The draft National Forest Policy 2018, which proposes to allow the use of degraded forest lands by industry, has been welcomed by wood-based industries including paper manufacturers. The draft policy was put into the the public domain for comment and feed in the second week of April 2018.
The new policy draft contains proposals for public-private-partnership for developing degraded forest areas that are available with forest development corporations, and the management of trees outside forests through agro-forestry and farm forestry. The draft suggests that proactive partnerships can increase tree cover and augment farmers’ incomes while meeting wood and fiber demand by the growing wood and paper industries.
Speaking on behalf of the paper industry, Saurabh Bangur, president of Indian Paper Manufacturers Association, said that the proposals cover some of the aspects that it has been pursuing with the Ministry of Environment and Forests over several years. The lack of domestically sourced wood fiber and pulp is a huge constraint for the Indian paper industry, which is reliant on the open market or farm forestry arrangements for fiber and on imports of pulp.
The quality of fiber from forestry that is appropriate for the efficient production of paper is a concern since it is well known that managed and growing forests yield fiber appropriate for paper making as well as providing the best carbon sinks for the environment. Apart from quality, supply and pricing which are concerns, Bangur said that with the new policy the option of paper mills tie-ups with state forest development corporations emerges.
Seshasayee Paper and Board chairman N Gopalaratnam said agro forestry and plantation on degraded forest land will require substantial financial resources. He suggested that support could be provided to farmers through a Forest Development Finance Corporation with seed capital coming from the Compensatory Afforestation Fund, which is being transferred to the states.
Gopalaratnam further added that although price assurance to farmers is welcome, the price determination will need to be “fair and equitable.” He suggested that the tree species under consideration are also a critical component of the draft proposals and the new policy should also include Subabul and tropical acacia hybrids.
The plywood and board industry are perhaps facing a greater challenge than the paper industry since South-East countries have banned exports of wood-product inputs. While the industry is looking at imports from Africa, the new forest policy is a much needed step in the right direction both for raw materials and managed forests that can provide green cover.