Skip to main content

'Indigenous options ignored': Govt of India prefers ecologically disruptive palm oil trees

By Bharat Dogra* 

Recent government policy has resorted to huge promotion of exotic palm oil trees to end edible oil shortage in the country. However this is associated with highly disruptive ecological costs, as has been seen from the experience of several countries. The kind of high rainfall conditions needed for its high yield are not readily available in India and this will lead to heavy extraction of already scarce groundwater. Plans of its large scale introduction in ecologically fragile regions have already faced much criticism.
A much better option would be to explore the potential of several indigenous trees which yield oilseeds from which edible oil can be obtained.
There are several such indigenous trees which can provide edible oils, such as mahua, karanj, sal, kokum, kusum etc. (not to mention coconut, which is already well established as a supplier of edible oil). Some of these trees are known and some are not so well-known and need to be explored further. The edible oil contained from some of these trees is known to be very good for nutrition and to be rich in poly unsaturated fats, important for nutrition.
Availability of edible oils can increase significantly even from already existing trees. However once this importance is realized and conscious efforts are made to increase these trees, then edible oil availability for domestic use (particularly in tribal community areas) as well as for export markets for niche uses, including medicinal value, can increase even more significantly.
However it will be a mistake to grow these trees as plantation crops. This will be harmful for biodiversity, environment and food security. It will be much better for all families in a tribal community to grow two additional such trees each on their land. In this way about two to four hundred additional oilseed trees can grow in each village, and about 200,000 villages in India are likely to be suitable for growing these trees.
As almost all of these trees have multiple uses for their fruits, flowers, seeds, leaves etc., benefits for these farmers and villagers will be many. Mahua tree can provide very nutritious and filling food which is all the more useful in lean season and drought years, its fodder is also very useful while at the same time the use of its flower as an intoxicant should be minimized.
Cooperatives of farmers and villagers to collect tree oilseeds can be set up to ensure a fair price. However instead of selling these to big processors, value addition can be obtained by local processing.
There are several such indigenous trees which can provide edible oils, such as mahua, karanj, sal, kokum, kusum
Local processing units in all these villages should be set up, particularly to extract oil but also to process other produce of these trees. This local processing will generate more livelihoods, while the residue (after oil extraction) will provide nutritive feed for animals and organic fertilizer for farms.
The potential for this is the highest in tribal communities, but certainly potential exists in other villages also for various communities.
Isn’t it irrational that the authorities are ignoring this potential but instead going in for the ecologically disruptive option of palm oil plantation?
There are also trees like neem whose oil may not be used for cooking but has important medicinal uses. Then there are other trees which provide non-edible oil with several uses such as for soap making and can be used for cottage scale units of soap or other products of everyday use.
In addition there is much potential for better protection and improvement of coconut trees which have so many different uses apart from providing edible oils.
There is a strong case for giving much more attention to all indigenous trees which provide edible oils and for providing many more sustainable livelihoods on the basis of their various products including oilseeds, with the added caution that these indigenous trees should be grown not as big monoculture plantations but instead in their usual natural way co-existing with all biodiversity.
---
*Honorary convener, Campaign to Save Earth Now. His recent books include ‘India’s Quest for Sustainable Farming and Healthy Food', ‘Man over Machine' and ‘Planet in Peril'

Comments

TRENDING

'Flawed' argument: Gandhi had minimal role, naval mutinies alone led to Independence

Counterview Desk Reacting to a Counterview  story , "Rewiring history? Bose, not Gandhi, was real Father of Nation: British PM Attlee 'cited'" (January 26, 2016), an avid reader has forwarded  reaction  in the form of a  link , which carries the article "Did Atlee say Gandhi had minimal role in Independence? #FactCheck", published in the site satyagrahis.in. The satyagraha.in article seeks to debunk the view, reported in the Counterview story, taken by retired army officer GD Bakshi in his book, “Bose: An Indian Samurai”, which claims that Gandhiji had a minimal role to play in India's freedom struggle, and that it was Netaji who played the crucial role. We reproduce the satyagraha.in article here. Text: Nowadays it is said by many MK Gandhi critics that Clement Atlee made a statement in which he said Gandhi has ‘minimal’ role in India's independence and gave credit to naval mutinies and with this statement, they concluded the whole freedom struggle.

