Fruitful venture

FARMERS in Karnataka are now enjoying the fruits of labour in more ways than one. Not only are they earning from their produce, even carbon dioxide (CO2) trapped by the plants they grow is being sold by them. And, in the process, they are providing an economical option to developed nations to reduce their greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions.

Carbon credits being sold by these farmers may be considered under the Clean Development Mechanism (CDM) wherein a private or public entity can invest in afforestation or reforestation projects and sell the stored CO2 to industrialised countries to help them meet their emission obligations under the Kyoto Protocol.

With the help of a trust called Women for Sustainable Development (WSD), farmers in Varlakonda and Gudibanda in Kolar district of the state are planting mango and tamarind trees, and selling carbon credits for each tonne of CO2 absorbed by these trees. As plants grow, they absorb CO2, a heat-trapping gas, whose increasing concentration in the atmosphere is contributing to global warming and climate change.

Currently, marginal farmers with about .8-2.02 hectares of dry land are participating in such schemes since they find it difficult to even subsist on their annual agricultural income. "Most of the producers are growing these trees on .4 hectares of land in the hope that they will begin earning after about five years," says Anandi Sharan, director, WSD. About 70 such farmers have already sold CO2 that trees on their land will potentially sequester over a full lifetime to Future Forests, a UK-based consultancy service.

WSD charges US $12-13 per tonne of carbon (tC) stored in trees, out of which the farmer gets US $10 per tC. On an average, .4 hectares of land with about 200 trees, (a mix of 120 mango and 20 tamarind trees) along with various fuel trees such as neem and acacia on the boundary, can sequester about 20 tC. This amount is trapped over a period of about 40 years. Initially the farmers are paid 50 per cent of the amount, while the balance is staggered over five years.

The state's farmers have, however, not embraced such projects in a big way since most of them are landless. The scheme is further hindered by the poor soil quality and water scarcity in the area.