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Eucalypt Plantations and Social and Economic Aspects in India - S. R. Hiremath[1] & P.G. Dandavatimath[2]


Government policies in leasing big areas of mainly common lands to pulp and paper industry to grow eucalypts and other fast growing species have resulted in adverse social and economic effects. Opposition is not necessarily to eucalypts per se, but to the invasion of common lands. Conflict exists in: biomass requirement of the poor and of industry; industrial orientation of forest policy, the advance of absentee farm forestry landlords supported by international agencies. Supply deficiencies and failure of contractual arrangements to landless poor are noted. Pressures from organisations and village people caused amendments in large scale planting, and also resulted in the development of the new and more acceptable Forest Policy recognising the legitimate primary role of people in protection and development in common land for Joint Forestry Planning. The destruction of habitat, apart from adverse impact on bio-diversity, is also noted as a force in causing migration of people to cities. Summary conclusions of Poore and Fries (1985), are still relevant.

Key words: Eucalyptus, India, Eucalyptus controversy, social/farm forestry, village common land.


In 1985 we came face to face with eucalypts as a major social and economic issue in the context of the Karnataka Social Forestry Project (KSFP) and the controversial joint sector company, Karnataka Pulpwood Limited (KPL). The KSFP was a five year project with a budget of Rs.550 million. It was launched in 1983 and funded by the World Bank and the Overseas Development Administration (ODA) of the United Kingdom. In many areas in Karnataka, member organizations of the Federation of Voluntary Organizations for Rural Development in Karnataka (FEVORD-K), which consists of over 100 grassroots groups among the rural poor and tribals, are active.

There was serious concern about the predominance (over 80%) of eucalypt species both in nurseries and plantations, and especially in farm forestry. These plantations were invariably owned by absentee landlords. The eucalypt was replacing food crops like ‘ragi’ (pearl millet), ‘jawar’ (sorghum) and other millets. The Forest Department was forcing eucalypt species on the rural poor in both the decentralised Kissan nurseries and the departmental nurseries.

As a result, there was intense pressure on FEVORD-K to study these issues and take them up with the government and donor agencies. Grass root agencies began a systematic campaign to create awareness among themselves, the rural poor and the tribals about these issues and learn from them. On the basis of the studies of the KSFP, and other similar projects in various parts of the country and the experiences gained from these, the FEVORD-K addressed a joint memorandum on 28 November 1985 to the Chief Minister of Karnataka, the President of the World Bank, and the Head of the ODA. This gave specific suggestions for improvement of the Social Forestry Project. There was a good response from the midterm review team of KSFP. The review team considered our suggestions to be constructive and tried to incorporate some of them for implementation in the next phase of the project. They even included a FEVORD-K representative as a part of the review team. At the end of the project, the species were changed from eucalypts to other multi-purpose species, avoiding negative effects of monoculture. How-ever, some major suggestions were not implemented as the project had already completed more than half the period. The dominance of eucalypt species was reduced to a great extent, especially on community lots. Here it is relevant to note the following statement mentioned in the report of the National Commission on Agriculture in 1976. It says: "Objectives of social forestry, being the basic economic needs of the community aimed at the bettering the conditions of living:


Farm Forestry was entirely another matter where primarily the absentee landlords had taken to eucalypt with the full encouragement and support of the forestry officials. This experience also led us to study in depth the origin of the Forest Department and its role vis a vis the local people and environment. We also searched for what would be an appropriate role for this department and a forest policy which recognises the right of these communities over the forest produce especially Non Timber Forest Produce (NTFP).

We were mainly involved in the issues with the Karnataka Pulpwood Ltd. (KPL) through a very effective people’s movement. We raised questions on eucalypt and other commercial species. This guided us to more essential questions on lands, “Who controls them; who decides what species to plant and who benefits from them”. It was an enormous learning experience. On 14 November 1984, the Government of Karnataka signed an agreement with a pulp and rayon industry, M/s. Harihar Polyfibres (HPF), to lease its forest lands, revenue lands mainly common lands to the extent of 30,000 ha to KPL. Thus, the KPL started to grow eucalypt and other fast growing species as a captive plantation for producing raw material for a period of 40 years at a rate of Rs.1.00 per ha a year. 87.5% of produce was to go to HPF and l2.5% of produce to the Government as lease rent. A 100% guarantee for the bank lease to the tune of Rs. 300 million was given by the State Government alone.


