Tall tree tales

  • 29/11/1994

Tall tree tales IN THE early '80s, a tall, straggly alien invaded farmlands across North India. The landscape changed drastically as spindly eucalyptus shot out of what had originally been good agricultural land, redefining the objectives of farm forestry for the implementors of India's tree planting programme.

The original purpose of the programme, launched in the late '70s, was to encourage villagers to grow their own fuelwood and fodder. With their lopsided perspective of the situation, the National Commission on Agriculture (NCA) recommended that mixed vegetation on forest land be replaced by fast growing species for industries, and that the rural people dependant on mixed vegetation fend for themselves.

The NCA report went so far as to state that the "free supply of forest produce to the rural population and their rights and privileges have brought destruction to the forest and so it is necessary to reverse the process. The rural people have not contributed much towards the maintenance or regeneration of the forests. Having over-exploited the resources, the cannot, in all fairness, expect that somebody else will take the trouble of providing them with forest produce free of charge."

The rural population took to farm forestry all right, but not to meet subsistence needs. Commercial interest soon overtook fuelwood and fodder as an incentive for planting. Farmers in Punjab, Haryana and western up, the "green revolution" belt of India, went eucalyptus crazy. Gujarat and Karnataka witnessed a complete shift in land use from annual crop to eucalyptus. In up, the original target of distributing 8 million seedlings to farmers had to be stepped up to 350 million to meet the farmers' demand.

But hardly 10 years after the mania first set in, just after the first production and marketing cycle, eucalyptus was no longer so hot. As the dust settles behind the rush, N C Saxena analyses the rise and J4 of eucalyptus plantations in northwest India this book.

The book is based an fieldwork in 6 villages is the districts of nagar, Nainital and Allahabad; it looks at the socio-economic characteristics of eucalyptus planters; the reason eucalyptus was planted more in the western regions rather than eastern or southern regions of up, and reason for the decline in eucalyptus plants after 1986.

Earlier reports based on different regions at the world had showed that many small farmers changed from food crop to income generating trees despite having little land, largely because they lacked the in it capital required for crops, and because planting trees gave then time off to took for employment elsewhere.

In western UP, however, Saxena found that eucalyptus was planted not by those who suffered from a shortage of capital, but by those why had other sources of income. To large farmers and absentee landlords who faced shortage of labour and problem of supervision, in particular, eucalyptus was a boon.

Thus it was that the richer regions western up, where farmers had larger holdings and surplus income from crops like sugarcane and potato, took what Saxena calls "per-verse" land use I planting eucalyptus on large tracts fertile land.

But,because the farmers - both large and small - allowed only a Eucalyptus: a study in maniacal forestry rotation and cut the trees before they attained a girth suitable for timber use, the poles were suitable only for the pulp industry. The pulp industry was already fed by subsidised wood from forest departments. The market for poles for scaffolding was not large enough to use up the produce from private farmers. Eucalyptus prices crashed and farmers went back to annual crops. The god had failed the first round.

But Saxena points out that most cash crops follow a cyclic pattern of demand and supply. Already, prices have started rising in western up, So eucalyptus may well be back for a second round.

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