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

That is Rs 500 per tree apart from the cost of monitoring, sapling, etc. How do you scale something like this, and who will fund this? The private sector will never be able to match up to this, and if you end up promising something and don’t deliver, that will also lead to bad blood.

US govt actively encourages people to own land make them grass lands or forests.

Most of the state government/forest department raise amazing nurseries and actively promote tree plantations in bunds and hedges.

Growing trees/forests in commons is very challenging (our experience is not good) need to involve local communities not to destroy the plants.

Farmers will plant trees if there is a economic value, like fruit frees, mango trees, and most of the horticultural tree crops.

We have been planting trees a huge scale Nithin, to the tune of 100000+ trees every year, we have been taking samplings from Rainmatter foundation, and forest department. we have been focussed on both forestory and also the fruit trees. @sameershisodia @Pai happy to connect and see what direction you would like to peruse.

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That was an example, we live in a country where majority of them take bribe and vote!!! When they don’t care about their future, their kids, their village, etc,. will they really care about planting a tree without any bribe :slight_smile: Our forefathers planted many trees and that’s what we see in villages at present, I don’t see any of them planting a tree unless he is bribed. End of the day he reaps the benefit of the tree, but to reap the benefits for himself we need to bribe!!! I said 50K, but for sure to make them excited the number wont be less than 25K, that’s my experience.

I think we should definitely think out of the box, incentivising schemes should be removed from our thoughts. We should bring GODly schemes like propagating things like if you want to get married to a beautiful bride then you will have to plant 21 Pupil Tree (most of the youths practicing agri are not married), if you are not having kids then you will have to plant 5 banyan tree on a lake bund, make sure the tree survives for 4 years. If you want peace from your husband plant 7 Neem Trees and perform pooja to the tree on full moon day (99% of the women has this problem). If your husband has to quit alcohol (62% of the women has this issue), plant 5 Shami trees and on every Monday ask them to take 21 rounds of the tree, we need to educate them that the more the tree is healthy the chances of your husband quitting alcohol in 48 months is inevitable. If you are suffering from Gastric (80% of them have), plant 9 Mango trees and by eating the first fruit gastric shall be cured in a jiffy (remember Mango tree needs 4 years to bare its first fruit). We should create such a fear in them, that if he/she doesn’t plant 101 trees in their life time they will straight away go to Naraka (hell), 4 people in a family will be planting 404 trees in their lifetime :rofl:

This is India, we need to adopt to what people believe or practice and we should stop thinking like western people :slight_smile: :rofl: :rofl: :rofl:


@Krutika, I missed your earlier post. This is super nice, I am plugging here since I have another question related to this.

This bit

Our project is currently being registered and validated on the Verra CCB standard. Do come visit our field locations in Gadchiroli and Gondia sometime!

How does the economics of this work? What is the potential revenue that can be generated through Carbon credits? Assuming I am a farmer with 1 acre of land, I decided to plant trees.

  1. Periphery
  2. Across the land?

I understand that numbers might vary based on various factors. I am just trying to figure out an average ballpark number.

Conclusion: Cursed of marginal land holding is the root cause behind unplantations on the boundaries of farming land. Our agricultural lands are cursed by marginal land holdings - 93% of land holdings of less than 1 acre.

Let’s think about this from the first principle…

India’s total area = 3,287,263 km square
Water cover = 705,469 km square (21.6%)
Land cover = 2,581,794 km square (78.4%)

We are only going to focus on the land cover. The distribution of land cover, and we can only get a sense if we look at the above distribution in terms of rural and urban.

Category Rural Urban
Residential 100,000 km² (3.8%) 40,000 km² (1.6%)
Road and transportation 100,000 km² (3.8%) 100,000 km² (3.8%)
Agricultural or cultivated land 1,200,000 km² (46.4%) 300,000 km² (11.6%)
Unused land with no usage 541,794 km² (21.2%) 200,000 km² (7.7%)
Total 2,041,794 km² (75.2%) 740,000 km² (24.8%)

Why do we see empty lands in urban and rural?

