//Through social forestry, Kerala to rebuild green cover

Through social forestry, Kerala to rebuild green cover

By Liz Mathew, IANS,  New Delhi, March 5

Alarmed over the massive degradation of its lush green cover, Kerala is to launch an ambitious social forestry project aimed at instilling a love for nature in the student community, labourers and coastal inhabitants.

The programme, conceived by the state forest department and to be launched in June, will have three elements – 'My Tree' for students, 'Vazhiyorathanal' – for labourers, and a coastal forest element for those who live in such areas, Kerala Forests Minister Benoy Viswom said.

Due to unsustainable agricultural practices and modernisation, Kerala is today left with not even 10 percent of its previous 33 percent forest cover.

'Under the 'My Tree' programme, around two million students from Classes 5 to 9 will plant trees in their household premises. Under 'Vazhiyorathanal', the labourers, especially head-load workers, will plant trees along highways. The third element is for growing suitable plants along coastal areas,' Viswom told IANS here.

The minister, who was in the national capital last week, said President A.P.J. Abdul Kalam had agreed to launch one of the programmes.

'My Tree', the biggest of the three projects, will be launched on World Environment Day June 5.

'Around two million children from schools across the state will plant a tree each and take good care of it. They will also be given grace marks according to how well they take care of the plants,' the minister said.

'It could be a world record on its own kind. Nowhere has the plantation of two million trees simultaneously been recorded,' Viswom claimed, adding that the current world record was of 1.5 million trees at one stretch.

The forest department will provide saplings of around 25 varieties of trees including teak, jackfruit, anjili -, and gooseberry that would be planted as part of the programme.

A district-level organising committee has been formed with the district collector as chairman and the deputy director of education as convenor. The committee comprises heads of various departments, representatives of the teachers' unions, parent-teacher associations and environmental activists.

The ruling Communist Party of India-Marxist –led Left Democratic Front says it aims through the programme to instill social awareness among the labourers to plant trees. The labourers constitute a good share of the Left's votes.

'The workers who plant trees alongside the national highways will be responsible for taking care of them too,' Viswom said, adding that his ministry was working in tandem with the Public Works Department to implement the project.

For the coastal areas, the forest department will provide plants such as khus-khus grass and mangrove trees, which would protect inland coastal areas by absorbing the effects of storm and some tsunami waves.

'The government is planning to implement the project with assistance from local bodies, government officials, political parties and legislators,' the minister said.