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On a Timber Trail
Monday, 14 March 2016
Empowering Farmers Through FSC Certification. “I never imagined that my land could help educate my children, give them a decent life and social status. The certificate we have received from FSC and the initiatives of ITC have helped us in extracting the best out of our land.” – Mr. Ashok, a small-scale plantation owner from Gundala village.
A six-hour drive from Hyderabad is the town of Bhadrachalam. It is famous for its Ram Temple, which is visited by thousands of devotees every year. It is also famous for the ITC Paper Speciality Products Division (ITC PSPD) pulp factory. Surrounded by acres of plantations and natural forests, Bhadrachalam is the source of tonnes of the raw materials used for paper production every year, in India and beyond.
Yet despite this huge demand, the extensive deforestation found across much of India does not seem prevalent here. On my recent visit, the forests and plantations were flourishing and there was little barren land. To investigate how this environmental sustainability has come about, we need to take a trip down memory lane.
Around 20 years ago years ago, there were no major plantations here and the local tribal people did not use the land for cultivation. Most of the wood used for paper production came from natural forests, which were being diminished at a rapid rate. But during the 1990s, ITC stepped in with a corporate social responsibility initiative to educate farmers from tribal communities about establishing eucalyptus and sababul plantations on their land. This aimed to reduce the dependence on natural forests for paper production, as well as to encourage community development. In the first year, ITC managed around 17 hectares of plantations and, as this idea became increasingly accepted among the communities, they expanded their operations.
ITC also understood the need for a model that benefitted the environment, the community and their business in the long term. The answer was FSC certification – meaning sustainability every step of the way. Certification ensured that their raw materials came from responsible sources and that the plantations adhered to FSC’s sustainability principles.
The local environment has changed for the better. Mr Sanjay Singh, the Divisional Chief Executive of ITC-PSPD, explains: “Firstly, the initiative helps in increasing the forest cover. The remaining waste from these plantations is used as fuel, thereby discouraging the use of forests for fuel wood. Secondly, the key to this initiative is that we have successfully linked our corporate social responsibility to our business and it has become a sustainable model.”
The local farmers have also benefitted. Today, most have adopted this model and are seeing many positive changes. For example, certification has freed them from the clutches of the middlemen: they can now sell their produce directly to ITC and others, earning higher prices. “The farmers have been able to use the additional earnings to develop community projects and village infrastructure. It is a win-win situation for the company and the farmers,” says Mr Singh.
From Bhadrachalam, I travelled to nearby Rajeev Nagar, where the villagers’ major source of income is these plantations. I met a farmers’ group, called ‘Sangha’, who were meeting to discuss their plantations, the progress made and any concerns. The farmers told me how they ensure that the principles of certification are not violated. For example, they use organic, home-made pesticides and ‘green’ manure, and ensure that natural flora and fauna are not disturbed or destroyed. One farmer showed me his field, in which rows of eucalyptus plantations were interspersed with small pastures of native trees and plants, which he deliberately left in place.
I also heard about the various new techniques they have learnt over the years. One of these is intercropping. As well as eucalyptus and subabul, the farmers plant crops such as chillies, grams and pulses in between the trees to increase the productivity of the land. This has helped them to return better yields and higher incomes from their land.
They also eagerly told stories of how their increased earnings have changed their lives. I could see houses with solar panels and dishes for satellite television, clear evidence of the standard of living people now enjoy. The Sangha leader, Mr Kisari Bazaru, said: “I have ensured a good life with all facilities for my family. My children have gone out of the village to the city to study and are now working there, earning well. This is what I have achieved over the years through the initiatives of ITC and FSC.”
The region demonstrates how to create an ecosystem in which a corporation, a community and the environment can co-exist and mutually benefit each other. The hope is that this is replicated elsewhere in India.
“We are extremely happy to see the progress at the Bhadrachalam plantations. It is good to see that the community has accepted and absorbed the idea of sustainable cultivation and has ensured that the natural forest cover is not disturbed. ITC has been a pioneer in establishing and sustaining this FSC model at Bhadrachalam [and] this initiative has helped in … ensuring that the farmers get the best return for their production,” says Dr T.R. Manoharan, FSC’s Country Representative in India.
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