Kerala villagers are reaping the benefits of a scheme that pays them to leave their trees rooted, reducing risk of deforestation
In the misty, hilly terrain of Wayanad, in the southern Indian state of Kerala, the people with any access to land in the quiet town of Meenangadi have been out counting their trees.
Sheeja CG, a 46-year-old farmer, has lived among coffee, coconut and pepper plantations all her life but last month she increased her income dramatically by mortgaging 53 of her trees at the local bank, in return for a sum of 2,650 rupees (£26.96), or 50 rupees each. She was one of the first beneficiaries of the state-sponsored scheme.
It’s a simple incentive with big gains: plant a tree, and after three years residents can mortgage each sapling for an interest-free loan that can be renewed annually for 10 years. The money needs to be repaid only if the tree is chopped down.
Kerala, with its sweeping, spice-filled forested landscape has been troubled in recent years by an ailing farming sector, deforestation which has led to loss of biodiversity, and the climate crisis making summers much warmer, especially in the Wayanad, which used to be comfortably cool.
Suicides of farmers, landslides and floods have made the headlines. Farmers have been compelled to fell trees to supplement their income. Against such a background, the tree banking project, facilitated by a 10 crores rupee (£1.01m) grant from the state government, comes as a big incentive to keep them rooted to the ground.
“With temperatures almost five degrees higher than normal, I’ve faced a crop loss of 25%. The loan from the tree banking scheme will ease financial pressure. I will buy manure for my farm,” says Sheeja.
Prolonged dry spells and erratic rainfall have made the region increasingly vulnerable, with shrinking paddy farms and a threat to cash crops such as pepper and coffee. According to the Kerala State Action Plan on Climate Change, Wayanad is one of the four major climate change hotspots in the state.
But the tree banking scheme has an ambition to reverse the damage and turn Meenangadi, a town of about 35,000 people into a carbon neutral region. The Carbon Neutral Meenangadi Project is the first of its kind in India, and has changed the way the community lives and works.