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Money growth policy for Indian villages

Oct 30, 2009

A plantation drive being carried out in the districts of an eastern Indian state is helping villagers get employment through nurturing tree saplings. Engaging rural households with social forestry has brought them relief during failed monsoons.

In some districts of Bihar, lopping tree branches or even plucking its leaves can have violent consequences. Binod Sao of Paigambarpur village in Muzzafarpur district realized this rather late when he plucked a few leaves off the neem tree belonging to his neighbour, Pradeep Singh, on September 23. Singh was so angry that he slapped Sao several times.


Singh became overprotective towards his sapling because there is money to be made by growing trees.

Villagers, including landless farmers, in Tirhut range (comprising six districts) can earn Rs 10,000 a year by nurturing tree saplings under a new social forestry programme launched in February by the forest department.

Payment linked to survival rate

Under the scheme, dovetailed with the National Rural Employment Guarantee Scheme (nregs), villagers are encouraged to plant fruit bearing trees like jamun, mango, litchi, guava and gooseberry or those with medicinal value like neem.

Some trees like mahogany and teak are grown for their expensive wood.

Each family is asked to plant at least 200 saplings and nurture them over the next three years. If 90% or more saplings survive, the family gets Rs 10,200 a year, equivalent to a year’s wage under NREGA's.

The remuneration will be nearly half if 75% of the saplings survive. If the survival rate is below 50%, the family will not get any money.

If needed, the government will dig new wells to water the saplings, said S M Raju, commissioner of Tirhut forest range who conceived the scheme. He said regular audits are carried out; if a family is unable to maintain the saplings, they are transferred to the next family. Payments are made through cheques every fortnight.

"Imagine when these trees start bearing fruit. We will earn thousands of rupees every season"

The scheme has caught on in the six districts of Tirhut range—Vaishali, Sitamarhi, Muzaffarpur, Hajipur and East and West Champaran. Between February and August this year, 12 million saplings were planted. People will earn wages under nregs while the saplings grow; after four years they can earn by selling fruits from the mature trees.

Villagers have even formed vigilance committees to protect the saplings.

“Imagine when these trees start bearing fruit. We will earn thousands of rupees every season,” said Lakhan Sao of village Paigambarpur, as he admired the healthy row of saplings he has planted. He said the saplings have to be protected initially from grazing cattle; once they grow to a height of five feet, they need not be guarded all the time. Sao said he is calling his son back from Punjab to look after the saplings.

Plantation drive record

Raju said he had a tough time convincing his superiors about the feasibility of the scheme. He claimed it would achieve the twin objective of giving employment to local people and mitigating climate change impact. “I am thinking global and acting local,” he said. If things work according to his plan then families living in rural Bihar can plant 42.31 crore saplings (at the rate of 50,000 saplings per panchayat) in one year.

Raju also claims to have created a world record. On August 30, he launched a drive to plant the maximum number of saplings in a single day—as many as 9.6 million saplings were planted. This was higher than the previous record of 577,000 saplings planted in Pakistan on July 15 this year.

Nearly 300,000 people across 7,000 villages participated in the mass plantation drive. Raju said he is trying to get the achievement recorded in the Guinness book. He said the whole administration worked hard for three months to make the drive a success.

A helpline has also been set up to register complaints and answer queries related to the scheme. Raju quelled doubts about the success of the project once his posting in the range comes to an end. “The project is under nregs, not under me. Any person who assumes charge of this post after me will have to continue the project,” the forest commissioner said.

"The scheme is the first of its kind for promoting social forestry in the state"

A senior agriculture expert commented that the project has caught the fancy of the people because of failed monsoon that has made it hard to find farm jobs. “Migrant labourers could not find work due to failed monsoons. The scheme came as a boon to them,” he said. He warned that delay in payments, seen in other states implementing nregs, would work as a deterrent for the scheme.

Raju, however, said the scheme has been planned in a way that wages are not delayed. “Wages will be transferred directly into the bank accounts of the workers with job cards,” he said.

The scheme is the first of its kind for promoting social forestry in the state. A senior forest officer said Tirhut scheme could become a model that can be replicated in other districts of the state. “For Bihar, this scheme is perfect because more than 70% people know cultivation. If the families get full payment at the end of the year, it will become even more popular,” he said.

Saran district wants to emulate

On October 3, the forest department honoured the best performing village chiefs at a public function.

S Verma, head of Beria village in Muzaffarpur, was one of the 12 village chiefs called for the meeting. He worked night and day to get the sanction for the NREGA scheme in his village and arranged seeds and saplings for people in his village. Verma said it was the first time he got to shake hands with senior government officials of the area.

The 12 village chiefs are now being sent to Saran district to interact with villagers there. The Commissioner of Saran showed interest in the scheme after he received applications from villagers of various blocks to introduce a social forestry scheme on the same pattern as in Tirhut.

“Best way to start the scheme is to have village-to-village interaction. Villagers will believe the village chiefs more than us,” said Raju.

A Saran district official confirmed he and his colleagues had approached Tirhut officials for help in implementing the scheme on popular demand.

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