A significant percentage of Lands with the potential to get occupied as residential in future can be found adjacent to new or future roads hence unused for now and left empty. Since plantations are visible-longterm most people left it empty rather than spending time and money on plantations. We can’t expect plantations on such empty lands. This is true for both rural and urban.

However, I think plantation on the periphery/boundaries of the agricultural lands has massive potential. And I also think the right solution can unlock massive potential for farmer’s communities. In fact, I have seen many such examples in my village. In my village, we used to call this aara (thicker concentration of soil at around 5 to 7 feet’s heights compared to the surface level of actual agricultural land), I am not aware of its English meaning. And apart from regular agricultural activities the plantation of mostly non-fruits plants. But today I know why those farmers were able to plant those trees and not in the larger agricultural areas.

Now to understand this, we need to understand the distribution of our agricultural lands. Our agricultural lands are cursed by marginal land holdings - 93% of land holdings of less than 1 acre.

Now, I need to literally draw a diagram to display the challenges for farmers in plantations on the boundaries of agricultural land. I will give you the real ground insight (farmers’ insights). My village example would be the most suitable. Meanwhile, my village’s name is Dasaut! :slight_smile:

Even before we start, we all need to understand: in our rural part as well the agricultural lands are mostly 3 to 7KM away from the actual residential location.

This is a picture of the agricultural land of my village. In most cases, 4 or 5 villages’s agricultural lands will be in one centralized location as you can see in the above picture.

  • The individual land sizes range from .25 acres to 2 acres. And the combined land would be 50 to 70 acres
  • My dad has three pieces of land: 1, 2, and 3. But all are disjointed
  • There is a centralized water pump for watering
  • The peripheries of these individual lands are also the route to reach out to individual lands
  • You can also see there are plantations on the piece of land adjacent to the village connecting road (why?)
  • In the absence of a centralized route, let’s say my dad has to reach to his piece of land-1 with farming equipment - tractors, threshers etc, he will mostly reach land-1 by crossing multiple pieces of land. And this is true for the rest of the farmers as well.

The Curse of marginal landholding prevents farmers to plant trees on the boundaries of farming land because it will literally prevent the movement of farming equipment from one piece of land to another. And the wrong selection of plants can also create complications for actual farming.

I shall come back with potential solutions maybe on the weekend - I do have some sense of the potential self-sustaining model but I need to think a few more points. However, I see massive value creation for all the stakeholders including nature in plantations on the boundaries of agricultural lands.

The benefits of plantation on the boundaries of agricultural lands

  • Prevention of soil erosion
  • Reduction in watering
  • Organic self-sustaining fertilizers rich in active nitrogen
  • Prevention from unnatural conditions - sun and rain
  • Other climate benefits

Request-1: I try to write in a language that can be understood by anyone. And if you struggle, please let me know. :pray:

I would be happy to answer your questions


By the way, I have another question to post here. Considering groundwater levels are going down everywhere, what if the narrative turned into the need to plant trees to help maximize groundwater recharge? Maybe this is something people can relate to as groundwater issues have started affecting many nationwide.

I was looking at this Nature report, which seems to suggest that it does help.


It will be interesting to get input from those working in this space. What if there was a narrative built around why it is important to plant trees for better groundwater recharge?


During the 2018 Kerala floods that saw massive erosion of land and counterintuitively, drought right after floods, this had become a talking point. The conversation seems to have dissipated from the mainstream.


This is a good narrative for sure. However, India’s dependency on groundwater for drinking has been on the decline for the past many years. The government smartly created a narrative that groundwater lacks necessary minerals and hence rural’s households must shift to purified/packaged water. And hence, recently when I visited my village, realised almost everyone was using purified bottled water for drinking (INR 1/liter). This means at present the utilization of groundwater is mostly for agriculture.

