Byline: MOIRA FARROW
SO Vancouver Sun (VSUN)
LP --- Villagers key to Indian reforestation ---
TX THE PEOPLE of one of the poorest parts ofthe world are learning how to grow treesinstead of cutting them down. "It's hard and there are lots of problems, but we've learned that people will protectthe forests if they've planted the trees themselves," said Anil Shah, head of the project in rural India. "There will be more and more successstories in the future." Former businessman Shah is already in the middle of a success * story. He's chief executive of the Aga Khan Rural Support Program in the western Indian state of Gujarat, where the average annual income is about $150. "Although the land became barren it still belonged to the forests department and there's great controversy about whether the land should be allowed to reforest naturally or by deliberate planting - we believe planting is best," he said in a Vancouver interview this week as he started a cross-country tour. During the last four years, his program has organized the planting of more than five million trees on 1,100 hectares of land that has long been barren. Already benefiting from the reforestation are the region's 100,000 residents, who live in about 60 villages. The program, with an annual budget of $1.3 million Cdn, is financed * by the Aga Khan Foundation Canada, a non-profit international development agency that supports projects to aid the poor in Africa and Asia. The annual budget of the foundation for its international work is between $80 million and $90 million US. Shah, 63, knows Gujarat well because he was born there and spent many years as a civil servant before switching to business as head * of several major corporations. He was invited by the Aga Khan Foundation to use his local knowledge to help his fellow countrymen to help themselves. The program he now leads is aimed specifically at projects to produce income for poverty-stricken villagers rather than give them handouts of food. He said reforestation was given high priority because the land was forested until Indian independence in 1947. After that, villagers cut down the trees for firewood and house-building. At first the program in Gujarat reforested only 25 hectares, predominantly with bamboo, but now the total is over 1,100 hectares and the people are seeing instant results. "Grass grows in the new forests and it's good for cattle grazing," Shah said. To stop people from cutting down the immature trees, villagers have been appointed watchmen. "Now the people protect the forests they planted themselves," he said. "One of our big problems has been to convince the forests department to involve people as we do. For too long government foresters have treated people as the enemy of forests."
ILLUSTRATION: Anil Shah LOCAL KEYWORDS: FOREIGN AID; FOREST MANAGEMENT @Art: P @Art: Anil Shah
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