A Hindu alternative to Valentine's Day? 'Shiv-Parvati was first love marriage in Universe'

By Rajiv Shah*   The other day, I was searching on Google a quote on Maha Shivratri which I wanted to send to someone, a confirmed Shiv Bhakt, quite close to me -- with an underlying message to act positively instead of being negative. On top of the search, I chanced upon an article in, imagine!, a Nashik Corporation site which offered me something very unusual. 

Don't agree on domestic subsidies, ensure food security at WTO meet: Farmer leaders

Counterview Desk  The Indian Coordination Committee of Farmers Movements (ICCFM), a top network of farmers’ organizations in India, in a letter to Piyush Goyal, Minister of Commerce and Industry, has asked him to “safeguard food security and sovereignty, even as ensuring peasants' rights" at the 13th Ministerial Conference of the World Trade Organization (WTO MC 13), to take place from 26 to 29 February 2024 in Abu Dhabi.

Students, lawyers, professors detained in Delhi for demonstrating in support of farmers

By Our Representative  About 25 protestors, belonging to the civil rights network, Campaign Against State Repression (CASR), a coalition of over 40 organisations, were detained at Jantar Mantar for holding a demonstration in support of the farmers' stir on Friday. Those detained included students, lawyers and professors, including Prof Nandita Narain and Prof N Sachin. 

Sharp 61-85% fall in Tech startup funding in India's top 'business-friendly' States

By Rajiv Shah Funding in Tech startups in top business-friendly Indian states has witnessed a major fall, a data intelligence platform for private market research has said in a series of reports it has released this month. Analysing Tech startup data of Telangana, Maharashtra, Delhi NCR, Gujarat, Tamil Nadu, Karnataka and Kerala, Tracxn Technologies Ltd , the Bengaluru-based research firm, finds that except for Kerala, funding witnessed a fall of anywhere between 61% and 85%.

Solar energy funding dips 9% in 2023; 2024 'kicks off' with US$1 billion investment

By Lakshmitha Raj*  Solar energy tech companies have already secured slightly over US$1 billion in funding in 2024 (till Feb 7, 2024) after total funding into Solar Energy companies in India fell 9% to US$1.55B in 2023 from US$1.7B in 2022. A total of 39 $100M+ rounds have been closed till date, with Delhi leading the city-wise funding, followed by Gurugram and Mumbai.

Maize, bajra, jute, banana cultivation banned off West Bengal border: Plea to NHRC

Counterview Desk  West Bengal-based human rights defender Kirity Roy, who is secretary, Banglar Manabadhikar Suraksha Manch, and is national convenor of the Programme Against Custodial Torture & Impunity, in a representation to the chairman, National Human Rights Commission, second within few days, has bought to light one more case of trespassing and destruction of a fertile banana plantation by BSF personnel along the Indo-Bangladesh border, stating, despite a written complaint to the police has taken "no initiative".

India second best place to invest, next to UAE, yet there is 'lacks support' for IT services

By Sreevas Sahasranamam, Aileen Ionescu-Somers*  The United Arab Emirates (UAE) is the best place in the world to start a new business, according to the latest annual Global Entrepreneurship Monitor (GEM) survey. The Arab nation is number one for the third year in a row thanks to a big push by the government into cutting-edge technology in its efforts to diversify away from oil.

Buddhist shrines were 'massively destroyed' by Brahmanical rulers: Historian DN Jha

Nalanda mahavihara By Our Representative Prominent historian DN Jha, an expert in India's ancient and medieval past, in his new book , "Against the Grain: Notes on Identity, Intolerance and History", in a sharp critique of "Hindutva ideologues", who look at the ancient period of Indian history as "a golden age marked by social harmony, devoid of any religious violence", has said, "Demolition and desecration of rival religious establishments, and the appropriation of their idols, was not uncommon in India before the advent of Islam".

Mahanadi delta: Aggressive construction in flood plains, reduced fish stock, pollution

By Sudhansu R Das  Frequent natural calamities, unemployment, low farmers’ income, increase in crime rate and lack of quality human resources to strike a balance between growth and environment etc. continue to haunt the state. The state should delve into the root causes of poverty, unemployment and natural calamities.