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When villagers planned to create a forest and it worked

Villagers of Markhera Village in Uttar Pradesh were an enthused lot when they met to plan who to create some forest cover. They chose a site close to the village temple, one they knew was safe for birds. They had just been associated with a successful water conservation effort close to the temple and a green cover nearby would help improve water conservation efforts, they felt

The villagers of Makhera Village were firm that a wide diversity of indigenous species would have to be planted, including native species that had become rare or endangered in recent years. SRIJAN, a voluntary organisation that had been working here earlier on water conservation, helped in coordination efforts and plants of 36 indigenous species were obtained from the forest department’s nurseries. These species included mahua, karanj, peepal, bargad, kadamb, chandan, arjun, neem, anvla, sagvan, bel, jamun, chiraunji and wild varieties of some fruits.

The tree planting work was planned in an elaborate way, requiring hard work but likely to produce good results. Land was dug for about one metre, then layers of cow dung ( as many as 50 trolleys, villagers said), crop residue and fallen leaves were placed, before the soil was put back in place. The soil was thus enriched, chemical fertilizers were not used, and then planting work was taken up. Some saplings were planted rather close to each other, those supporting each other’s growth.

Says DhaniramYadav: “We used to come for watering these plants just as we take care of our own crops.” Amaan Raikwar adds, “Whether it was bitterly cold weather or any other adversity, we did not let that come in the way of taking care of these plants.” It is to the great credit of the village community that such voluntary contributionswere made on a steady basis. The result of all the commitment and hard work is there for all to see.

The growth in just about nine months surprised and delighted villagers. The various plants had grown to the height of about 6 to 14 feet at the time of my visit in early January. People from other villages would come to see and admire the healthy growth of plants. All the plants have survived so far, a big achievement compared to the poor survival rate of several official efforts. About 1800 trees were planted here, and the cost per tree has also been kept exceptionally low for which credit should again go to the voluntary work of the villagers.

Rani Yadav says, “We are very happy to see these trees growing so well. When peacocks and parrots come here, it becomes such a beautiful sight. It is so good to have such a forest just near our temple.”

Such forests have been created in several villages with the close involvement of communities and the entire initiative taken forward by SRIJAN initially in Tikamgarh District in Madhya Pradesh has been named Tapovan. In Daur Village, the trees planted by such an effort have maintained healthy and dense growth during the past two years. Rakesh Singh, team leader of the voluntary organization, says that the forest has become more or less self-sustaining. An elderly philanthropist Ramesh Kacholiya had contributed from his savings towards the entire budget for the forest in Daur – money spent well for greenery.

Several such Tapovan forests have been created in Tikamgarh District and neighboring areas and now the concept is being taken forward in other areas as well. The Daur Village forest, for instance, is a typical Tapovan based one planting about 1200 saplings in a 500 square meter area, although the area and density can vary from one place to another. 

The Tapovan concept is based on the work and ideas of a Japanese botanist Akira Miyawaki that helps build dense native forests in relatively short time. This was adapted to local conditions in community discussions and generally a mix of canopy trees, other trees, sub trees and shrubs has been planted (including trees having medicinal value and those that are good for fodder etc). Special care has been taken to include species like banyan and peepal, often ignored in official efforts but very good for environment, health and biodiversity.

While there are very high hopes from this experiment, there are some questions regarding the close spacing, particularly in the context of some species that need more space. The root growth of various densely planted species may need more study.

January 2023