And if we take a look at the Dynamic Ground Water Resources of India (DGWRI) 2022, we can get a sense of which part of our nation suffers a shortage of rainfall as well. And this narrative will work like wonder for those parts of our nation. Because the incentive would be in the quadrant of visible, short-term. An incentive from this quadrant sparks multiple neurons in the human mind. :slight_smile:

As @knadh rightly said, the same conversation might not be effective for Kerala or part of Bihar where there is sufficient rainfall

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technically speaking, the tree cover is continually replenished with wind, water and cycles of nature. mammals and birds also plant the seeds by adding compost via their poop.

the question then becomes - where do the trees go? I feel there is a different mix of many local factors. The empty land is not always empty and gets visited by human influence in different times of year -

a. Overgrazing - say a village with 50% tree cover could support 500 livestock. Now the tree cover has come down to 10% but livestock is at 300. So it isnt just that they have too many animals, but too little productive capture of sun, water and hence too little rejuvenation and capacity of commons.

b. Household cooking- communities are forced to over harvest when commons forest cover and unfenced accessibly goes down. Twigs and dry leaves which should stay and accumulate get used as tinder.

c. Industrial fuel - the empty patches are visited by local biofuel mafia when ready to harvest and all big trees get chopped. A scary amount of informal industries use common wood for furnaces. When this happens legally, a panchayat generates revenue for state, but generally the local village boss person will have a few vehicles transporting commons timber for cashflow.

d. Forest fires - can be good in certain contexts to accelarate nutrient production. But monoculture canopy + biodiversity loss + invasive species make fires more common and also human induced. The community gets fresher greencover as fire rapidly releases calcium, magnesium and other nutrients which would have otherwise taken a year of slow decomposition. This gives a higher short term return but kills off many saplings.

e. Economics and operations of farmer - in small land holding sizes of fields, it makes more economic sense to do a monoculture. A single variety of seed, planting, caretaking and harvest keeps operations simple and farmer has to spend fewer days on field which they use to earn cash by wages(say 150 days vs 250 days in natural farming).

f. Yeild - Annuals under a good year also give 3-5x yeild over perennials and don’t wax and wane alternate years like tree based plantations do. A mature tree’s growth rates also fall as it spends more on self maintenance. Short season crops are monsoon dependent but also fastest to yeild in short term.

g. Neighborhood conflict on shade - on acre sized fields, unless it is culturally acceptable to have trees on bunds of field, the neighbouring farmers . Have heard of neighborhood conflicts because of perceived, and perhaps a little real highjacking of sunlight.

On the second part - about water recharge narrative building to incentivise tree growing.

a. Technical feasibility wise, i feel groundwater recharge of truly depleted areas needs fairly intensive earthworks. Building a swale, basin, recharge pit leads to a 20% loss of agricultural land. For 100 small fields they might build an interconnected series of recharge ponds.

b. Economic feasibility wise - another challenge is that if a farmer builds such a pit, it helps the downstream neighbour more, while the cost centre remains for upstream farmer to figure out.

Older govt, social, taxation systems accounted for this need. For ex- arthashastra would enforce a mandatory minimum number of water bodies be built with mandatory participation - labour, oxen, money else fines. A part of the harvest also remains within this watershed and gets saved under next year’s maintenance fund with the local govt rep.

Today this money goes up to PM, is supposed to come down via CM, DM, … but often doesn’t come back again to the place that was the watershed and the pond that is the real productivity engine.

Or it comes to pond thanks to current govt’s focus on water but often becomes cement, plastic or steel like a walking pathway with benches and signboards giving ₹100, ₹10, ₹1 to the PM, CM, DM value chains. The core of problem - desilting, bunding, upsrtream watershed management if ignored for few years - fill the pond. Technology helps the village forget.

Culture, but has been requesting everyone to come to their neighbourhood ponds pre monsoon with their fruits(prasada) and seeds. The coconuts were kept on water filled pots in last month pooja so now they have sprouted. Now that the pond has gotten trees and labour for free, in few years they will start giving for free.