During our visits and work in the villages, we came across many strong and vocal protests against eucalypts which had been propagated on the forest and village common lands. Going deeper into the issue, we found that this opposition was not necessarily for eucalypt as a tree, but eucalypt as a symbol of invasion by industry on their common lands. Eucalypt is viewed in this area as a plant which has deprived them of their common lands, fodder and fuel resources which were readily available before.

Experience taught us that we should not be distracted with scientific findings on eucalypt as botanical species, but rather we should firmly understand the social aspects of eucalypt and land use - who controls land; who decides what species to plant; and for whose benefit? Here was a matter of people’s choice against that of government collaboration with a powerful industrial sector for the sole benefit of industry, thereby depriving over 500,000 people in four Districts of their basic needs of fodder, fuel, fruits, etc. This controversy over eucalypt led to a systematic and deeper search for understanding issues on: i) the use of eucalypt and other commercial species; ii) the various phases of forest policy in Karnataka and India; and iii) the larger implication of the social needs of the poor when powerful forces “expropriate” the basic resources of the poor like land. We tried to understand the role of the Forest Department and other government agencies, and whose side they normally take, and the constitutional provisions for establishing people’s rights over their resources. This also helped us work out a more comprehensive strategy to deal with the KPL issue. There was a combination of a powerful people’s movement from below supported by scientific studies, filing of a public interest litigation in the Supreme Court of India W.P. No.35 of 1987, mobilizing support among the legislators, people’s representatives concerned bankers and government officials. This story has been very effectively narrated by Sadanand Kanvalli (1991).


Some of the other activities we have been involved in were: the social forestry plantation (again of eucalypt and acacia) in Medleri village; Save the Western Ghats March (more than 2,000 km long); and the Integrated Wasteland Development Project in Ranibennur taluka, Dharwad District, Karnataka. In Karnataka, largely inspired by the drive of “Save the Western Ghats March”, we came across a lot of resentment by tribals and other communities living in the Western Ghats region against eucalypt and other commercial species. These have further contributed to our understanding and insight into the social and economic aspects of eucalypt and other commercial plantations and their impact on the poor and the environment.

Conflict between the biomass needs of the poor and the raw material demands of industry

Species such as eucalypt are at the centre of the conflict between the livelihood needs of the poor and the raw material demands of the industry, because they have very little value as fodder, which plays a much more essential role in the subsistence mode of living than wood. N.S. Jodha in his article “Common Property Resources (CPRs) and Rural Poor in Dry Regions of India” has very effectively analyzed the dependence of the rural poor on the CPRs. He shows the significant contribution of CPRs towards employment and income generation for the rural poor (Economic and Political Weekly, 5 July 1986).

Industrial orientation of forest policy

Since 1947, both in Karnataka and elsewhere in India, the industrial influence on forest policy can be seen through the four distinct stages as shown in Figure 1. This process has been narrated succinctly in the article “Commercial Forestry: Defending the Indefensible” (Whither Common Lands? pp. 50-52) by Ramachandra Guha in 1988.

Figure 1. Four stages of industrial forestry





Prime beneficiary


Selection felling

Indigenous Commercial Species

Forest Department



Clearfelling and monocultural plantations

Chiefly exotics

Forest Department.



Farm forestry

Chiefly exotics

Commercial farmers

Commercial farmers & industry


Import and captive plantations


Joint Sector

Industry & Importers

Source: “This Fissured Land: An Ecological History of India” by Madhav Gadgil and Ramachandra Guha, Oxford University Press, Delhi, 1992.

