Table of Contents
The Truth about Eucalyptus
- Agro-forestry is an age-old practice. Trees and shrubs are important in the traditional farming systems of the tropics, where woody species form a major component of the bush fallow system and are also widely grown in cropped land. Trees and shrubs benefit the farmer in three main areas:
- Direct agricultural benefits (plant stakes, mulching materials, green manure, animal fodder and so on);
- Environmental benefits (shade, soil erosion control, nutrient recycling, carbon sequestration and so on);
- Socioeconomic benefits (saleable commodities like timber, fruits, vegetables, cereals, building materials, and so on).
- India is a wood fibre-deficient country. Inadequate raw material availability in the country is a major constraint for the domestic paper industry which impacts its cost competitiveness.
- The policy of converting low value natural forests into plantations was aimed at improving productivity and to generate government revenue.
- In order to meet the growing wood requirement, state Forest Development Corporations (FDCs) and the pulp & paper industry joined hands with farmers, leading to the creation of a sustained wood resource base under agro/farm forestry. About 70 per cent of these plantations are of eucalyptus.
- For the better adaptability of eucalyptus, fast growing, high yielding, site specific Eucalyptus clones, adopting root trainer technology, were developed during the early 1980s. This technology came to India in early 1990s. This technology helps the development of multiple roots, which are surface feeders and go to a depth of 1-3 metres only and do not affect the ground water table.
- Some 170 species, varieties and provenances of eucalypt were tried in India out of which the most outstanding and favoured has been the E. hybrid, a form of E. tereticornis known as Mysore gum. The most important characteristics of E. Hybrid under Indian conditions are: it is fast growing, capable of over topping weeds, coppices well, is fire hardy, browse resistant and it has the ability to adapt to a wide range of edaphoclimatic conditions.
- Andhra Pradesh and Telangana, Tamil Nadu, Punjab, Haryana and Karnataka are few of the states which produce the bulk of eucalyptus in the country which suffices the demands of the timber, pulp and paper industries. In 2017 Karnataka banned growing of eucalyptus plantations on private land in the state, including the plantations under agro/farm forestry.
- These actions would have severe social, economic, industrial and environmental consequences and defer from the objectives of National Forest Policy, 1988 as well as National Agro-forestry Policy, 2014.
- Eucalyptus is accused of being a water-guzzler and is shunned despite its many benefits. It is also defamed for making the soil acidic and showing allelopathic effects.
- Some 170 species, varieties and provenances of eucalypt were tried in India out of which the most outstanding and favoured has been the Eucalyptus hybrid, and Eucalyptus tereticornis known as Mysore gum. The most important characteristics of E. Hybrid under Indian conditions are: it is fast growing, capable of over topping weeds, coppices well, is fire hardy, browse resistant and it has the ability to adapt to a wide range of edaphoclimatic conditions.
- Eucalyptus is a topic of contention, not just in India but several countries including Kenya, Chile, Ethiopia, South Africa, Portugal, Pakistan, Indonesia, China and Thailand. But none of these countries other than India has taken as harsh a step as banning its cultivation.
Ecological Effects of Eucalyptus
- Large scale planting of eucalypt has caused concern to many people as they thought it would have adverse environmental impacts particularly in relation to high water use.
- But in the root trainer technology, any root system has not gone beyond 3.5m, and its root system is more specifically adapted to using rain-fed soil moisture from the upper soil profile, rather than from the groundwater table at considerable depth.
- The water use of a Eucalyptus plantation has been found to be 785 litres/kg of total biomass, which is one of the lowest if compared with tree species such as Acacia (1,323 litres/kg), Dalbergia (1,484 litres/kg) and agricultural crops such as paddy rice (2,000 litres/kg) and cotton (3,200 litres/kg).
- Eucalyptus plantations are economically grown in monoculture. In India, until 1980’s due to the Government policy to convert degraded natural forests into productive plantations, large areas of natural forests with miscellaneous species were cleared for planting eucalypts in monoculture. This trend is completely reversed now and the present policy is not to clear any natural forests for plantations. In established eucalypt plantations raised in the high rainfall zone in the past, indigenous species are allowed to come up after harvesting. At present, plantations of eucalypt are only taken up in barren areas of the dry zone.
- While it is true that the natural forest is a better habitat for wildlife, eucalypt plantations also support wildlife. One example is the habitat of the Black buck in Ranebennur, Karnataka is eucalypt plantation with sparse and bushy undergrowth. The eucalypt plantation in Ranebennur is also the habitat of the Great Indian Bustard which is an endangered species.
