‘Water-sucker trees fetch Rs. 300 crore annually’

A eucalyptus plantation at Muduvatti in Kolar taluk. Photo: VIshwa Kundapura  

The possibility of a ban on eucalyptus plantations in parched areas has triggered debates and fears in Kolar district, where the tree is one of the pillars of the local economy. The Karnataka High Court recently directed the Forest Department to consider banning the high-water-consuming tree in Kolar and Chickballapur.

The petitioner said that the eucalyptus plantations had led to depleting groundwater-levels in the already parched district. However, in Kolar, water conservation activists and eucalyptus farmers have opposed the proposed ban.

Much of the plantations are on private land, and farmers say that the region was beset with water problems before the eucalyptus made its appearance in the district in the 1970s.

S. Chandrashekhar, who cultivates eucalyptus on  about seven acres of land in Barli village in Bangarpet taluk, said eucalyptus can’t be solely blamed  for the depletion of groundwater as its roots go up to only 10 to 12 ft. deep. “There are districts that do not grow eucalyptus, but they also face acute water shortage. How can this tree be blamed for the water woes?” he asked.

He believed a shift in crop pattern, particularly to the water-intensive tomato, as well as over-exploitation of groundwater and encroachments of tanks and canals have led to the man-made crisis in the region.

While environmental activist K.N. Tyagaraj said that though eucalyptus plantations adversely affect groundwater levels, there was a need to provide alternative income for farmers before an outright ban is enforced. “The departments concerned should come forward with a strategy of alternative crops that will grow fast and yield income to cultivators to ensure there is little economic impact,” he added.

Being cultivated over 30,000 hectares in the district, farmers and the local paper industry relies on the non-native tree. “Eucalyptus fetches about Rs. 200 to Rs. 300 crore income annually in Kolar district and it is a major source for paper industry. Is it possible and wise to for the government to ban such a source?” asked Mr. Chandrashekhar.

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Printable version | Jun 17, 2021 4:52:48 PM |

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