and Affiliations



F.F., E.C., V.R., H.F. and P.R. conceived the study, and F.F. oversaw data collection. V.R. led survey data collection and V.G. and R.R. contributed. A.F. and B.G. oversaw geospatial processing, with A.M. contributing. E.C. and B.S. designed and conducted the data analysis, with feedback from other authors. E.C. led revision of the final manuscript, and B.S., V.R., H.F., P.R., A.F., B.G., C.R.S. and F.F. contributed to writing the manuscript and Supplementary Information.

Corresponding author

Correspondence to Eric A. Coleman.

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The authors declare no competing interests.

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Peer review information Nature Sustainability thanks the anonymous reviewers for their contribution to the peer review of this work.

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Supplementary information

Supplementary Information

Supplementary Tables 1–15 (Landsat image classification accuracies), 16–23 (additional statistical tests and summary statistics) and 24–27 (robustness checks for household data using livelihood support and forest dependence) and Figs. 1–4 (summary data) and 5–8 (impacts for more forest cover outcomes).

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Coleman, E.A., Schultz, B., Ramprasad, V. et al. Limited effects of tree planting on forest canopy cover and rural livelihoods in Northern India. Nat Sustain 4, 997–1004 (2021).

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