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Wednesday, May 12, 2021

Afforestation of woods and water


We must applaud efforts of hundreds of farmers across India who "retain” forests
Tags : Shree Padre | Afforestation | Forest |

“Our only water source has dried up as a result of deforestation. In how much time will it reappear if we consciously redevelop a forest in the region?” This was a question Gopalakrishna and Vijayalakshmi, ex-teachers of Sarang, in Palakkad district of Kerala were posing to a number of scientists about a couple of decades ago.

None had a clear answer to their question. Simply because there wasn’t a clearly documented success story that could throw more light in this regard. But the couple continued their untiring efforts to regenerate the forest in about eight acres. They planted a number of local species on the barren land each year and nurtured the plants as their own. Whatever money they possessed – and then borrowed from friends – was all spent by this time. They didn’t have resources to raise a fool-proof fence around the area to prevent animals from grazing on the newly sprouting plants and trees. What they took shelter in is ‘social fencing’, primarily requesting local people not to allow their cattle or goats in the vicinity of the forest. Year after year, whenever it rained, the couple returned disappointed because, the run-off in the protected area was diminishing year by year. Both of them, at that point of time, were under the impression that this was a negative development.

Silently, but clearly, nature provided the answer to their question. Due to their conscious and consistent effort to regenerate the forest, a mat of greenery started showing up. It contained regrowing shrubs, trees and diverse flora. This natural green barrier checked considerable rainfall then and there on the land. And lo and behold, exactly six years later, the only water spring of Sarang got regenerated!

It was about a decade later that stories of a ‘man who had developed a vast forest’ started appearing in the media. Abdul Kareem, a layman from Parappa in Kasaragod district had, with his and nature’s efforts caused the forest to be regenerated in about thirty plus acres of a lateritic hill-top. The story appeared in national TV channels and a couple of documentaries were also made. Water sources in his wells and tanks got naturally augmented in a big way. Farmers in the foothills of that hill were highly thankful to him because this ‘forest building’ exercise had brought them rich dividends in the form of increased water in their water-bodies too.

Time and again it is said that the cheapest method of soil and water conservation is afforestation. The latest exciting example has emerged from Hassan district of Karnataka. Anuganalu is a sleepy village of Hassan taluk where practice of tree planting was non-existent decades ago. As a result of extensive denudation of forests, rainfall started decreasing. This disturbed a young scientist in the area Dr. Malali Gowda. He started a small organization called Bio-diversity Conservation and Research Trust (BCRT). The first activity was to develop tree cover in a small area. BCRT took pains to showcase villagers as to what are the advantages of having forests. Now, when the canopy cover has developed thickly and fully all over, their drying open well has registered surprising increase in the water table. Water levels are high – almost touching the ground – even during these summer months.

M. P. Chandranath owns 45 acres of coffee estate near Kalpetta, in Wayanad, Kerala. His venture has few parallels. He developed a forest only to augment his water sources. For this purpose, he sacrificed six acres of his prime coffee plantation. Needless to say that water resources in many of his water bodies have strengthened considerably. He says that most of the trees planted by him are of low-timber value and fears that some may attempt to cut off his painstakingly developed forest for its timber value in future. In total, Chandranath has developed mini-forests in five spots. One of these is just by the Kalpetta-Mananthavady roadside. “This one I have developed just as a demonstration for people traveling on the road. Let them learn that only by preserving trees you can have water,” he tells me.

Though such corrective steps are very miniscule when compared to the massive and ever continuing deforestation, slowly farmers and communities here and there are turning a bit conscious about retaining forests. Dr. L.C. Soans and his brother Irwin Soans were probably the first in then Dakshina Kannada district to conserve about an acre of their land as private forest, but there are numerous other lone crusaders. In fact, the number of farmers (individual and collective groups) who have consciously retained private forests would run into hundreds. While those who single-handedly grow entire forests are indeed commendable, we must also focus on those who have worked to retain forests. Their efforts are no less crucial.       

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Issue Dated: Feb 5, 2017