Greening the Wasteland and Reviving Agriculture for the Marginal Farmer

Until 10 years ago, multiple acres of wasteland across many villages in Andhra Pradesh, primarily owned by tribal and marginal farmers. There were only hurts all over the village. Most of the village dwellers were uneducated. Even though they had land, they had no money to invest in anything, no bore wells, no motors, no electricity lines, nothing.

While these lands lay fallow, the rest of the country continued to grow and with it grew the demand for paper. So ITC made a choice and asked that they along with the farmer’s plant trees on thousands of acres of land? These forests came from Eucalyptus and Subabul saplings; distributed in 33 villages. Before the Eucalyptus plantations, the land and crops were not at all in a harvesting condition.

MHD Viswakarma, Manager, Plantation Sarapaka, Telangana says – ‘There is a discussion that Eucalyptus draws more water. So, what we tried to initiate more side roots, adventitious roots wherein trees are getting nutrients and water from top soil surface.’

Designed in the ITC Lab, they were designed to be sturdy and water efficient. Different clones of saplings are developed for different site conditions; it matches the weather and gives higher productivity, and even the plantations will be uniform. So that the overall productivity of the plantations is high and farmer gets more money.  To grow and distribute the saplings, ITC engages with women who owned no land; helping them take charge of 52 million saplings to be distributed across Andhra Pradesh.

Mallela Kumari, Annapureddy Palli, Telangana says – ‘Earlier, when we used to work for daily wages in the farms, we used to get 150 rupees a day. Over that, if my children asked for a pen or a pencil, I would have to ask my husband for money. Since we started working here, we get much more respect at home, and even outside for us there is respect.’

Choices continued to be made; for every one tree used for pulp, ITC grew two more and instead of importing word pulp, they helped transform wasteland; created unprecedented carbon sink and made previously unemployed farmers stakeholders in India’s number 1 paper business. A majority of ITC’s Bhadrachalam mills’ total pulp requirement come from plantation initiated through ITC’s social forestry project run by tribal and marginal farmers. It is a choice that brought us things we need every day while adding an unprecedented green cover numerous jobs to rural households.

As plantations multiplied, ITC asked could we help bring back agriculture in farmers’ lives, so that there’s food and food security. With the introduction of agroforestry, innovative planting geometry allowed for crops to be planted between the trees. Doubling the income, the farmers now harvest crops annually and harvest the trees every four years.

Bopanna Babu, Uppusaka, Telangana says – ‘Last year, I planted only Toor. It yielded four tonnes of harvest. Four tonnes means I got Rs. 25,000. This year I planted moong. In between I harvested the trees and got Rs. 1,45,000.’

No one lives in thatched huts anymore. Everyone has made strong homes. The tribal and marginal farmers don’t work for daily wage anymore. Now they only go to the nursery once in a while to bring the saplings.

ITC’s Afforestation & The Agro forestry Programme covers over 6,90,000 acres. It also provides over 124 million person-days of employment and sequester 5,121 KT of CO2 annually. It sequester twice the amount of carbon emitted from its operations. ITC is carbon positive 13 years in arrow, making a national contribution to climate change mitigation.

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