by H. S. Singh, IFS Department of Forest, Government of Gujarat
According to the National Forest Policy 1988, one-third of the geographical area of the country should be maintained as forest and tree cover. According to the State forest report of 2009, Gujarat has only 9.83% of its geographical area declared as forest, which is much below the national average. Under the given circumstances the only way forward for Gujarat was to increase tree cover in the non-forest areas. For this purpose, the Government of Gujarat launched the Social Forestry Programme in 1969-70 and Social Forestry divisions were established.
This was a people's programme. Under this programme, the state embarked upon an ambitious mission of organising and motivating people to take up tree plantation on lands like Panchayat lands, wastelands, roadsides, canal sides, farmlands school and college compounds and other government lands.
The results of the programme were encouraging, and were appreciated internationally. After the success of the initial efforts, the State was encouraged to formulate a project extending to all the districts. This project was launched in 1980 and has been implemented in two phases since then. In the last 10 years or so, the project has been funded by the state and consequently Gujarat has switched from being a food deficit to a food surplus state today. As a pioneer in the social forestry sector, the success of Gujarat has been globally acclaimed.
The main objectives of the social forestry programme as it was started were to improve tree resources and provide for timber, fuel wood and fodder needs of the state and thereby complement supplies from the forest areas; to increase the green cover; to accentuate NTFP and bio-resources; to integrate all available land under the tree cover programmes and to improve Carbon stock in the tree cover outside Gujarat.
Schemes of area development, community and individual benefits, extension activities and distribution of fuel saving devices and motivation have been implemented to attain these objectives.
A brief overview of these social forestry activities - Development of areas
- Gram Vans(village forests) were raised in gaucher lands, trees were planted on roadsides, canal sides and railway sides, grasslands were developed and energy plantations were raised, thereby providing and improving tree cover
- Barren hills, degraded areas and ravines were afforested.
Community and Individual beneficiary schemes, Trees were planted in school and college compounds
- Government, semi-government, private/ non-government organisation's campuses were used to plant trees
- Community lands, cremation grounds, banks of rivers, lakes /ponds were used to plant trees.
- Private and degraded farmlands were also used for tree plantation
- A special component was included for raising trees on the lands of the poor section of the society.
Fuel Saving Devices
- -Improved crematoria was distributed for reducing the use of fuel wood
- Non-conventional energy devices like solar-cookers and bio-gas were distributed
- Improved stoves were also distributed to save fuelwood
Transfer of Technical know-how, motivation and extension
- Technical know-how was transferred and children were involved in planting trees through school nurseries
- Farmers were given technical knowhow through Kisan nurseries and farmer shibirs or farmer training camps
- Improved variety of fruit species were planted which helped in supplementing income. Further, medicinal plants were also planted to make available health imparting medicines
- Van Chetana Kendras and Shibirs were set up for motivation.
Apart from these initiatives several other schemes of tree plantation in the non-forest areas have been carried out using the State and Central funds. One such initiative taken by the Forest Department is the initiation of the celebration of Van Mahotsav on a giant scale. Gujarat is the first state to have launched the concept of Cultural Forests, to set up strong links between trees and people. The celebration of Van Mahotsav happens at the district, taluka and village levels to create awakening towards tree plantation. Tree plantation campaigns are conducted in urban areas and seedlings are supplied to farmers, institutions and organisations.
In a recent development, the Forest department has launched Agro-Forestry as a major part of the Social Forestry Programme. Accordingly it has focused on the production of high quality seedlings and a total of 22 clonal production centres have been established to produce about 171.5 lakh clonal plants of Eucalyptus, Casuarina and Teak.The following schemes have been implemented to promote agro-forestry in the state:
Quality planting stock (Clonal and tissue culture plants)
As mentioned earlier clonal and tissue culture plants have been functional at two dozen sites since 2010-11 and the capacity of these plants is to produce 15 million clonal plants for agro-forestry which are supplied to farmers at concessional rates.
Supply of Seedlings
About 90 to 100 million seedlings were supplied annually at nominal charges under Van Mahotsav programme and about half of them were planted by farmers on their lands and the rest was distributed among industries, institutions, cooperatives, schools, individuals and other sectors.
Rehabilitation of degraded farm land
The Forest Department supports small and marginal farmers to take up plantation on their lands, especially degraded lands. During the last decade on an average, about 9,500 ha of the farm lands were planted every year at the cost of the Government
Raising teak plantation in the tribal lands of the Dangs
Modified in 2012, with the objective of restoring tree cover on private lands, uder this scheme, tree crop will be raised on the tribal's land through Government funds and a provision for adequate assistance every month has been kept for the farmer for twenty years.
