Agriculture: Agroforestry

Wood security is a step towards self-reliance

The emphasis on speedy development of plantations and wood-based industries will not only meet their local demands but also help in increasing their exports. This will be a win-win situation for India as the expansion of this sector will increase the income of farmers, generate employment opportunities for labourers, business opportunities for various stakeholders, enhance the revenue of the government, fetch foreign exchange and help in environmental conservation.

Wood security is a step towards self-reliance

FORESTS provide timber for the manufacturing of domestic and industrial products.

RK Sapra

FORESTS provide timber for the manufacturing of domestic and industrial products. The National Forest Policy (NFP), 1952, envisaged that the forests would meet the raw material demand of wood-based industries, while the National Forest Policy of 1988 shifted the focus to the conservation of forests. During the late 1970s and the 1980s, as per the recommendations of the National Commission on Agriculture, the states implemented externally aided social forestry projects which not only met the demand of raw material, but also led to the popularisation of agroforestry.

As per the India State of Forest Report (2019), the recorded forest areas (RFA) and the area under Trees Outside Forests (TOF) of India is 76.74 million hectares and 29.38 million hectares, respectively, which is 23.3% and 8.9% respectively, of the geographical area. The important species in rural areas are mango, kikar, eucalyptus, rubber, shisham and poplar. As per the report The Puzzle of Forest Productivity (2017), the annual harvest of timber from forests declined from 10 million cubic metres in the 1970s to 4 million cubic metres by 1990. The landmark judgment of the Supreme Court in the Godavarman case (1996) resulted in further decline in wood production from forests, which is presently about 3 million cubic metres. As per the report Tree Outside Forest Resources in India (2020), the annual timber production from TOFs was 85 million cubic metres in 2020, while 15 million cubic metres Roundwood Equivalent (RWE) of wood and wood products were imported, as per Sustainable Trade of Wood and Wood- based Products in India (2021).

To meet the demand of large-sized wood, the policy of importing wood has been liberalised since the 1990s. The total import of roundwood logs and sawn wood was 6 million cubic metres from 2014-15 to 2019-20. The top four species of wood imported by India are teak, gurjan, meranti and beech and the imports of wood are mostly from Myanmar, Malaysia, Indonesia, Nigeria, Ghana, Togo, Gabon, Brazil, Panama and New Zealand. India not only imports wood products like plywood, veneer, particle board, fibre board, pulp and waste-paper, newsprint, paperboards and furniture, but also exports most of them, except for pulp and waste paper, and newsprint. The exports also include antique furniture, handicrafts, wooden toys and swings. The Indian export and import of wood and wood products have shown a growing trend. However, the value of exports is much less as compared to that of imports. Wood and wood products worth about Rs 44,119 crore were imported during 2019-20.

Although India strongly supports sustainable forest management, wood and wood products may be imported into India without certification. A study by the International Union of Forest Research Organisations shows that India accounts for about 10% of the global illegal wood trade. Hence, voluntary certification of wood and wood products may be enforced in our country to ensure their trouble-free international trade As the imported timber might become costlier in future due to its increased demand and strict enforcement of voluntary certification regime in exporting countries, the promotion of composite wood panels may be the right strategy in the long run.

India has achieved self-sufficiency in producing small-sized wood but is still heavily dependent on imported timber due to shortage of large-sized wood from the forests. The Central Government has launched Aatmanirbhar Bharat Abhiyan to reduce dependency on imports and encourage the production of local products. For achieving self-reliance in the wood sector, the domestic production of large- sized wood needs to be enhanced through harvesting the annual incremental yield of forests. India has sufficient land resources, favourable climate, technical know-how and manpower to produce large-sized wood; hence, incentives to plantation companies and industries are needed for attracting investments to this sector.

The area under national parks and wildlife sanctuaries in India is 16 million hectares, so the area of RFAs excluding national parks and wildlife sanctuaries is 60.74 million hectares. As per the National Working Plan Code (2014), 10% of the RFAs may be used for production forestry through quality plantations for which about 6 million hectares of forests can be safely reserved for the production of large-sized wood. The degraded forests may be leased out to the private sector for raising highly productive plantations through required intensive inputs and silvicultural operations. The plantations in degraded forests may be financed through the public private partnership (PPP) model. But there is resistance from environmentalists and the bureaucracy to felling in natural forests and the leasing of forest lands to the private sector; hence, there is not much scope for increasing the yield of wood from forest lands. A safe limit of 2-3 million cubic metres of wood may be targeted.

The government should aggressively promote the production of large-sized wood on farmlands by providing incentives like discounted loans, capital subsidies and tax concessions to plantation companies and industries. The large-sized wood may be produced on 35 million hectares of farmer-owned uncultivated wasteland and current fallows. The productivity of plantations may be higher due to quality plants, improved silvicultural practices, better quality of land and better management. The plantations may be harvested at reduced rotations, which will provide juvenile wood; hence, intensive research and development efforts are needed to improve their utilisation. The projected annual production of timber from 1 million hectares of plantations of medium rotation trees like gamhar, kadam, silver oak, kikar and long-rotation trees like teak and shisham on farmlands would be 7.4 million cubic metres of timber worth about Rs 55.2 billion and would generate employment of about 13.5 million person days (the writer’s estimate).

The emphasis on speedy development of plantations and wood-based industries will not only meet their local demands but also help in increasing their exports. This will be a win-win situation for India as the expansion of this sector will increase the income of farmers, generate employment opportunities for labourers, business opportunities for various stakeholders, enhance the revenue of the government, fetch foreign exchange and help in environmental conservation.

Policy initiatives

The Government of India is playing a proactive role in investment promotion through a liberal FDI policy in this sector. Recently, the government increased the import duty on furniture and agarbattis to promote their local manufacturing. The National Toy Action Programme is going to be launched soon. The following policy initiatives are required for speeding up this process:

  • Formulating National Wood Action Plan
  • Increasing investments for degraded forests through public private partnership
  • Aggressively promoting plantation companies and industries for production of large-sized wood through discounted loans, capital subsidies and tax concessions
  • Liberalising the felling and transit permit rules for farm trees
  • Setting up agroforestry board/mission
  • Reducing Goods and Services Tax on farm wood and wood products
  • Reviewing export and import policy for encouraging domestic production of wood and wood products
  • Extensive training and skill development programmes for improving the quality of wood products

The author is Ex-MD, Haryana Forest Development Corporation

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