- A landmark judgement was delivered by the Punjab and Haryana High Court which stated that if the proper management of eucalyptus cultivation is undertaken, the growing of eucalyptus is neither anti-environment nor is it disastrous for the water table.
- Eucalyptus plantations yield more net income to farmers than almost 60-70 per cent of agriculture crops. It can play a major role in increasing future farm level income.
- A Food and Agriculture Organisation (FAO) report 2014, said around 93 per cent of industrial wood requirement of the country is met out of farm/agro forestry plantations (about 70 per cent of which is eucalyptus). It has benefitted the farmers and the industry, and has substantially reduced pressure on forests.
- Out of India’s total 328.73 million ha of geographical land, 25.98 million ha comprises farmer-owned uncultivated wasteland. Trees like eucalyptus not only help in increasing farmers’ income, but also fulfil the government’s target of covering the geography with 33 per cent of forests (National Forest Policy, 1988) which currently pegs at only 22 per cent.
Toxins in Food
- Fumonisins are phytotoxic mycotoxins which are synthesized by various species of the fungal genus Fusarium.
- The trichothecene (TC) mycotoxins are secondary metabolites produce by species that belong to several fungal genera, especially Fusarium. Fusarium mycotoxins are widely dispersed in cereals and their products.
- Zearalenone (ZEA) is an estrogenic compound produced by Fusarium spp. such as F. graminearum and F. culmorum.
- Fumonisins, the TCs and ZEA are hazardous for human and animal health. Contamination with TCs causes a number of illnesses in human and animal such as decrease in food consumption (anorexia), depression or inhibition on immune system function and haematoxicity.
- The most important Fusarium mycotoxins are fumonisins, TCs such as T-2, HT-2, DON, DAS, FUS-X, NIV, diacetylnivalenol, neosolaniol and ZEA. They are common mycotoxins throughout the world, mainly associated with cereal crops, in particular corn, wheat, barley, rye, rice and oats.
- ZEA was discovered as the cause of a reproductive disorder in pigs known as vulvovaginitis. It is one of the most common Fusarium mycotoxins in the temperate regions of America, Europe and Asia. It is most frequently encountered on corn, but also contaminates other cereals and plant products like oats, barley, wheat and sorghum.
- Zearalenone has been detected by scientists in India in maize, oats, rice and wheat.
- The concentrations of zearalenone in the cereals is significantly higher than the tolerable limits prescribed by the European Union.
- Zearalenone is a toxin produced by soil fungi and has been known to contaminate cereals during pre-harvest and post-harvest activities. Studies have indicated that zearalenone disrupts the endocrine system, interfering with the normal patterns of hormones.
- In the absence of regulatory limits, the Indian population is at risk of zearalenone exposure by consuming contaminated cereals.
- The Food Safety Standards Authority of India does not have limits for zearalenone.
- The EU, countries such as China, Japan and South Korea have prescribed permissible limits for the toxin in various foods.
- The Scheme of Mega Food Park aims at providing a mechanism to link agricultural production to the market by bringing together farmers, processors and retailers so as to ensure maximizing value addition, minimizing wastage, increasing farmers income and creating employment opportunities particularly in rural sector.
- The Mega Food Park Scheme is based on “Cluster” approach and envisages creation of state of art support infrastructure in a well-defined agri / horticultural zone for setting up of modern food processing units in the industrial plots provided in the park with well-established supply chain.
- Mega food park typically consist of supply chain infrastructure including collection centers, primary processing centers, central processing centers, cold chain and around 30-35 fully developed plots for entrepreneurs to set up food processing units.
- The Mega Food Park project is implemented by a Special Purpose Vehicle (SPV) which is a Body Corporate registered under the Companies Act.
- So far Twelve Mega Food Parks namely, Patanjali Food and Herbal Park, Haridwar; Srini Food Park, Chittoor; North East Mega Food Park, Nalbari; International Mega Food Park, Fazilka; Integrated Food Park, Tumkur; Jharkhand Mega Food Park, Ranchi; Indus Mega Food Park, Khargoan; Jangipur Bengal Mega Food Park, Murshidabad; MITS Mega Food Park Pvt. Ltd., Rayagada; Satara Mega Food Park, Satara; Himalayan Food Park Pvt. Ltd., Udham Singh Nagar; and Greentech Mega Food Park Pvt. Ltd., Ajmer are functional.
- Cremica Mega Food Park Pvt Ltd is located at Village Singhain Una District of Himachal Pradesh. This is the first Mega Food Park operationalised in the State of Himachal Pradesh.