Meet the Indians

The Catch22, Agroforestry has succumbed to

Haryana at 3.59%, Punjab at 3.65% and Uttar Pradesh at 6.09% are few of the states in the country with minimum forest cover area, also because a lot of its land is dedicated to the huge industries and IT giants other than widespread areas surrendered to agriculture. These are also the states which are being accused of contributing pollution in the capital. Vague as it appears but the entire agriculture sector is the second largest contributor of greenhouse gases, coming only next to energy and heat production and strangely it surpasses the contribution what transport sector contributes in making the globe hotter.

It is one of the biggest catch 22 of the agriculture sector. The ecosystem removes CO2 from atmosphere by sequestering carbon in biomass, dead organic matter, and soils, offsetting approximately 20% of emissions from this sector and contributes another 24% to heat it up. But that 24% can be well taken care of, if every stakeholder joins hand and work to fight this challenge. 

As discussed in the last article [ which unwinded the mystery of how a native of north americas ended up in India ], this piece is an effort to understand what kept the North Indian farmers growing it for the past 4 decades and what happened suddenly that left them addled. Here is a video which speaks verbatim, but before that there are several points which are to be noted.

Wimco Seedlings is a unit of ITC PaperBoards & Specialty Papers Division (PSPD), which also happens to be the largest pulp and paper manufacturer in the country, producing more than 4 lac MT of pulp and 7 lac MT of paper and paperboards. ITC PSPD is also the largest entity in the country to grow farm forestry and social forestry plantations across the country and to purchase more than 1.5 million MT of wood from farmers, under its farm forestry programmes in the state of Telangana, Andhra Pradesh and Karnataka. Having such access of market in South India, farmers are switching to Agroforestry however, in North India, the conditions are little different.

A farmer named John of Chanden farms, Rudrapur, Uttarakhand says, “ Wimco officials have been helping us ever since we started to plant our first Poplar tree.” John is the first farmer of Uttarakhand who planted 200 poplar tree at his farm when everyone else mocked at him for planting leafless stems of poplar at his farm. John’s valour bore fruit when after 8 years he received the first sum from the trees, which was Rs. 10,000 per quintal. John’s story is not unique. The profits in this agroforestry spread like forest fire and other farmers including D S Randhava and Manjeet Singh received prices in the range of Rs. 900 – 1,100 per quintal.

These farmers did not force themselves into agriculture, they took agriculture as their modest choice, also because they knew and experienced farming is not un-profitable. 

The regular research and development by Wimco Seedlings guided them the best to reap the most. Concurrently, the farmers grow sugarcane in the first two years followed by wheat crop till the harvesting of Poplar plantation, which maintains the quality of soil as well as helps them to secure net profit of Rs. 10,000 per acre/annum. To enhance this number, around 8 Acre of ITC’s Poplar and Eucalyptus research farm in Rudrapur is being experimented with other crops including potato and peas. The awaited result from potato is anticipated to touch the net profit in the range of 15k-20k per acre/annum.

Wimco 110 is best clones of Poplar which matures in 5-7 years of time. As per Wimco officials, other new and popular clones, which are highly demanded by farmers are WSL 22, WSL 32, WSL 39, WSL A/26, WSL A/49, Wimco 81, Wimco 83, Wimco 108 and Wimco109. Dr. J N Gandhi, Manager R & D, Wimco seedlings, ITC PSPD says, “Latitude of the locality, deep fertile and well drained soil with adequate irrigation facilities are the key to success for Poplar plantation. “

Its been 4 years”, said Manjeet Singh that he is struggling with the prices. John blames the deficiency of the ply industry in the region as compared with the growing poplar supply and a perplexed D S Randhava said, “ Price of ply are rising but we dont get the prices of the wood.” Much like any other commodity this commodity as well suffers from the ills of wicked middlemen.

Though there are problems which needs to be addressed quickly, there are few advantages in this practice, which cannot be ignored. Farmer D S Randhawa says, “ The best part about agroforestry is you get lump sum instead of price in instalments.” Manjeet Singh says, “It does not take much care and can be grown as a supplement to the wheat/ sugarcane crop.” And affirmative John says, “ Few lincenses for wood based industries have been issued lately and we are hoping that would compensate for our losses. “ 

The National Agroforestry Policy 2014, was welcomed with pomp and splendour when it announced India to be the first country in the world to have a policy on Agroforestry. But much of that seems to be remained on the papers, if the farmers, who are the first beneficiaries of the scheme do not feel aided by it. One of the agendas of the policy stated : Meet the raw material requirements of wood based industries and reduce import of wood and wood products to save foreign exchange. In 4 years of the existence of this policy, very few licenses have been issued, which have operationalised new wood based industries in the country. And still India imports around 8 million cubic meter of round wood and millions of tonnes of other wood based products, valuing at about 5 billion USD/annum, from different countries including China. 

Time and again, Policy initiatives like the National Forest Policy 1988, the National Agriculture Policy 2000, Planning Commission Task Force on Greening India 2001, National Bamboo Mission 2002, National Policy on Farmers, 2007 and Green India Mission 2010 have placed much emphasis on the role of agroforestry for efficient nutrient cycling, enhancing the tree, forests and vegetation cover and adding organic matter for sustainable agriculture. There is another Catch 22, where at one hand, the govt. wants trees and forests but is not helping the ones who are working towards it. The joint effort by the public and private enterprises remains to be one of the best efforts.

Exhilarated Dr Gandhi, who himself owns few acres of poplar adds to the conversation, “ Such kind of agroforestry could be very well an opportunity for long term investment. Even if someone leases the land and leaves it to these trees, with minimum care, the returns would be much better than what one could get from keeping the sum in banks.” 

Dr. Poonam Sharma, head, Wimco Seedlings says “ This is a cycle of the industry wherein glut is followed by exceptional prices. We have passed the down phase and the farmers can expect prices go exponentially north in the next 3-4 years.”

Agroforestry could be one of the solutions, which not only can help in bringing the balance in ecosystem but also can help farmers sustain and industries flourish, but only with proper support. Agroforestry can be regarded as the only possible alternative at present to meet the target of increasing forest cover to 33% from the present level of less than 22% as envisaged in the National Forest Policy (1988).

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