This important example of industrial influence on forest policy of Karnataka, - easily applicable all over the country - is: in the first stage, raw materials were given to powerful industries at throw away prices. For example, the West Coast Paper Mills got bamboo at Rs. 1.00 per ton, while the basket weavers paid more than Rs. 300.00 per ton. Similarly, the Harihar Polyfibres (HPF) had a 30 year agreement for 300,000 tons of eucalypt at Rs. 24.00 per ton, which was lower than the production cost at that time of Rs. 44.00 per ton. In fact, the Public Accounts Committee (PAC) of Karnataka indicted the then Chief Minister of Karnataka in 1980 for having caused a loss of Rs. 220 million to the public exchequer by staying the operation of the new rates of eucalypt by issuing oral orders which were illegal. The public sector Hindustan Paper Corporation in Kerala was paying only Rs.11.00 per ton for green wood of eucalypt which was far below the production cost. Here, the State plays the role of supplier of raw materials for the industry at throw away prices disregarding the needs of the poor and tribals, causing heavy loss to the public exchequer and environment.

The second stage of this industrial forestry was marked by clear felling of natural forests and replacing them by plantations of fast growing species like eucalypt. For example, in the evergreen forests of Western Ghats in Karnataka, 100,000 acres of 83 evergreen forests were felled and planted with eucalypt which were infected with fungal disease called ‘pink disease’ which cut down their productivity to just 1 to 3 tons per hectare. Similarly “many steep slopes of Western Ghats of Kerala were laid waste as the magnificent old stands of evergreens gave way to miserable stands of sickly eucalypt” (Deforestation: Problems and Prospects, Madhav Gadgil, Foundation Day Lecture, 12 May 1989).

The third stage of this industrial forestry was marked by farm forestry on private lands of mostly absentee landlords as a part of “social forestry” schemes supported by World Bank and other international donor agencies. The species most promoted was eucalypt and the Forest Department supplied free seedlings, technical help and soft loans all under the so called “social forestry” which was hardly anything but social. Our analysis of the Karnataka Social Forestry Project funded by World Bank and ODA and similar projects elsewhere in the country confirmed the above. A more comprehensive study was conducted by Gerald Foley and Geoffrey Barnard of Earthscan, under the International Institute for Environment and Development (IIED), UK. The publication released in 1984, “Farm and Community Forestry”, further confirmed similar lessons learnt from various social forestry projects. A major part of this text is based upon a study of farm and community forestry commissioned by the Forestry Department of FAO.

Another study report on the KSFP, “British Aid to India: What Price?” by Steve Percy and Mike Hall (Bertrand Russel Peace Foundation, Nottingham, England, 1989), detailed the following on farm forestry: “In Karnataka, 53 percent of holdings are less than 2 hectares and cover only 15.5 percent of the cultivated land. At the other extreme, 6 percent of all holdings cover 32 percent of the cultivated area. With such unequal land distribution, 80 percent of the project (farm forestry) is effectively targeted at a landed minority.” This is against the Land Reforms Laws of Karnataka.

Some of the supporters of eucalypt claim that it can be good fuelwood. However, the realities show that very little of it is ever used as fuelwood in view of market demand. The Directorate of Economics and Statistics of the Government of Karnataka stated in a review report, “Review of Impact of Social Forestry Programme on Land Use in Kolar and Bangalore Districts (1986)” as follows: “Between April 1984 and July 1985, around 96.2 percent of eucalyptus produced in Bangalore District and 97.5 percent of eucalypt produced in Kolar District has been marketed. The entire quantity of eucalyptus sold in Bangalore District and 97 percent of the quantity sold in Kolar District was consumed as industrial raw material by M/s. Harihar Polyfibres; and hardly 3 percent sold in Kolar District has been used as fuel.”

The fourth stage of the industrial forestry is marked by joint sector companies like the Karnataka Pulpwood Limited (KPL). Ramachandra Guha puts it in the following words in his article, “Commercial Forestry: Defending the Indefensible” (Whither Common Lands? 1988): “Not satisfied with all the concessions it has received so far (and which have exacted a heavy environmental and social cost), industry now wants to grab land to grow its own raw material. Hence, the takeover of village common lands (the so called C and D class lands) by KPL and its ilk.”

This industry development oriented, and in that sense ‘biased’, forest policy has neglected the biomass needs of the poor and the fact that their livelihood depends on the same land and must compete with the industry’s needs. Madhav Gadgil conducted a comprehensive survey on biomass needs in various ecological zones in Karnataka State, and wrote an article, “On Biomass Budget”, delivered as the Dr. Rajendra Prasad Memorial Lecture at Banaras Hindu University in 1986. In this article, he clearly stated that there are acute shortages of biomass needed by the rural people and forest dwellers, and strongly recommended to make the common lands more productive for meeting people’s needs first, and that he considered the KPL’s activities as a retrograde step.