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I disagree Madhu. Our culture has been treating people the way you have written and we need to be the change. Buzz Women has tremendous success in creating awareness among women, who are planting trees not for monetary, instant incentives but they understand the effects of climate change and they want a better future for their kids. They are planting it in their front yards, back yards, school yards and reusing water from the kitchen to irrigate.

I think people are sensible when they are treated with dignity.

We have to stop making everything about monetised economy. Our generation has to change that narrative that we do things only if economically it makes sense, we need to be the generation which does things because it ecologically and economically makes sense.


Sorry, late to the party given travel and limited connectivity. A lot of ground has been covered, so will make a few additional points.

  • The focus has to be forests, not individual trees. Individual trees do not bring all the benefits a forest does, are more susceptible to disease and drought and flood. In the forest context, the life and tracking of an individual tree is less important than that of the overall ecosystem, with markers such as soil quality/health, biodiversity returning to the place etc being far more telling of the long term health.

  • Grasslands are “forests” too. As are swamps. They serve a variety of purposes for life, including human needs. Restoring and protecting these is equally critical in places where that’s the natural terrain. The info/maps on these are still poor.

  • There’s no one empty land type. The problems also vary. Regulations around cutting trees are a double edged sword - they prompt folks to avoid growing most forest/wild species one might want to see in most areas, especially urban. Farmers in dryland areas without water access, where agriculture had already ceased/become difficult are fairly keen to experiment with horticulture on part of their land, esp with support for saplings, emergency irrigation etc. But the value of mixing wild species in their orchards, of focusing on multiple layers and of ground cover is still a tough one.

  • As climate change hits harder and field crops and seasonals become affected at scale, blending a certain amount of tree based incomes, food and biomass energy will become more attractive to more. In the plantations there’s already a tree bias/comfort (though ground cover and wild planting suffers) but even in traditional “cropped” parts the tree will likely be the saviour vis-a-vis adaptation.

  • Heat stress will similarly drive planting in urban spaces. There’s almost no better solution, unless we go with the “efficient” airconditioning everywhere madness at scale and make things worse, overall.


Due to my work in Indian Administrative Fellowship in Agriculture, I do know the current leader in the forest department who drives the scheme and wants it to succeed.
If you can highlight some of the specific challenges, we can take this up with them. My email is [email protected].

There is a plan to have year 4 onwards be funded through Carbon Credits (for agroforestary), and this way the scheme has more impact. This is where we have been helping out.


Ravi, let’s catchup on this. There could be some important collaborations across the network here and the govt on this.

Sure. Sounds good.

I digress a bit here but this is just a thought… I think we should target them young. Kids are the future of the country and once they pick this up, it grows on them and becomes a habit…

I studied in a school in Bombay (IES king george @ Dadar) & every year they would conduct widespread tree plantation drives for students. The school which was amongst the largest schools had 56 branches (during my time) across MH & all secondary students from 5th to 10th class were included as a part of the tree plantation initiative. There were minimum of 60 students per class & 10 classrooms (A to J division) per batch (5th to 10th class). That makes it 600 students per batch and across the entire secondary school 7200+ students. This is just the main branch - there were 55 other branches - which may not have been as big of course. Every monsoon without fail, students and teachers were taken to a new spot somewhere on the outskirts of the city and we had just one objective… plant trees. It was a well-planned event- every weekend one whole batch would go…so class 5 this weekend, next weekend class 6 & so on… Every student would just go on a tree planting spree - supervised by teachers & often it would rain. Teachers & students were encouraged to take away seeds & saplings if they wanted to plant them near their home. It was fun. And even now whenever we reminisce about the tree plantation drives, we recollect those quite fondly.

I am not sure how they would take care of the planted saplings after the plantation drive but I am guessing they had a way.

This is an important question that gets the least attention during tree planting-related discussions. Having spoken to a number of smallholder farmers across many states, I realized that the most significant barrier to planting trees on private/farmlands is the upfront cost of purchasing high-quality seedlings (particularly in the case of fruit-grafted seedlings) and the cost of the preparation of land for planting.