Farm forestry under MGNREGA
In 2011, this scheme was initiated for raising 400 trees per hectare on farm lands using MGNREGA funds. The Government of India has accepted this scheme as a part of individual beneficiary scheme under MGNREGA.
Farm forestry extension activities
Annually about 750 farmer camps are organised in the state to promote farm forestry and transfer technology.
At present, species such as - Neem (Azadirachta indica), Deshi babool (Acacia nilotica), Nilgiri (Eucalyptus sp.), Sharu (Casuarina sp.), Ardusa (Ailanthus sp.), Teak(Tectona grandis), Subabool (Leucanea leucocephola), Bengali babool (Acacia auriculiformis) and Bamboo are dominant and they are economic species in agro-forestry plantations. Eight exotic species-Eucalyptus sp., A.tortalis, Casuarina equisetifolia, Leucanea leucocephala, Pithocolobium dulce, Ailanthus excels, Acacia auriculiformis and Prosopis chilensis, which were absent or rarely seen five decades ago, are now dominant species, constituting over one third of total TOF in the State. In other words, these exotic species have changed the landscape of the state and also improved the wood production and economy of the state.
A case in hand-Replication of the Anand Model
Anand, a non forest district in central Gujarat has good canal irrigation, which has turned it into one of the greenest districts in India with highest density of trees in the non forest areas. In this district, the land and water are used in such a fashion that productivity is optimise in all three sectors-agriculture, animal husbandry and agro-forestry. As per the recent tree counting, about 211.7 million trees grow with highest density of 66.1 trees per hectare which is four times the average tree density in the entire state. A good number of trees are cut annually to produce substantial wood, beyond the local need. Earning from agro-forestry has become one of the main economic activities for farmers in the district. Anand is also famous for Non Timber Forest Produce as huge quantity of Aonla is exported to other states in India. Tree density is improving fast after commencement of
Narmada canal in Nadiad, and in a few years, tree cover in Nadiad may be similar to Anand. Extent of tree cover in Mahesana and Gandhinagar in semi-arid zone is also high and these districts are now wood surplus districts. Timber trade and export of wood to other states are excellent in Anand and Nadiad districts as unique market system operates in the area. In fact, this district is a model district in sense of true rural development, including agro-forestry. A large scale timber based industries in Nadiad and Anand are integrated with timber production in the area. The state has aimed to replicate Anand model in about a dozen districts in Gujarat in Narmada Command Area.
Future of Agro Forestry
Agro-forestry in Gujarat has been one of the most successful greening programmes in the world. At present, it needs new initiatives, innovation and technological advancement to increase productivity of farm land plantations. The Forest Department re-visited the schemes and has decided to provide new momentum by supplying quality seedlings. With expansion of irrigation under Narmada canal systems, tree cover is expected to improve in the command area. The Forest Department has planned to pay attention in these areas for taking up different types of plantation, including supply of quality seedlings to farmers. Replication of Anand and Kheda model in the Narmada command area is a focused programme of the Government. It is expected that improving tree cover in the agro-forestry plantation in the State may accelerate in near future, taking tree population from about 301 million to about 350 million in the next two five years plan. Development of agro-forestry provides another opportunity to the state to become global leader in improving tree cover, initiating a new approach to address global warming and also to evolve a model of rural development in the line of the dream of Mahatma Gandhi for “Gramya Swaraj”.
Finally, the result of social forestry in arid region of Gujarat is impressive. The various reports indicate consistent improvement in the TOF in Gujarat. Status of the TOF, including agro-forestry plantations, was monitored through tree counting. Total number of trees in the non forest areas in 2003 was 251.0 million which increased to 301.0 million in 2013. Thus, tree population has increased at an annual rate of 5 million trees.
Further, with increasing environmental problems such as climate change, tree plantation and wood consumption are expected to increase considerably in the near future. Agro-forestry provides an opportunity to improve rural economy and environment. Economic contribution of the TOF in the GDP of the state in form of wood was about Rs 43,578 million in 2009 and this might become very high when other produce from the TOF is added to this figure. With increasing tree cover in agricultural land, growing stock is expected to increase, resulting in increased production of timber (3.1 million cubic meter), poles, fuel wood, NTFP and also the Carbon store in the TOF.
Watch : Gujarat's Sanskritik Vans (Cultural Forests): A film
The article is originally published in The Gujarat (Magazine), Vol-III, Issue-4.