August 17, 2012 12:03:41 am
The needles shed by pine trees had since ages been a cause for worry for hundreds of villages in Hamirpur district of Himachal Pradesh. The needles,which contain resin canals making them inflammable,would lead to major forest fires in summers,reducing trees to ashes and charring wild animals to death.
However,things have changed now. With a Punjab-based NGO and the government of the hill state joining hands,the same needles have now become a source of income for the rural people.
The forest department of Himachal,in collaboration with Ambuja Cement Foundation,an NGO run by Ambuja Cement,Ropar,has developed a mechanism to convert the needles into bio fuel. The cement plant uses this fuel for its operations.
Starting with mere 40 to 45 tonnes of needles two years ago,the villagers (around 200 families) collected nearly 600 tonnes this year,earning Rs 12.61 lakh. Besides,the local transporters earned over Rs 11 lakh,boosting the rural economy to a good extent,says Additional Forest Conservation Officer of Hamirpur Amit Sharma.
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The company makes direct payment to the locals,with the forest department facilitating the trade between the company and the villagers.
Paniali village in Barsar tehsil is one of the biggest beneficiaries as villagers here earned around Rs 3 lakh in two months this year.
Besides,a royalty of around Rs 9,000 was paid to the village panchayat. Pradhan Promila Devi says these pine needles used to be a big challenge for them during summers as not only it used to burn the forest but would also carpet the land preventing growth of grass for animals. But this project has changed our lives. Our villagers are earning Rs 10,000-15,000 by collecting and selling them.
Adds Parvati Devi,another farmer,Earlier,we had to collect the needles to clear our land,but we would throw them away. The same efforts are bringing us money now.
Hareta and Bhadera villages,too,are big beneficiaries. In all,nine villages of Barsar tehsil and six of Nadaun in Hamirpur district and two villages in Una districts are engaged in collection of pine needles.
The needle fall starts in April-end and continues till the beginning of July. According to officials,the collection of needles greatly helps in checking forest fires.
On an average,a pine forest yields two to three tonnes of needles per hectare during a season and Himachal Pradesh has pine forests spread across 1,500 sq km,found up to an altitude of 5,500 feet,elaborates an official,adding that the state saved forest wealth worth crores of rupees this summer.
This project,which is the brainchild of Rajesh Kothari,unit head of Ambuja Cement,Ropar,and officers of the forest department in Hamirpur,has several benefits. It saves coal as pine needles can be used as an alternative fuel,protects forests and wild animals from fires,saves trees from being felled for fuel purpose and generates income for villagers, says Sanjay Sharma,programme manager of Ambuja Cement Foundation,adding that with every passing year they are involving more villages in the work.
The villagers are collecting the needles by making self-help groups and forest management committees and selling them for Rs 165 per quintal to the company,he adds.
The forest department has set up 20 collection centres in the forest division where the company is procuring directly. At the collection centres,the needles are packed into bales of 35 kg to 40 kg using machines provided by the company.
The company is also paying Rs 5 per quintal as royalty to the panchayat concerned.
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