Why don't people plant trees on empty land? Can anything be done?

Almost every time I am on a flight and look down at large swathes of land, I wonder why don’t the owners plant trees. If not across the land, at least on the boundaries?

By the way, I ask this question even when looking at empty plots within the cities.

@knadh and I have spoken about it many times and how no one cares. But is there an incentive that can be thrown in to make them care?

For example, we can geo-fence a piece of land and map it to an owner. This is not possible digitally since land records are still not online, so do this physically. And then track the land continuously using satellite imagery, and give an incentive based on the green cover?

Or maybe the Govt puts up some incentive to plant trees? Lower property tax if x% green cover? :grimacing:

I am throwing random ideas to start a conversation. I am sure others here must have thought about this. Is there any possible solution, especially given that if the trees planted are fruit trees, it can also help build the farmer’s resiliency?

It will be interesting to hear from others on this topic.





The UK govt has started this - England’s farmers to be paid to rewild land | Farming | The Guardian


This is interesting, but I don’t know if we should look up to Govt for all solutions. Given how little farmers earn and the amount required to interest them to green their land could be lower, some private companies must attempt to solve this in India.

We would love to talk and offer whatever support we can.

1.5% of the toll tax is for plantations. It includes plant material, irrigation, farmyard manure, fertilisers, weeding, pest control and pruning, etc. To cut costs and work less, concessionnaires go for monocrop of hardy, drought resistant, fast growing low cost and not the native plant species as NHAI goes by the count of surviving trees!

@cec Shared this over an email - updating on this thread.


@NithinKamath and @knadh
This is an extremely relevant question. And especially pressing in light of the climate crisis. By the way, I ask this question when looking at empty plots and a lot of land which could be biodiversity hotspots or oasis’s within the cities. Incentives will work if they are sustained and not a onetime thing. An example of the latter is when saplings are provided but not additional amenities such as watering support/ fencing to stop grazing and cutting. In some cases even monetary support for the time a farmer and his or her family will spend in this work as increasingly manual labour is counted in hours. Data can certainly be useful if it is a participatory process. On ground support can go a long way to ensure that farmers are in the loop right from the start so it’s a collaborative process, which means then they invest as well actively rather than be only at the receiving end monetarily. Policy has dictated a lot of the relationship changes that have occurred between farmers and their lands. Green cover has huge potential, not just as wind breaks but to also positively impact biodiversity. Native sturdy tree species are a boon to pollinators as well as wildlife while simultaneously prepping the region to slowly return to more natural farming methods as trees can provide a lot of fresh materials to make both natural fertilizers and pesticide. There is also the additional aspect of crop trees such as mangoes which you were referring to. One of the ways to also look at this is from a nutritional security perspective and not only as additional income. The farmers who have these barren fields are mostly growing cash crops and these are not feeding the household, but just a few native fruit trees would provide families with the much-needed nutritional support.
Overall this is a very under looked topic, especially in low priority landscapes. Huge potential for massive changes across the nation if we can engage both policy makers as well as farmers in a collaborative process. There are of course concerns from farmers with things like shade from trees reducing yield (which to be fair is a point). We have personally done this work on multiple farmlands in andhra, as have many other grassroot orgs. No one to the best of my knowledge has fully cracked it and taken it to scale. Not to mention documented it well.
An approach which incorporates the right tree species for the given landscape along with opinions of farmers will be a start, this has to be done along with policy level changes. We have to get creative with those and I think we can see a massive change. In fact, orgs which are focused on tree planting should be focusing on these areas and not in and around forest. This is because those have natural regeneration potential and also most tree planting efforts have ended up getting it wrong when done in wild lands.

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I was talking recently to Krithi from CWS, as they were experimenting with the idea of incentivizing farmers to plant native fruit trees through their initiative called Wild Carbon. She spoke about the challenges, will request her to share what they had planned and her experience here.

But is this really empty land? All of it seems to be under cultivation.

