By Ranjan K Panda, Convenor of ‘Water Initiatives Odisha’, leading water researcher and practitioner of the countryand senior freelance journalist. He can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org. A major portion of this article was covered in an article written by the author for Terra Green magazine.
Visiting Dinabandhu Gand of Kauguda village in the Kalahandi district of Odisha shows that CDM projects in afforestation and reforestation can do the opposite to what they are designed to. In a place where climate change is already inducing ever more annual droughts, this business in the name of mitigating climate change is in fact causing a double effect on people. It raises serious concerns about the effectiveness of afforestation and reforestation projects under the CDM and the impacts they have on local communities.
Dinabandhu, a relatively poor and marginal farmer, owns two acres and twenty decimals of land. As small as his farm may be, it never failed him and, like many farmers on the belt of Odisha, he was practicing local crop diversity-based ecological farming. He explained, “With paddy cereals, pulses, millets and vegetables these became enough for my family of three for the whole year. We’ve even earned cash by selling black gram, til and vegetables. However, ours is a drought prone area and the fate of our agriculture depends on the rain god.”
Five years back an official from the JK Paper mills visited him and asked him to abandon this kind of agriculture and grow eucalyptus instead. Dinabandhu recounts, “They said that I would earn at least sixty to seventy thousand rupees per acre if I raised eucalyptus and I was promised all sorts of help.”
The CDM Project that JK Paper mills had been referring to is entitled “Improving Rural Livelihoods Through Carbon Sequestration By Adopting Environment Friendly Technology based Agroforestry Practices” (see here) and got registered on 28 February 2011 by the UNFCC. So far, personal accounts from farmers like Dinabandhu suggest that the project has left most listed beneficiaries bankrupt. Still, the project, funded by the World Bank’s Bio Carbon Fund, has projected an estimated annual reduction of CO2 to the tune of 324,269 metric tonnes. If we go by the name of the project, it is supposed to be promoting sustainable agro-forestry practices.
While Dinabandhu and his fellow villagers remain indebted to the bank, the company involved with the project says they have involved people in a participatory manner and many have voluntarily joined the initiative. Yet Dinabandhu says, “I am a layman on these things but I cannot understand, if there is very good natural forest here which can provide work for the whole life of a farmer, why is a killer tree [like eucalyptus] being promoted to be harvested.” Prof. Arttabandhu Mishra, a retired professor from Sambalpur University who has done extensive research on environmental impacts of this tree confirms, “The eucalyptus sucks the water [right away from] the locality and it does more damage to the environment than doing any good.” He suggests that instead of eucalyptus trees, traditional agro-forestry can not only be a carbon sink but can also save agriculture from climate variations and enhance soil fertility and the water retention ability of crop fields. With eucalyptus, soil fertility decreases and water resources dry up. In actual fact, most CDM projects that come for review are of this type, which confirm that these are not beneficial. As such these projects should not be promoted, especially at the cost of the environment and the poor.