At a time when farmers are at crossroads, abandoning agriculture, turning their lands into residential or industrial plots, the forest department is doing its bit to encourage them towards reaping higher dividends.
The department has been providing saplings of various kinds to farmers for many decades. However, it is now encouraging them to take up cultivation of sandalwood (Santalum album) in a big way, by promising to buy the wood when it matures.
Saplings are being raised in nurseries under Mysore, Hunsur and Mandya divisions under Mysore circle over the past four years on a large scale, depending upon the demand.
Sandalwood handicrafts and sandal oil are in much demand across the globe and have the potential to earn huge foreign exchange. So, the state government is encouraging cultivation on private lands. Certain amendments have also been made in State policy for this purpose.
According to K B Markandeya, Chief conservator of forests, Mysore circle, the overall response from farmers was encouraging, thanks to liberalisation in the policy.
Now, farmers can sell sandalwood either to the forest department — ie is Government Sandalwood Depot — or directly to Karnataka State Soaps and Detergent Limited (Sandalwood Oil Factory division) and Karnataka Handicrafts Development Corporation.
“The State government is taking steps to promote growing of sandalwood on priority. Siri Chandanavana, a new project for protection of existing trees and raising of new ones, has found a place in the State budget (2013-14),” he said.
In 2010-11, 1.5 lakh saplings have been raised; in 2011-12, 10,000 and in 2012-13, one lakh under Mysore division. Under Hunsur division, in 2010-11, 1.245 lakh saplings; in 2101-12, 10,000 and in 2012-13, 50,000 saplings has been raised. In 2010-11, one lakh saplings; in 2011-12, 10,000 and in 2012-13, 50,000 under Mandya division.
As the response during the first year was yet to be assessed, saplings were raised to the maximum capacity of the respective divisions in 2009-10 and 2010-11.
The unsold saplings are being carried forward for next planting seasons. For example, 53,000 saplings (grown in 2009-10) were sold to farmers during 2010-11 and 44,000 planted on government and forest land by the department itself under Hunsur division.
In 2011-12, 37,500 saplings were sold. There are more than one lakh saplings waiting to be availed by farmers this year (June to August, 2013).
The farmers also get incentives under Karnataka Krushi Aranya Prothsaha Yojane for raising forestry species, including sandalwood. For sustaining 400 saplings on one acre of land, during the first year of planting, farmers get Rs 10, Rs 15 for second year and Rs 20 for third year for each sapling.
Farmer S R S Gowda of Sulugodu in Periyapatna, who has lost almost 90 per cent of the 7,000 saplings planted on 24 acres of his land due to drought this year, has made arrangements to plant almost the same number of saplings coming monsoon.
He said, now he has sunk bore wells and has made arrangements to provide water to sustain saplings even if the monsoon fails. However, some farmers are still averse to the idea of nurturing the most expensive wood on earth.
V Mahesh, an organic farmer from Ramehalli in H D Kote taluk, said he was growing other forestry species like teakwood and silverwood in his herbal medicines farm. “However, I am still not prepared to plant sandalwood. Already, I am facing problems in selling timber in my farm due to red-tapism and indifference of officials in the forest department. I fear what would happen if I were to sell sandalwood,” he said.
Sandal is parasitic!
Sandalwood is tropical in nature and grows from Indonesia in the East to Juan Fernanez Island (Africa) in the West. In India it is found almost everywhere, but 90 per cent of it is concentrated in Karnataka and Tamil Nadu (8,300 sq km). In Karnataka, sandalwood is grown on 5,000 sq km of land and found predominantly in Mysore region.
Sandalwood can be grown on sandy, clayey red soil, lateritic, loamy and black soils, but those grown on stony or gravelly soils are known to have more of highly scented wood. It grows well under partial shade in early stages but shows intolerance to overhead shade at middle and later stages.
On farmlands, multi-cropping is best suited for sandalwood as it is parasitic in nature. In the early stages, bengal gram can be sown and in the middle stage ‘honge’ (pongamia) saplings can be grown along with sandalwood saplings. Early monsoon is the right time for transplanting saplings.