Agri Business

Eucalyptus plantations, a balm for farmers and paper industry

Rohit Pandit | Updated on April 18, 2018 Published on April 18, 2018

Thrives on dry soil by conserving and not guzzling ground water, shows research

The Indian pulp and paper industry has agro forestry roots and strong backward linkages with the farming community, from whom wood, which is a key raw material, is sourced. India is a wood fibre deficient country. Inadequate raw material availability in the country is a major constraint for the domestic paper industry which impacts its cost competitiveness.

Over the last two decades State Forest Development Corporations (FDCs) and the industry worked with farmers to create a sustained wood resource base of more than three million hectares of plantations, under agro / farm forestry. About 70 per cent of these plantations is eucalyptus.

Higher productivity

Industry and FDCs invested in genetic improvement and development of highly productive and disease-resistant clones which quadrupled plantation productivity making it viable for farmers in terms of competitive land use.

Multiplication of clonal plants to raise eucalyptus agro/farm forestry plantation, is done with root trainer technology, which promotes lateral root system to enable root system to go only up to 1.5-2.0 metre soil depth. Every year around 150,000 hectares of eucalyptus plantation is raised creating around 70 million man-days of employment in rural areas.

A Centre for Science and Environment (CSE) Report (The Puzzle of Forest Productivity, 2017), says eucalyptus plantation yields more net income annually to farmers than almost 60- 70 per cent of agriculture crops. Eucalyptus plantation water use has been found to be 785 litres/kg of total biomass, which is one of the lowest if compared with tree species such as Acacia (1,323 litres/kg), Dalbergia (1,484 litres/kg) and agricultural crops such as paddy rice (2,000 litres/kg) and cotton (3,200 litres/kg).

Ground water & eucalyptus

In February 2017, the Karnataka government banned growing of eucalyptus plantations in private land in the State. Similar move has been started in Kerala and Tamil Nadu. These actions would have severe social, economic, industrial and environmental consequences and would also go against the objectives of National Forest Policy, 1988 as well as National Agroforestry Policy, 2014.

Based on the presentation of the studies and facts by the Indian Paper Manufactures Association (IPMA), the Ministry of Environment, Forests & Climate Change wrote to the Karnataka government asking it to reconsider its decision stating: “It is a well established fact that eucalyptus is an important tree species for agro forestry and farm forestry and is contributing as a raw material for pulp, plywood and fuel wood, besides giving good economic returns to farmers and tree growers and is also improving tree cover in the country. There are some concerns that eucalyptus depletes the ground water levels. However, there are no concrete studies to conclusively establish ill-effects of plantation of eucalyptus.”

In fact, many studies have pointed out that eucalyptus plantations do not absorb ground water and have no adverse impact on the water table. In a case before it, the National Green Tribunal (NGT) in its order dated July 20, 2015, stated that based on studies in different countries eucalyptus, one of the major farm forestry species, has no adverse environmental impact nor is it disastrous for water table, as it consumes less water per kg of total biomass generated versus many tree and agricultural crops. Also, eucalyptus is not a water-intensive species and does not drain waterlogged areas, as indicated by plantations raised in such areas in Uttar Pradesh.

Dinesh Kumar, a well-known scientist at the Indian Agricultural Research Institute, in his paper ‘Place of Eucalyptus in Indian Agroforestry Systems’ in a book on ‘Eucalyptus in India: Past, Present and Future’ (1986), highlights that eucalyptus are adapted to life in a dry or physiologically dry habitat have a low transpiration rate to prevent water loss. A report published by Vinayakrao Patil, titled ‘Local Communities and Eucalyptus - An Experience in India’ (1995), mentions that (a) eucalyptus does not compete for ground water and other nutrients with crops in its vicinity; (b) eucalyptus does not need plenty of water and does not drain away subsoil water; (c) eucalyptus does not cause degradation of land and does not hamper soil fertility.

It is, therefore, critical that eucalyptus plantations are raised, given its significant impact on wood availability, livelihood generation and carbon sequestration that addresses the challenges of global warming and climate change. It would be important to note that eucalyptus plantations under the agro/farm forestry programmes are not water guzzlers as is wrongly perceived by some.

The writer is Secretary-General of the Indian Paper Manufacturers Association. Views are personal.

Published on April 18, 2018

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