Growing a cooperative forest can lead to water conservation and generate livelihood

Cooperative forest in Tamil Nadu’s drought-prone area an example of the power of water conservation

Published: Monday 10 February 2020

A cooperative in drought-prone Dharmapuri, Tamil Nadu has shown that growing a forest and rainwater harvesting can be profitable and generate livelihood. The 250-acres green patch has a number of rainwater harvesting structures across its area.

Piyush Manush, an environmental activist from Tamil Nadu is behind the enterprise. Apart from demonstrating that afforestation can be a decent source of income, the objective is to also create a sustainable, eco-friendly way of living.

The forest has more than 100,000 bamboo and aloe vera plants for commercial use. A variety of fruit trees provide seasonal revenue.

Groundwater recharge because of the forest has improved the area’s water table.

In 2007, Manush bought an acre-and-a-half of degraded undulated land to grow bamboo for his furniture business. The bamboo came up fine but other trees that he planted did not grow on dry patch.

Rainfall was scarce and the little rainwater received would flow away due to undulating topography. Manush realised he needed to conserve water and that would require more land.

There was plenty of wasteland around. To purchase them, Manush sought investments from his friends. Several of his nature-loving friends came on board and envisioned the forest to be a cooperative.

Making water available round the year was the first challenge. Manush designed and built a series of rainwater harvesting structures at different locations in the forest. Excluding the cost of land, this came at less than Rs 20 lakh.

Now nine trenches and ponds hold water round the year. Water conservation efforts have improved groundwater level as well as rejuvenated a dried-up stream that flows downstream through the forest into nearby villages.

Farmers have benefitted from efforts to conserve water by the cooperative, which has around 70 members now — mostly from nearby Salem. Land-holding varies between one and give acres.

Among the main objectives of creating the cooperative forest was to educate people about the environment and sustainable livelihood.

Bamboo and aloe vera are the commercial components amid dozens of species of fruit trees. The bamboo and aloe vera are not sold raw. Manush’s furniture unit uses the bamboo harvested from the forest to make eco-friendly furniture. He also produces natural skin care products from the forest’s aloe vera. They generate an annual revenue of around Rs 50 lakh.

As a carbon sync, mamboo also helps in mitigating climate change — a hectare of bamboo can store 200-400 tonnes carbon dioxide.

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