A study entitled “Common Lands and the Rural Poor: A Case Study of Karnataka”, conducted by Prabha Mahale et al (1989), revealed that in a Kusnur cluster of villages, 30% of the population was landless. Among the landless families, considering their cattle holding, their fodder and fuel requirements were 1.92 tons and 0.37 tons per year respectively. A detailed analysis on agrowastes produced against their demands found that only a small fraction of the landowning families is totally independent of the non-cultivated common lands to fulfill their fodder and fuel requirements. This means that the majority is dependent on these common lands for approximately 64% of fodder and 47% of fuel needs. The landless are totally dependent on the common lands. Under such conditions, the alienation of common lands for eucalypt plantations by KPL (400 ha in this case) has put further stress on the village lifestyle and economy in the whole cluster of villages studied. A larger number of seasonal and long term population migrations has become common.

A Case in Medleri Gomal

How the market economy overtakes local needs of eucalypt for biomass needs can be seen in one village. In Medleri village in Karnataka, a eucalypt plantation was raised on a 20 acre plot in 1981, which was traditionally used for grazing by the village, under the minimum needs programme. At the time of harvesting the eucalypt in 1988, a number of poor villagers requested poles for their cattle sheds and housing; wood for carpenters; and fuelwood. Sidelining all these requests, the village ‘Pradhan’ (elected leader) preferred to auction off the wood to a pulp and rayon mill. The Government had laid down rules and guidelines for the sharing of produce from such plantations on village common grazing lands. After nine years of waiting, however, the villagers have received no poles, no fuelwood, no fodder from this eucalypt plantation, even though it was grown for them on the land that had been used for their grazing for decades. For this village, eucalypt was more of a curse than anything else.

New National Forest Policy

While the commercial interests were influencing the Government and financial institutions, including the National Bank for Agriculture and Rural Development (NABARD), for meeting their raw material needs, the rural poor and the tribals along with the activists were continuously struggling for their survival. This created concern among sensitive bureaucrats and policy makers. One major impact was the controversy raised by the Draft National Forest Policy. Groups working with the tribals and rural poor opposed it effectively. These discussions and debates were covered by some articles and publications, especially in the book so-called “Towards a New Forest Policy: People’s Rights and Environmental Needs” (Walter Fernandes and Sharad Kulkarni, 1986).

As a result of sustained pressure from outside and to some extent inside the bureaucracy, a much better new National Forest Policy was adopted by the Indian Parliament in 1988. As described by Janaaranya in “People’s Participation in Management of Natural Resources” (Samaj Parivartana Samudaya (SPS) et al 1991, pp.18-29), this recognised the rights of local people to forest produce and also the need for active involvement of local communities and voluntary agencies in the protection of forests and development of degraded lands. This was adopted by the Union Cabinet of India after almost 15 years of debates and discussions.

Joint Forest Planning and Management (JFPM)

Based on this forest policy, and some meaningful experiments in the involvement of local people in regeneration of natural forests - most notably in West Bengal and Orissa States - the Ministry of Environment and Forests, Government of India, issued a comprehensive policy circular on 1 June 1990 recognizing the rights of local people and voluntary agencies for the Joint Forest Planning and Management (JFPM). This was a major breakthrough in recognition of the legitimate primary role of people in protection and development. The FEVORD-K, SPS and the Centre for Ecological Sciences (CES) of the Indian Institute Science, worked out for over three years a detailed framework for people’s participation in the management of natural resources at the village level. This was finalised after thorough discussions among voluntary agencies, scientists, people’s representatives and government officials.

Following the Government of India Circular of 1 June 1990, many State governments issued Government Orders to establish “village forest committees (VFCs)”. The Karnataka Government also issued an Order on 12 April 1993 along the same lines. Another major example in Karnataka of asserting the need for people’s participation and multi-disciplinary mechanism for planning, implementing and monitoring of forestry projects is the Western Ghats Forestry and Environment Project (WGF&EP). This followed a sustained and successful three year effort by FEVORD-K, SPS and scientific bodies (Aubrey Meyer, 1990).

