TVR Mohan Rao (65), a farmer from the Padurypuram village of Bhadrachalam mandal in Andhra Pradesh does not regret the fact that he did not move out of his village in search of education and job opportunities years back as his other siblings have done.
Instead, Rao has been growing eucalyptus plants in his 20 acres of land for the last 12 years, which gives a return of Rs 50,000–60,000 per acre every four years through selling wood pulp to nearby ITC’s paper manufacturing facilities. He cultivates paddy, chilli, turmeric, etc in the other 80 acres of land jointly-owned by nine other siblings.
Since the 1980s under the social-and-farm forestry programme initiated by the ITC’s paperboards and specialty paper division, thousands of farmers like Rao have been growing eucalyptus plants on their land for meeting the requirement of ITC paper mill. ITC mill at Bhadrachalam produces around two lakh tonne of pulp with eight lakh tonne of wood annually. Most of the paper mills across the country depends on eucalyptus fibre and consumes more than 6.8 million tonne of wood annually.
During 1987 – 1995, with the support of National Bank for Agricultural & Rural Development (Nabard) 6,000 more farmers planted eucalyptus tree. However, according to HD Kulkarni, general manager (Plantation) of ITC, the productivity was ‘low and survival rate was not encouraging’.
ITC subsequently launched Tree Improvement Programme (TIP) in 1989 for achieving improvement in productivity for securing raw material supply on sustainable basis. The main focus was on genetic improvement of planting stock through clonal plantations and improvement of best agricultural practices.
The better yielding seeds were imported from Australia and the United States and more than 1,000 eucalyptus, 240 casuarina samplings were cloned and short-listed for mass multiplication and planting.
Due to the introduction of better saplings, the productivity increased to 20–58 tonne per hectare per annum compared to seed rout plantations which had yielded only 6-10 tonne per hectare per annum. Even the survival of plants has been close to 95% compared to only 40% from seed rout plantations.
Till date, more than 90,000 hectare (estimated value of Rs 1,800 crore) have come under eucalyptus plantation by ITC in Andhra Pradesh, while the target is to cover one lakh hectare by 2010, Kulkarni said. Due to the ‘successes’ of TIP, ITC is investing around Rs 400 crore every year for plant improvement.