Forest officer defies dry spells, grows 1.5 lakh trees in drought-hit k’taka district
A report by the Indian Institute of Science states that the green cover in Bengaluru has reduced by 88 per cent from 1973 to 2017. According to The News Minute, is likely to reduce further to 2.96 per cent as the Bengaluru Development Authority has not planted trees in the past two years. On the one hand, there are regions like Bengaluru that are blessed with abundant rainfall and fertile land, but their green cover remains neglected. On the other hand, are areas like Vijayapura district, also in Karnataka, that receive rainfall only for 10-20 days and yet, its residents strive to make the most of it. Realising the importance of water, district authorities in the Karnataka Forest Department, Vijayapura Division, are taking full advantage of the rainfall to grow trees. Vijayapura has a semi-arid climate, and the combination of high temperatures and dry spells is an important reason why reasons why planting trees and then sustaining them, becomes a daunting task. However, the situation has dramatically improved compared to what it was a decade ago. Today, even the locals are surprised to see thousands of plants flourishing. The change can be attributed to the Forest Department and in particular range officer Santosh Ajur...
Q: What were the challenges in way of green cover boost?
Taking into consideration our situation, we are majorly focusing on the quality of the trees than quantity. The entire purpose of tree plantation will be defeated if the trees cannot be sustained even for a year, and this was something that was happening until recently. For the last couple of years, we have been focusing in increasing the survival rate to 100 per cent. Since most of the parts in the district are dry zones, the total notified forest area (both reserved and protected) is only 1,800 hectares. Of the total hectares, some parts in Basavana Bagewadi taluk are released for the Upper Krishna Project (an irrigation project across the Krishna River to provide irrigation to the drought-prone areas). However, the area was not denotified and continues to be under the forest cover. Thus, the total forest cover is actually lesser than the official figures. The green mission was started by conducting a thorough study of the rainfall patterns, plant varieties, and natural water resources.
Q: What main points did you keep in mind while ‘nurturing’ greenery in such adverse conditions?
Earlier, the saplings planted, were short in size with hardly any provisions for watering the plants. We ditched the conventional method of planting trees by sowing seeds alongside the roads. Instead, saplings were first planted in the nursery and allowed to grow 8-9 feet. These tall saplings were then planted alongside the roads. Additionally, a technique known as “Hardening off” was adopted for the trees. This is a process which takes about 2-3 weeks and involves moving plants outdoors for a portion of the day to gradually introduce them to the direct sunlight, dry air, and cold nights. During daylight hours, the plants are left outside and in an area where they can be protected under the shade, and are brought back indoors during the night. The number of hours they stay outdoors is gradually increased each day until they naturally acclimate to the changing weather. From 2012-16, this process was used in Indi and Muddebihal taluks, to plant 1.5 lakh seedlings of species like Honge, ficus, peepal and neem on the roadside, in educational institutions, ashrams, and crematoriums. They were monitored carefully, thanks to which 75 per cent of them survived. As for watering the plants, the forest department gets tankers as borewells, and groundwater resources have dried up. The water is taken from open wells near Krishna backwaters. In the first year, plants are watered for six days in a week, which is reduced to two in the second year. The plants are not watered at all in the third year as by then the hardy plants can survive on their own. Using the same technique, we aim to plant around 25,000 trees this year. Our department is also encouraging people to construct farm ponds, known as Krishi Hondas under the Krishi Bhagya Scheme. The scheme gives grants to dry-land farmers for building ponds to conserve rainwater.
Q: Why was it so important to rope in common people?
We have been facing droughts for the past 12 years, and the only way to increase the green cover is to include all stakeholders in the mission. Thus, we have been collaborating with the farmers, NGOs, schools and locals by giving them various incentives and seeds at subsidised rates. Under the Krishi Aranya Protsaha Yojane, the farmers, public and NGOs may obtain the seedlings at subsidised rates at the nearest nurseries of the department and incentives are given to farmers to encourage them to grow native tree species on their lands. Our department will provide Rs 100 per plant if it survives for three years. 70 farmers are currently using this scheme in the district. Under another scheme, MGNREGA (Mahatma Gandhi National Rural Employment Guarantee Act) all the Gram Panchayats (GPs) are directed to purchase 1,000 seedlings and plant in their respective areas. All the 219 GPs in the district are utilising this scheme. Our Forest Department is also ensuring that awareness on tree and water conservation by giving mud, water and seeds to the school children. Every year, all the school children are expected to dedicate one day in June to make seed balls. Combining all the schemes, the department has, this year, distributed 13 lakh seeds to people of which 3 lakh have already been planted.
Q: What is your advice to forest departments of other states?
It would be fair to say that the problem of green spaces turning into grey is prevalent all across the country. This is why green-planning approaches like these can help to transform areas into sustainable, resilient, and healthy places to live in.