On the other hand, the industry is poised to make the biggest State sponsored land grab. The Ministry for Rural Development, Government of India, which is reportedly facing a financial crunch, is considering asking the State Governments to take “steps that will enable the long lease of government-owned wastelands to industry”. However, V.B. Eswaran, a senior civil servant and bureaucrat with experience of working with the poor says, “If this happens, the rural poor will lose their survival base” (Roychowdhury, 1993). While these do represent some important landmarks in direction, we have a long way to go in terms of establishing people’s rights over the lands, their taking responsibility for protection and development of forests, and being able to ward off the heavy pressure from industrial and other lobbies and preserving and enhancing biodiversity.


Increasing deforestation to make way for eucalypt plantations, as happened in Karnataka, has far reaching effects on culture and biodiversity. Life in harmony with nature involves a dependence and care between nature and people who live near them. An intricate relationship is developed and honed through thousands of years. When destruction of such habitats occurs, the first victim is local biodiversity, subsequently leading to the extinction of species. The extinction of species is eventually the destiny of all species, but at most times in earth’s history; even a widespread extinction over a large number of species has sometimes occurred. The disappearance of few species per million years is what scientists call a “background rate”. As ecosystems are converted into farms, pasture, monoculture plantations in an ill planned way, the rate of extinctions is likely to go millions of times higher than this background rate level (Wolf, 1987).

Loss of biodiversity has implications beyond the extinction of species when local plants or animals populations are wiped out, the genetic diversity within each species that provides capacity to adapt to environmental changes is diminished. The survivors of extinction, as the record shows, tend to be ecological opportunists. They reproduce themselves very quickly, eat indiscriminately, and tolerate a wide range of conditions - characteristics we can associate with pests or weeds. With the destruction of rural natural habitats for eucalypt plantations, the migrants or ecological refugees have risen in their numbers. Many of the urban migrants, contrary to common belief, are not lured by the city, but are forcibly evicted by ecological destruction of their habitats, economy and cultures. Due to public pressures, the Government and Forest Departments have begun to modify their ways. One such an example is JFPM, an experiment conducted towards fulfillment of village biomass needs from common lands and forest lands.

The role of the Government should be of the enabler. It should enable its citizens to take care of the natural resources. It should not play the role of an agent for the industry and the market economy. Some striking example are of the strangle hold of multi-national business corporations on the economies of ‘banana republics’ and the ‘vanilla economy of Madagascar’. Ultimately, whether it is bananas, sugarcane, vanilla or eucalypt, the basic question remains un-answered in all the “scientific” jargon: Who should benefit from the land and natural resources? And why?

Man is a social animal. His welfare lies in getting social justice in a democratic society. The answer to the question - what social justice is meted out by the eucalypt plantations, especially in Karnataka and many other States - comes unequivocally in a negative. The problems created by the plantations have gone against social justice. To quote Michael Robinson of National Zoological Park, Washington, D.C. USA: “We are facing the ‘enlightenment fallacy’.” The fallacy is that if you educate the people in the Third World, the problem will disappear. It won’t. The problems are not due to ignorance and stupidity. The problems of the Third World derive from the poverty of the poor and the greed of the rich. The problems are those of economics and politics. Inescapably, therefore, the solutions are to be found in those same arenas (Lewin, 1986). We are thankful to FAO for this opportunity to present the needs of local people in the light of extensive programmes to plant eucalypts on common lands by the private sector and government agencies. We feel the following conclusions drawn in the FAO Forestry Paper 59 of 1985 are still relevant and applicable:

We stress that eucalypt should not be planted, especially on a large scale, without a careful and intelligent assessment of the social and economic consequences, and an attempt to balance advantages against disadvantages. This can probably best be done by a sympathetic examination of the ecological circumstances and of the needs of local people”.


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FAO. 1979. Eucalypts for planting FAO, Forestry Series No. 11, FAO, Rome.

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[1] Coordinator, Samaj Parivartana Samudaya (SPS), Ashadeep, Jayanagar Cross, Saptapur
[2] Lecturer GSS College, Belgaum-590- 006. Dharwad-580001, Karnataka

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