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Many responses here talked about incentives for the farmers to do this. Here is another program which seems to execute them right.

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this is thanks to FFF @Krutika

Thanks @Mari for the tag and apologies for the delayed response @NithinKamath. A mota-moti overview of the finances and T&Cs for how our current project works are as follows:

  • Project is implemented over 1000 hectares or ~2400 acres
  • ~400 to 420 trees are planted / acre on unused or degraded agricultural land and gram panchayat land
  • Land division presently is about 80% agricultural land and 20% gram panchayat land
  • In the case of farmer land - 3 primary fruit or bamboo species of the farmer’s choice are planted for 400 trees; the remaining 15-20 trees are wild, native trees for nitrogen fixing (Karanj, Hadga) or for overall biodiversity & soil health - for example Bael, Kawath, Kokum the numbers of which are declining in Maharashtra
  • Int he case of GP land = 50-70% of the trees planted are wild, non-commerical species based on the soil type, water availability, climatic conditions, etc
  • The upfront cost / acre = ~Rs. 55,000 to Rs. 60,000 assuming nothing is paid for water (like borewell digging or other waterworks) and electricity costs
  • The 55K to 60K estimate includes cost of soil testing, GPS mapping, drone orthomosaics, organic fertilizer / compost, saplings, some amount of land prep and plantation efforts and a drip irrigation system and our staff costs for identifying the land and doing all the paperwork for gathering the data needed for the carbon project and the training and onboarding of community members needed for an agroforestry carbon project
  • Out of the 55K to 60K cost, between 3K to 6K is borne by the farmer and the rest comes either from philanthropic support or connection with government schemes like MGNREGA where possible
  • Overall the cost for a 1000 Hectare project where roughly 10 lakh trees are being planted thus comes about to be about $2 million or roughly Rs. 150 to Rs. 160 per tree, which also includes the carbon asset development costs (like writing the project design document, paying the carbon standard, paying the auditor, etc)
  • Over a 20 year period, on an average we can estimate that conservatively 22 tonnes of carbon would be sequestered per year per hectare including above ground, below ground and soil carbon - making the total carbon sequestered over the 20 year period 1000 x 22 x 20 = 440,000 tonnes
  • Assuming we can sell each credit conservatively for $30 (given this is a high quality project with biodiversity and community benefits), the total revenue will be $13.2 million over a 20 year
  • Of this 70% is transferred to the farmer and 30% is kept by F4F to cover our operating costs and also to invest in new projects. So per acre, per year we can estimate that the farmer gets ($13.2 million / 2400 / 20)*0.7 = $192.5 x 80 = Rs. 15,400 / acre / year
  • Again conservatively we are assuming that the farmer will be able to make a profit of Rs. 60,000 / acre / year from the sale of agroforestry produce (as per our surveys with farmers they are making as much Rs. 1.5 lakh / acre / year in a good year but assuming a couple of years of harvest are lost due to pest attacks, extreme weather events or market fluctuations). So in total (carbon revenue + profit from agroforestry produce) we are, conservatively looking at the farmers getting profit of Rs. 75,000 / acre / year

If the entire upfront cost of the project is financed by a carbon financier as opposed to philanthropy + government, we can look at the farmers getting 10 to 20% of the overall carbon revenue as opposed to 60 to 70%.

After several experiments, this financing and implementation model seems to be the most scalable from an agroforestry perspective. However, we are still continuing to learn new things and are trying to refine the model further.

This model is also heavily dependent on being able to accurately measure how many and what type of trees are present on each farmers land (so that payments are transferred to farmers accordingly), which we are able to do with a good amount of accuracy by modifying the open source algorithm Deep Forest and using 3cm resolution drone orthomosaics. The DEM from the drone is also able to provide a height of the tree and help us count really small trees as well (even as small as 2 to 3 feet in height)

Sample drone orthomosaic: