Sunday, February 3, 2013

Trees as fulcrum for rural development - by Dr.G.Kumaravelu

Dear friends,

I have received an interesting email from The Great Dr.G.Kumaravelu, former State Planning Commission member and former PCCF, a visionary of our times on Sunday, 3rd February, 2013, 1:27PM. The letter is written in his usual inimitable style, truly expressed his concern for not only farmers but also environment and Govt. policies. I am sharing his mail (though personal) with our readers since keeping it in my ‘inbox’ is not going to serve any purpose. I feel really happy that we, the farmers, have these kinds of rare breeds among us with penchant for ‘upliftment of farmers’. 

The letter:

"It is high time that the Governments mandate through their Industrial policy that at least 33% of Industries in the states to be established in future should use BIOTIC RAW MATERIAL like herbs, shrubs and Trees than ABIOTIC.

Now if you introspect, the fact that more than 90% of industries existing are using metals, chemicals and minerals like stones, sand, lime etc. The more affluent the society becomes, it becomes more effluents ridden. This causes more pollution for which we are scratching our brain to find appropriate solution and what is worse is that this malady remedy dilemma gets perpetuated. If trees are tailored for specific end use and through appropriate post harvest technology, full tree utilization is achieved. We can certainly make them to exemplify as fulcrum for rural development.

We should take into consideration the carbon footprint and the water foot prints in the choice of species. The govt should encourage (apart from the present encouragement given to paper pulp), non-effluent industries like veneer, plywood, particleboard, compressed wood, MDF (Medium density fibre board), furniture and construction wood fabrication units.

Apart from the above, encouragement should be also given to de-centralized electric power production units which adopt gassifier technology. The resultant bio-char can be impregnated with cow urine and beneficial microorganisms like azospirillum, phosphobacteria, psudomonas, Trichoderma viridi, VAM Etc.,. Application of this enriched biochar in the field will enhance the productive potential of our dead and desiccated soils which are deprived of essential  nutrients, lost through leaching.

I had proposed COGENERATION OF FOOD WITH WOOD, when I was in planning commission. I am glad to see that the programme of ‘TREE CULTIVATION IN PRIVATE LANDS (TCPL)’ started by me while in service had picked up. I am aware that much more have to be done in this. Enthusiastic tree lovers and cultivators like you should be given more opportunity to contribute more. I wish more role for the members of tree growers association in govt programmes.

I am presently concentrating on screening best phenotypes of Melia dubia suitable for acid soils to alkaline soils. I am more concerned with the steady raise of TDS (Total dissolved Solids) in the bore-well waters of TN.  My own farm bore well water has more than 4000 TDS. Less than 500 is desired for trees. I have one Melia dubia grown to 125 cm gbh in 4000 TDS WATER in 7.5 yrs in my farm which had been cloned. We have to screen and select plus trees for problem soils and water.

I AM NOW CONCENTRATING ON SELECTION AND SCREENING OF SUITABLE FAST WOOD SPECIES AND PHENOTYPES THAT ARE FIT FOR BUND PLANTING SUITABLE FOR VENEER. That can give more profit for farmers. final good news. I had selected one phenotype of Melia dubia which has grown to 8 mts ht with 25 cm gbh in 6 months after planting.....I am cloning that....THAT IS HOW WE CAN MAKE TREES TO EXEMPLIFY AS A FULCRUM FOR RURAL DEVELOPMENT...i am dabbling with two more species which will give more profit ....Let us try our best. 


Shared to farmers, scientists, environmentalists and policy makers by,
A.Vishnu Sankar.

Sunday, January 20, 2013

Apical shoot deformity in Melia dubia (Malai Vembu, Konda Vepa, Hebbevu) plantations:

Dear Friends,

Melia dubia (Malai Vembu, Konda Vepa, Hebbevu) is now in lime light only because of its tremendous initial growth i.e., during first two years even in marginal soils with sparse irrigation. Its growth after that initial period vastly differs from field to field and the current field reports are not that much encouraging in many parts of Tamilnadu, Andhra and Karnataka states.

Growth variation is so huge that even in my field, girth increment of some 4 year old trees are 200% more than 8 year old trees. Since too much hype has been generated already, reality will sink in slowly and in the coming years farmers will come to know about the type of soil required, soil depth, climate, tolerance to maximum temperature, drought tolerance and water requirement for successful cultivation of Melia dubia.   

Though drought tolerance of this tree is moderate, it becomes ‘stunted’ during prolonged droughts. Tree will shed all its leaves and the growth stops during extreme and prolonged hot conditions. Do not plant in Alkaline soil, clay, sodic soils and wherever there is poor soil depth. Melia grows well in irrigated (weekly once) soils where pH is below 7.5.

All the plants in a field will not grow uniformly and the trees planted in bunds and near water channels exhibits rapid growth and attain enormous girth within 4 - 5 years. The presence of this kind of + trees though in small percentage are brought to centre stage by ruthless traders to make quick money. The pictures and Videos of young yet enormous Melia trees you find in 'Net' are carefully selected picks from the above +trees among a vast lot of average plants. So, don’t get distracted and be realistic in your estimates as the law of averages will always come to play even in your field.
‘Apical shoot deformity in Melia dubia’:
I happened to notice in my field last year that apical tip (actively growing top most tip of a plant) of about 5% to 8% of my Melia trees were found to be deformed. On closer examination I could not able to see any pest infestation (bore hole) leading to canker or any fungal infestation. In the later months I happened to see the same mysterious deformity in many parts of Tamilnadu and Karnataka states. I showed this condition to CCF and ACCFs of Forest Extension Department in their own demo plots itself in various districts.

The affected tree exhibits no vertical growth and for identification purpose I named it as ‘Apical shoot deformity in Melia dubia’. The affected plant part is usually about 1.5 to 2 feet, swollen, black in colour, rigid, one third of the length curved like a sickle or coiled.  A tree planted in my backyard first showed this deformity about 2 years back. Now, the growing tip of lower most side branch of the same tree is also got affected.

Picture of deformity in side branch:

At the time of my visit to Forest College Research Institute (FCRI), Mettupalayam, Coimbatore, Tamilnadu on May, 2012, I pointed out the same deformity of apical tip in some Melia dubia trees  (2 %to 3%) in their demo plots also that had not been observed by them earlier. The photos I had with me at that time were not good (long shots) so requested the FCRI people to take close up shots since they have a very high portable aluminum ladder to reach the tree tops easily. I fervently hoped that with all the correct persons, knowledge, equipment and lab, FCRI can find the reason and suggest a remedy which will definitely benefit poor ‘Melia tree grower’. After continuous follow up I came to know that exact cause of this condition is still not identifiable and they are also receiving same complaints from many Melia fields in T.N.
Then I happened to hear from few scientists of Institute of Forest Genetics and Tree Breeding Institute (IFGTB), Coimbatore that they have also observed this when they visited some pest infested Melia fields (Melia plantations affected by ‘Stem borers’ and ‘root grubs’) for on the spot assessment. According to them the scale of ‘Apical shoot deformity’ is up to 10% in some fields and their initial studies have revealed that this attack is neither due to insect nor due to fungus. Lab tests were going on to assess whether this is a viral infection since severely infected plots are located adjacent to fields with gourd family (Cucurbitaceae) vegetables which are a major source of virus pathogens.
Let these research institutions come with their findings at their leisure. We can not blame them since they don’t have virus testing facilities in their labs and even If they identify the cause for this deformity it has to be proved scientifically, has to be documented, corroborated by senior scientists before press release.

May be this deformity is due to physiological or environmental factors also. I kindly request our knowledgeable readers and ‘Melia growers’ to come out with their view. May be some of you might have invented cure for this infection. Speak out !, since you are the correct person to judge the cause and suggest remedy for this mysterious ‘Apical shoot deformity in Melia dubia’.


A.Vishnu Sankar

Sunday, December 30, 2012

Constraints faced by tree growers:

Dear friends,

I have been asked to prepare a list of constraints faced by tree growers in India by a Chief Conservator of Forests, Department of Forests, Tamilnadu. He would have thought that obtaining this kind of information directly from a tree grower will be realistic and an eye opener to the higher echelons in his department and the Government. But what he received from myself must have left him embarrassed, no doubt.  

When I started to type the list, it grew to 32 hurdles to my utter disbelief and to the dismay of our respected officer. 32 hurdles will be difficult even for an Olympic hurdles runner to surmount. Truly a huge task for a tree grower.
    Constraints faced by the tree growers: 
I. Constraints from Nature (God?):
  1. Vagaries of monsoon (Poor rainfall, excess rain, high temperature and  prolonged drought).
  2. Pest and disease occurrence.
  3. Damage to crop by cattle and wild animals (especially wild boar).
  4. Damage to crop by Birds (especially peacock).
II. Constraints from Govt.:
  1. Poor assistance from Govt. for land development.
  2. Poor assistance for Soil reclamation.
  3. Poor assistance for water reclamation.
  4. Poor assistance to establish ‘Farm ponds’ and ‘Percolation ponds’.
  5. Poor assistance to put up solar fencing.
  6. Nil assistance to fence our farm land (other then solar).
  7. Nil assistance to avail drip irrigation facility for tree cropping.
III.  Constraints in schemes of Dept. of Forests:
  1. Non availability of preferred species.
  2. Non - availability of good seedlings.
  3. Non – availability of seedlings at the preferred time.
  4. Provision to supply plants of various types with different maturity periods (short, medium and long duration varieties) is not adhered to.
  5. Maximum ceiling level for the supply of seedlings is not adhered to.
  6. Quality of seedlings from Forest nursery.
  7. Transport of Seedlings from nursery. Cost / Damage / Other hurdles.
  8. Replacement for plant mortality (for gap filling) is inadequate.
  9. Inadequate training and lack of sound and easy to adopt technical guidance.
  10. Market promotion and publicity materials are quite inadequate.
  11. Delay in inspection and issuing of cutting / transport permit.
  12. Non-Establishment of Agro-forestry model plots.
  13. Incentives:
    a)      Inadequate provisions.
    b)      Duration of period (Max. No. of years) to avail incentive 
    c)      Delayed payment of Incentives.
    d)      Method of Incentive payment. 
IV. Infrastructure Constraints:
  1. Inadequate credit facility from Banks/Govt. institutions/NGO and others.
  2. No provision for Crop Insurance.
  3. Lack of awareness and knowledge about growing trees.
  4. Lack of organized groups like  SHG, NGO, and other forums to support.
  5. Quality of seedlings from private nursery.
  6. Non - availability / timely availability of quality organic manures.
  7. Labour shortage.
  8. High labour wages.

Of course, I might have left some 'constraints' by oversight here. I kindly request our readers to point out the omissions in the above list to draw a complete (pathetic) picture. 

Comment for the future of farming is your 
comment for the future of mankind.

A.Vishnu Sankar.
Tirunelveli District Tree Growers Association.

Thursday, December 20, 2012

Suggestions to improve 'Tamilnadu Biodiversity Conservation and Greening Project':

Dear Friends,

We would like to bring to everybody's notice that through 'Tirunelveli District Tree Growers Association', we have made several suggestions to the Forest Department of Tamilnadu to improve ‘Tamilnadu Biodiversity Conservation and Greening Project’ (TBGP), to turn it more farmer friendly at the execution level, in order to achieve the desired objective of planting 10 crore trees in 5 years. As special invitees, we had participated in many TBGP meetings right from the time of its inception to its' present advanced execution stage.

In reel life it is very common to witness scenes where petitions from a common man on submission to our rulers (read all powerful politicians and even more powerful bureaucrats) finds its way to dustbin in a matter of minutes. It is no different in real life also. But by God’s grace, nothing sort of that happened to our demands submitted to the State Forest Dept. There are one or two honest officers still alive and kicking in the decayed corrupt system. May be the presence of these tribe who are on the verge of extinction (endangered species of course) are the reason for the failure of these doomsday/apocalypse predictions like ‘end of Mayan calendar and the end of world on 21st Dec, 2012’. It is a mere coincidence that I happen to publish this article a day before the much hyped doomsday. 
(Pic. courtesy: ecofuture). 
It is a great pleasure to announce that most of our suggestions were favorably considered by the Forest Department of Tamilnadu and found incorporated in the 'TBGP' project. Our heartfelt thanks to Mr.K.Chidambaram.,I.F.S., and Sri.Irulandi., I.F.S., Chief Project Director and Project Director respectively, who head the 'Project Management Unit' of TBGP, for their continuous support in achieving this impressive feat. Some of the suggestions made to them on behalf of farming community are given here: 

1.  Farmers normally don't have the knowledge to select a Tree variety that suits his land's soil type and water quality. Under the existing scheme, he is planting whatever variety he is getting from the Dept.of Forests. Due to wrong selection or supply, plant mortality is high at the field in the initial months itself. So before effecting supplies, the Dept. should take soil tests and water analysis tests in the identified farm land and should suggest to the farmer, suitable crops and the necessary cultivation techniques.

2.    At present 'Drip irrigation subsidy' is not available for the cultivation of Trees. It is sad to note here that our Govt.rules and Acts not spared even border crops that act as fencing or as wind breakers to the farmer's field. More area will be brought under tree cultivation if the Govt, permits 'Drip irrigation subsidy' for tree crops. This is surely a short cut way to increase our country's green cover.

3. More number of Pamphlets and brochures with details of tree varieties, cultivation techniques, their maturity, preferable soil types Etc. should be released by the Forest Department for the farmer's benefit. 

4. It is advisable to provide plants of various types with different maturity periods (short, medium and long duration varieties) to the marginal farmers instead of a single variety there by assuring him of a regular income.

5. Maximum ceiling level ( number of plants) for Bulk plantings should be removed. 

6. Incentives for the tree growers may be increased to 3 years for short term tree crops and 5 years for long gestation tree crops. It is better to release the incentive amount at the end of the year, after seeing the results, instead of at the year beginning as is the case now.

7. It is not possible to raise the required number of plants and all the varieties in the nurseries of Forest Department alone. So, we should entrust this work to interested individual farmers, NGOs and SHGs. The planning should be in such a way, so that only plants identified for that particular village are allowed to cultivate in the nursery. By this way the farmer can avoid the huge transportation costs, and he is free to take delivery of the plants whenever he feels that climatic conditions are favorable for planting.

8. In continuation of the above, the farmer who is willing to establish a nursery exclusively for timber plants may require bank finance. So, a recommendation letter from the Forest department to the concerned banker to the effect that the farmer is a technically qualified person in the nursery keeping and the buy-back of the raised plants from the nursery by the Dept is guaranteed.

9. Farmers who are willing to do Agro forestry but have lands in rain fed areas and drought prone areas usually don’t come forward due to the high cost of land development expenses. We should help them by providing subsidies in leveling the field, to form bunds and to create structures for rain water conservation.

10. The tree crops raised under ‘TCPL’ scheme (Tree Cultivation in Private Lands)  should be allowed to cut on maturity. These scheduled timbers should be allowed for transportation after sale and the Dept. should issue “No Objection Certificate”.

11. The Govt. should give importance and priority to “Agro-forestry” also, like the encouragement it gives to Horticulture and Spice crops. This can be done by enacting laws and by providing adequate funds to enhance acreage, coverage and productivity of timber crops so that farmers can be weaned away from water consuming traditional crops there by assuring them of appropriate returns. 

Before concluding this post, I want to share this rather sad information: 
This year under 'TBGP' project about 1 Crore tree seedlings were raised at various forest nurseries and kept ready for free distribution to farmers at the onset of monsoon. But, due to total failure of both South west and North east monsoons in Tamilnadu, the authorities could not able to move even 50% of the raised seedlings to the identified beneficiaries. 

 "Man proposes, God disposes". 

May be man proposes only disposables.

(Pic.courtesy: multiwood).
For Tirunelveli District Tree and Medicinal Plants Growers Association
A.Vishnu Sankar,

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