A key plank in ITC’s natural resource management strategy and a pioneering venture in wasteland development, ITC’s Afforestation Programme brings multiple social and environmental benefits. It enables farmers who own wastelands and lands with low levels of productivity to grow commercially viable pulpwood plantations, thereby turning an unproductive asset into a profitable one. To ensure the commercial viability of these plantations, ITC invested in extensive R&D to develop fast-growing clonal saplings that are disease-resistant and have a higher rate of survival in harsh conditions. Under the Social Forestry component of the Programme, tribals and marginal farmers are assisted with loans, subsidised clonal stock and extension services. Farm Forestry targets farmers with investible incomes. On harvest, farmers are free to transact at will and sell to whoever they choose.
Adopting this rather difficult option of mobilising tribal and marginal farmers which required long gestation and substantial investment exposure has not only created a source of sustainable livelihoods for a large number of poor families, but has generated large-scale green cover that contributes significantly to soil conservation and carbon sequestration.
The recently introduced agro-forestry model, which combines tree growing with field crop production, ensures both food and wood security as well as helps in the conservation of precious natural resources. ITC has been conferred the Forest Management certification from the Forest Stewardship Council, which confirms compliance with the highest international benchmarks of plantation management in terms of being environmentally responsible, socially beneficial and economically viable.
Today, ITC’s Afforestation Programme coupled with the Agro Forestry Programme covers over 624,000 acres and has provided over 113 million person-days of employment. In addition, the plantations have also helped sequester 5,121 KT of CO2 in 2015-16 and played a major role in maintaining ITC’s carbon positive status over the past 11 years.