@NithinKamath - I run a sustainable asset financing startup welfund.org. From Welfund we are talking to Marut Drones to pilot financing a plantation

Total Seedballs - 20,000
Estimated cost - 3.4L
Cost per seedball - Rs. 17
Time for plantation - 1 day

The objective is to finance plantations at scale with CSR initially and sustainable economics eventually (timber & non-timber income).

I would be grateful if you can support us in the project.

Shankar Sivan
+91 9176386455
[email protected]

I read an interesting article in the India Herald about Reliance. They are the biggest producers of mangoes in India. The reason behind this is, in 1997, there Jamnagar refinery was causing a lot of pollution and the pollution control board gave them a warning. To mitigate this, they took large barren lands and started planting Mango trees. When the trees grew up, they were able to monetize their investment and became the largest exporter of mangoes. I think this can become a good incentive for multiple corporations to plant trees. Take ownership of multiple barren lands and grow sellable fruits/vegetables and create another source of income. This will contribute towards their ESG goals while increasing profits. Happy planet & happy shareholders.

Even my undergraduate college in Patiala (Thapar University) utilized the empty space on the campus by growing fruits & vegetables and selling them to large corporates/local markets. They were even selling potatoes to lays.

Also, I agree only planting fruits/vegetable trees will not solve the problem, but can become a good starting point.

Link to the article - Mukesh Ambani s secret behind 600-acre mangrove...


Was just trying to make a point with that pic :grimacing:

We should speak to farmers associations/co-operatives/FPOs to get their views and stance on this. Reality on the ground as opposed to bird’s eye view (literally!).

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Isn’t the main problem that no one to take care of the seedling, and it isn’t about just planting a sapling? What are you doing about this?

@shankarsivan interesting project. Systematic large scale plantation is one thing, but what we’ve often wondered about is casual planting as well. Something as simple as, “We just ate 10 mangoes. Let me go bury these seeds.”, over decades. If it was practised culturally and casually over a period of time, it would compound.

My relatives in Kerala who have have a bit of land around their homes (key: not in faraway places), whenever I’ve asked them “Why aren’t there way more trees than there already are?”, the answer has pretty much always been “hm, but why?”. Of course, this is not representative of farmlands or farmers, but people with small parcels of land who do not rely on the said land for making a living.

yep, systematic large scale plantation can only be driven by aligning incentives. Hope to drive revenue streams and economic benefits to align the incentives.

Solar adoption is a case in point. 100% of the rooftop solar adoption happens with conversation on - savings and payback on the investment.

True. So decision on deployment is based on cost and time for deployment.

Manual plantation stacks up as follows (https://heartfulness.org/forests/)

  1. Avg cost of sapling - Rs. 24
  2. Cost of plantation (land prep, transport, labor, manure, equipment) - Rs. 36
  3. Support staff & admin cost, plus tech - Rs. 27
  4. Average cost of plantation & maintenance for one-year - Rs. 93

Manual plantation cost (without point #4 for apple to apple comparison) = Rs. 87/-
Cost with Drone = Rs. 17/-
80% cheaper

Manual plantation for 20k sapling is estimated = 80 man-days
With Drone plantation requires = 3 man-days
97% faster

In difficult and inaccessible terrains the time effectiveness will be even better

Successful plantations from the seedlings - Effectiveness
On effectiveness of the seedling. It depends on the rain, terrain chosen etc.
Past projects of Marut Drones. Uttarakhand - 21%; South - 19%.
We can expect 20% success on the deployment.

The Karnataka Government has introduced an Agro-Forestry scheme wherein farmers are eligible to receive Rs 100/- per tree planted on their land. Initially, they receive Rs 40 in the first year, followed by Rs 30 in the second and third years. While some farmers have opted for this scheme, many others have refrained from participating due to the bureaucratic challenges associated with it. If the Government simplifies the process, it is highly likely that a greater number of farmers would be inclined to embrace this opportunity.

The same scheme should be extended to Urban areas, so that trees are planted in all parts of our region.


This % is for what? Seedballs to sapling?

ah, didn’t know this. Setting up as a reminder to bring it to the attention of the bureaucrats and politicians, whenever I meet next.

Will those in urban regions take the effort for Rs 100?

Seedballs to plants/trees