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Punjab: Strategic shift from paddy-wheat to timber, agro-forestry pays dividend

express news service

Punjab: For five years, 13,039 farmers across Punjab are engaged in agro-forestry, which has emerged as a viable alternative to diversification from the paddy-wheat cycle. 1.50 crore saplings have been planted in a decade and a half, for which farmers have been given financial assistance through direct benefit transfer through Aadhaar linked accounts. Each farmer received assistance on the basis of the plants he had planted in his fields. The survival of plants was detected by geo-tagging.

The Union Ministry of Agriculture and Farmers Welfare launched the Sub-Mission on Agro-Forestry (SMAF) in 2016-17 under the National Mission on Sustainable Agriculture. The focus of the mission is to increase farmers’ income and diversify land use from agriculture to agro-forestry.

Punjab has topped the list of three states – the others being Gujarat and Karnataka – that implemented the scheme. It provides livelihood to marginal farmers by generating additional income from carbon credits. This has also improved the quality of air and soil.

Saurabh Gupta, Additional Principal Chief Conservator of Forests and Nodal Officer, SMAF says that the successful implementation of the scheme has led to an increase in the Out of Forest (TOF) cover in the state. This will help in achieving India’s Paris Agreement commitment of 2.5-3 billion tonnes of additional carbon dioxide equivalent by 2020-2030.

“The target is to plant around 40 lakh saplings this year. Of these, about 7.65 lakh have been planted by more than 550 farmers. Financial assistance of about Rs 14.48 crore has already been provided to the eligible farmers in the ratio of 60:40 by the Center and the State in five years.

“The timber grown under this project is easing the pressure on the natural forests. The availability of raw materials is giving a boost to wood based industries in the state. In addition, employment has been created for the local people as the project is labor intensive. It also benefits biodiversity conservation efforts. “

Principal Chief Conservator of Forests, Punjab, VB Kumar said: “Apart from the income generated from wood of trees grown, the department is also launching a scheme to generate additional income for farmers from the carbon credit market. The department is signing an MoU with carbon market specialist TERI to make arrangements to capture the carbon sink created by these agro-forestry trees and trade them in the carbon market.

Agroforestry has emerged as a viable alternative to diversification from the existing rice-wheat rotation. The main fast growing tree species adopted by farmers as block and border plantings in their fields are poplar, clonal eucalyptus, deck and rosewood. The plywood industry in Punjab is mainly using poplar and clonal eucalyptus wood. Deck and rosewood are used by the furniture industry. “Farmers have a local market that offers good prices,” says Asim Kumar Singla, advisor to the state forest department.

Farmer Prem Chand of Kalar village of SBS Nagar district is the beneficiary of this scheme. He says that he planted poplar trees in his six acres six years ago. These plants are fully grown, giving them good returns. “Most of the people in my village have done this plantation according to their capacity and land. But they need to be taken care of as animals destroy these plants,” he says.

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