Where hope grows on Pongamia trees

Success stories

It was a year of severe drought. People in Kasavanahalli in Chitradurga were struggling for drinking water. Farmers here had nothing much to look forward to as the fields had gone barren. A district official gave them the suggestion to plant pongamia (honge) saplings.

Nine years on, the villagers have begun to appreciate the potential of the biofuel plant. Today, they have planted more than two lakh saplings of pongamia. They have even begun exporting its seeds for biofuel production.

At a national conference on ‘Accelerating Biofuel Programmes in India’ flagged off here on Saturday, farmers from several villages shared their success stories in cultivating honge. Kasavanahalli Ramesh, a farmer from Kasavanahalli, has been a beneficiary of this change. Now, even if there is scanty rainfall, at least the land is not parched as the honge trees ensure enough shade. When all other crops fail to give them returns, they have honge to fall back on. Ramesh exports the honge seeds to Israel.

“When we started, we were given Rs 10 to plant a sapling. Earlier, we used to cut these trees without knowing their value.”

In a similar case in Belgaum, Shivaji Kaganikar and his friends have planted nearly 30,000 to 40,000 saplings in and around three villages. The villagers are now looking forward for better support from the State government so that they can enhance their productivity and start extracting honge oil for self-sustenance in energy.

“We hope that the government soon gives us equipment to generate the oil which can be used to run vehicles and other machinery,” says Kaganikar.

The Karnataka State Biofuel Development Board (KSBDB) had organised the conference, in co-ordination with the Union Ministry of New and Renewable Energy. On the occasion, the Board also launched its new bilingual website.

Addressing the gathering, G V Krishna Rau, the additional chief secretary, called for a coherent biofuel policy. “It is not just about activism. It is also about economy,” he said, encouraging those involved to make biofuel production economically viable.

New biofuel park this year

A new biofuel park would come up at Challakere in Chitradurga district this year, A K Monnappa, managing director of KSBDB, said. There are three biofuel parks at present. One in Hassan, one in Hatti Gold Mines and the other in Dharwad.

Speaking about the market for biofuel, he said the market for honge seeds had grown a lot. While earlier, they used to get Rs two per kg of seeds, now the price has gone up to Rs 18 per kg. 

Y B Ramakrishna, former executive chairman of KSBDB, told the audience that Karnataka had good economic programmes to support biofuel, but they need to be scaled up. “With slight alterations, the Karnataka model can be replicated at the national level,” he said.  Speaking to reporters on the sidelines of the programme, Ramakrishna said the biofuel programme had now passed the stages of scepticism and opposition and it was time for it to scale new heights.

Ramakrishna said the Board could do with some more funding. Last year, Rs 9.5 crore was allotted to the Board, but the amount announced was eventually not allocated completely. About Rs 8 crore to Rs 10 crore would be sufficient for the Board, he said, adding that the government departments involved needed to take a more active approach.

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