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Creating farm jobs through silviculture — ITC paperboards unit emerging `carbon positive'
The Hindu Business Line - 15 Apr 2005

Mohan Padmanabhan

Two-year-old clonal eucalyptus plantations of ITC's social farm forestry project near Sarapaka village in Bhadrachalam

AS you sow, so you reap, may have negative overtones, but ITC Ltd has literally sown quality seeds, and helped the Andhra Pradesh farmers reap a rich harvest.

The company has taken upon itself the mandate of securing future raw material supplies for its paper business through plantations, and the package offered provides a buyback guarantee at the prevailing market price to growers.

ITC, backed by the success of its AP-based Social and Farm Forestry project, developed and nurtured by its Bhadrachalam-based Paperboards and Specialty Papers Division (PSPD), is fast emerging a carbon positive organisation. (It is already carbon neutral.) And in the process, creating a near perpetual quality fibre supply chain for its growing paper business, and also providing sustenance to lakhs of poor tribal farmers in and around the village of Sarapaka, near which the integrated paper mill is located.

Talking to Business Line here recently, Mr Pradip Dhobale, CEO of ITC-PSPD, said the silviculture route adopted by the company was not only aiding rapid carbon sequestration for the company, but also creating many farm jobs in this water-starved backward area of Khammam district, at the rate of 10 jobs per hectare of plantations per year.

Some 10,000 ha of plantations are developed annually by the ITC project, creating nearly 1 lakh jobs per year. According to Mr Dhobale, the company, from 1992 to 2004, has brought some 29,418 ha under plantations of eucalyptus trees, subabul and casuarina, through 959 lakh plants, which have effectively created an estimated asset value of Rs 594 crore ($132 million) in the form of wood, the main raw material for the paper mill.

He said the company now provides farm support and extension services towards land development, planting of saplings, plantation maintenance and marketing management.

For every tree that is felled for our fibre need, we are planting 2.5 trees and also teaching the farmers to earn a livelihood in the process, says Mr Dhobale. Our agenda for the decade involves development of 1 lakh ha, and planting of 600 million saplings, creating additional employment for 1.2 million people, he pointed out.

He put the carbon sequestered during 2003-04 at 1,74,000 tonnes, offsetting carbon dioxide to the tune of 6,36,000 tonnes. The wood production during 2003-04 is put at 3,48,000 tonnes. As per current pulp requirements, the company needs only 4,000 ha of plantations annually, but is actually covering more than 10,000 ha, delivering bumper yields and higher profits to the farmers.

According to Dr H.P. Kulkarni, Deputy General Manager, Plantations, ITC-PSPD, the seed route plantations were initially promoted under a Nabard-assisted Farm Forestry Project during 1987-95, and some 6,000-odd farmers were motivated then to plant 174 lakh seedlings covering an area of 7,441 ha in 1,138 surrounding villages. He said, "these plantations have the potential to sequester 18 lakh tonnes of carbon, reducing 67 lakh tonnes of carbon dioxide, already throwing up a carbon credit value of Rs 25 crore ($5.5 million)".

Says Dr Kulkarni: The improved productivity of the Bhadrachalam clones (developed by ITC's in-house scientists through the root-trainer system) of eucalyptus is 25 mt/ha/yr (100 mt/ha/ in 4 years), which is four times higher compared to the productivity of small seedlings.

Eucalyptus trees, he clarified, consume less water per unit of wood produced, compared to other trees. "The Bhadrachalam Clones have an adventitious root system, which cannot go beyond 1.5 metre depth to draw the precious ground water."