Greening the drylands
India is the second largest World Bank borrower in the forest sector next to China. Over the decade, India has received around US$ 830 million in 16 projects. Many a time, courts have advised the government and concerned departments to undertake plantations programmes on a large scale.
Towards greening the dry lands and conserving the Western Ghats, Karnataka has received a loan of nearly Rs 1,200 crore from Japan in the last decade. A new project called National Mission for a Green India is being implemented all over the country wherein anybody can raise plantations for which the Central government would assist financially.
The Green India Mission (GIM) with a planned investment of $10.3 billion over the next 10 years can have a major development impact in more ways than one. Such a massive exercise can raise fresh natural capital that is so vital for the tens of millions of people who depend on degraded forests. It can meet the twin objectives of assigning forest land to tribal and other forest-dwelling communities to enable livelihoods, and relieving extractive pressures on core dense forests to aid conservation of wildlife and biodiversity.
Although lots of funds have been pumped into greening the drylands, the question that still looms is whether the common man, NGOs and other institutions are really involved enough. The time has come when social forestry programmes should become programmes of the people, by the people and for the welfare of the people in the rural areas.
There are many good examples in Karnataka where various institutions, farmers and the common man, have all grown thousands of trees without any financial assistance. Saalu Marada Timmakka is one great example, for planting hundreds of saplings.
The government realised that the involvement of local communities around the forest was vital to arrest the decline in forest cover. The Joint Forest Planning and Management (JFPM) programme was implemented in 1993 all over the State. The first village forest committee (VFC) in the State was formed in 1993 at Talagadde village of Ankola in Karwar forest division. But the first VFC to actually sign an MoU with the Forest Department was Kangod of Sirsi in 1995.
Two major foreign funded programmes which supported JFPM are the Western Ghats Environmental and Forestry Project (WGEFP) and Japan-funded Forestry and Environment Project for Eastern Plains (FEPEP). The FEPEP, started in 1996 in 16 districts of eastern plains and dry regions, has shown the importance of participation of NGOs and institutions in raising plantations.
But the success rate of these two programmes varies from district to district. There are several VFCs which have become models in raising plantations and greening their villages. Mugali and Chikkamalligwad of Dharwad have succeeded in raising around 200 hectares of plantations in degraded land.
Japan has funded Rs 500 crore in 1995 and Rs 740 crore in 2008 towards greening the drylands of 12 districts of northern Karnataka.
The Forest Department has grown lakhs of plantations in these parts. Today, after a decade, much of the land is under green cover. Because of the Krishna, Malaprabha and Ghataprabha river irrigation projects, most of the land looks green. From 1995, greening the plains of eastern parts was begun. This covered Kolar, Chitradurga, Bellary, Raichur, Gulbarga, Bidar, Koppal, Bijapur and Bagalkot districts.
Greening areas with scrub forests and dry lands with rocky strata has been a major challenge. Village forest committees have been formed through which plantations were raised. The conflict between foresters and shepherds is a continued problem in the region.
As Rajendra Potdar, an associate professor of Agriculture College in Bijapur points out, “There is an urgent need to create awareness among the villagers about the need of growing and conserving the trees. There is need for NGOs and other institutions to take up planting programmes on a large scale.”