Orissa and Andhra Pradesh are among the poorest states in India, and home to small landholders and farmers whose livelihoods depend either on degraded farmlands or rain-fed subsistence agriculture. The per-capita income in Orissa is one of the lowest in India, with about 41% of the population belonging to scheduled castes and scheduled tribes. Similarly, the state of Andhra Pradesh has districts with pre-dominantly indigenous populations, also scheduled tribes and scheduled castes, the majority of which are also poor.
The Improving Rural Livelihoods project mobilized resource-poor farmers in Orissa and Andhra Pradesh, to raise tree plantations on highly degraded agricultural lands. The project engaged 1,590 small landholders spread over a total of 1,607 ha of in six districts: Rayagada, Koraput, and Kalahandi districts in Orissa, and the districts of Visakhapatnam, Srikakulam, and Vizianagaram in Andhra Pradesh. The project is implemented by a joint partnership between VEDA MACS Ltd., a cooperative society, which addresses issues related to sustainable development and sustainable agro-forestry practices in particular; JK Paper Mills Limited (JKPL) as the key industrial partner of the project; and Veda Climate Change Solutions Ltd., a new company created for the purposes of this project. The partners arrange short term credit to farmers for up-front investment costs and provide subsidized planting material, as well as committing to purchase the timber at market prices. Long term credit to small and marginal farmers are also arranged to meet the cost of plantation and maintenance.
The project is reforesting degraded lands and therefore helping to control soil and water erosion. It is also producing raw material for housing, construction, and industry on private lands through plantation forestry, reducing the dependency of industry on natural forests and conserving biodiversity. The reforestation activities are also generating high-quality greenhouse gas emissions removals that can be measured, monitored, and verified.
The project is unique in its organization of small-scale and marginal farmers representing indigenous communities, consulting them for input on land-use choices and livelihood opportunities, as well as promoting their capacity to organize and implement climate change mitigation initiatives. Additional incomes are being generated through carbon revenues and the sale of forest products, such as timber, firewood, and non-wood products. The project is supporting partnerships between farmers and local industries, national and international organizations, and other relevant stakeholders. Most importantly, the project is building capacity through local financing arrangements, training and technical assistance, promoting local awareness, and developing and disseminating best practices in plantation and agroforestry.