Is it time to free “Eucalyptus” of the ill charges ?

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Read the research article on “Eucalyptus Tree.

Is it time to free “Eucalyptus” of the ill charges ?

“ Eucalyptus”, a native of Australia is being treated as a migrant since quite a time in India. It has been charged with offences like water guzzler, ecological interferer, the one invading the privacy of ground water and many such. Few state governments indeed have taken some scrupulous and unerring steps by banning its further plantation, like that of Karnataka in 2017. But how assiduous that measure was? How many countries have thought through this topic and how many countries do not let their land to get exposed to this tree ? Well, there are none. 

It cannot be denied, that Eucalyptus has its home in the dry and water deficient regions of Southern hemisphere and is not a native of India but it shares it’s migrant history with many other such agri commodities like Tea, Rubber, Potato to name a few. All of these commodities once belonged to the category of “exotics”, but it would not be fair to call any of these as exotic anymore, because they probably have acclimatised themselves so well in the agro-ecological environment of the country, that now the property of Latin America’s Maya and Aztecs, is well known as Indian Rubber. China’s Shang Dynasty’s gift to the world cannot be discussed without making a mention of India’s Darjeeling tea and Spain’s potato is every Indian family’s first source of starch. Can we still call Eucalyptus an exotic breed, given that, it has been around since 1790 when Tippu Sultan, the ruler of Mysore, planted first such foreigner in his palace garden on Nandi hills near Bangalore ?

With 200 years of history, this tree has been accommodated to suite the essence of the south Asian nation. 95% of the eucalyptus trees planted every year in the country are clones, which have been developed to suite the climate and topography of this land.

As per work of R.C. Dhiman and J.N. Gandhi in “Status of Eucalypt Clonal Culture in India ”, Out of a total of over 600 species (Turnbull, 1999); some 170 species, varieties and provenances of eucalypts have been tried in India (Bhatia, 1984; Palanna, 1996). Eucalyptus camalulensis, E. citriodora (Corymbia sp.), E. globulus, E. grandis, E. pellita, E. tereticornis, E. torelliana and E. urophyla, their hybrids and clones are now widely preferred for research and field plantations in the country. A number of government and private sector organisations in India are working towards the Eucalyptus clonal propagation and improvement.The main ingredients of a systematic clonal programme include development of clones, their induction in production system, establishment and maintenance of cutting production systems, selection and use of appropriate root trainers and potting media, environmentally controlled rooting chambers, hardening polyhouses, and nursery infrastructure for production, handling and delivery of clonal planting stock. Wimco and ITC clones are by far the widely accepted and planted clones throughout the country. 

Mr. Suneel Pandey, ex IFoS officer, Vice President Procurement and Supply Chain, ITC states, “ Introduction of root trainer technology for clonal production and development of new productive, site specific and disease resistant clones have revolutionised clonal culture of Eucalypts. Root trainer technology enables growth of lateral roots for anchoring the trees and makes entire root system very shallow, i.e. up to 1.5 - 2 meter deep, to ensure that eucalypts clonal trees never compete with ground water. Clonal development of eucalypts has also ensured that if in 1980s, farmers were fetching 4 tonnes/hc/annum, now with the advancements of the technology, they can produce about 40 tonnes/hc/annum, i.e. an increase of more than 10 times in productivity, to make these plantations extremely viable and competitive for farmers”.

IPMA,Indian Paper Manufacturer Association submitted a presentation to the GOI to augur the profitability of this tree, which states that with clones, rotation of eucalyptus plantation (1 main + 2 coppice crops) has reduced to 10 - 12 years v/s 20 - 25 years earlier, which also helps in reduced depth of root system. This is evidenced by easy uprooting of trees/plantation by the farmers, when they decide to shift to alternate crops. Also the report states that a Eucalyptus tree only requires 785 litres of water for sufficing the needs to generate per kg of total biomass, on account of its xerophytic properties which allows the tree to adapt itself to dry or physiologically dry habitat by means of special mechanism which prevents water loss appended by low rates of transpiration. 

According to an annual review by the Indian Council of Agricultural Research (ICAR), one-fifth of the total districts in India, are susceptible to the impact of climate change. Lancet reported India lost 75 billion hours of works by the rising frequency of heatwave events, which predominantly affects the agri sector. The country still is importing logs and the industry is deficient of wood. As of 2010, the Food and Agriculture Organisation of the UN estimates India's forest cover to be about 68 million hectares, or 22% of the country's area, which falls short of 11%, to maintain resonance with the National Forest Policy 1988's target of forest cover in the country.

Concurrently, As per Food and Agriculture Organisation (FAO) Report (FP/48/E) 2014, around 93% of industrial wood requirement of the country is met out of farm/agro forestry plantations (~70 % is eucalyptus). And, it has benefitted the farmers and the industry, and has substantially reduced pressure on forests. As per Centre for Science and Environment (CSE) Report , 2017 (Titled: The Puzzle of Forest Productivity), Eucalyptus plantation yields more net income/ha/annum to farmers than almost 60 - 70% of the agriculture crops, and can play a major role in increasing future farm level income, on the back of new productive.

Such a tree which has high demand in the global market, and with investments as low as Rs. 11-12 k/acre can reap benefits of upto Rs. 30k/acre/annum with inputs required only in the first quadrant of the tree’s growth can be a good tool for farmers to grow economically and socially. Practising agro forestry in several parts of Telangana has emancipated the condition of marginal farmers, and also has augmented the green cover of the region.

With such data and researches available, is it not the right time to bring attention to the affirmatives of planting Eucalyptus in the country ?

Author of the Article: Ms. Monika Mondal, Agri Journalist, New Delhi

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