India has the second largest net work of roads in the world with 3.5 million kilometers. Of the 3.5 million kilometers of roads, just 2% i.e. 50, 000 kilometers are national highways. The rest of the roads are either unpaved roads or mostly badly managed ones. To improve the road infrastructure, it is suggested to grow avenue trees on a war footing as it also helps to mitigate climate change and in the process earn an income for doing the work on the principle that “tree service should not be a free service” to achieve its goals.
Let us assume that there are already some avenue trees at the rate of 100 per kilometer of road. To make it to 200, trees need to be planted every 10 meters apart on both sides of the roads. This not only gives protection to the roads and gives valuable shade for road users, they also serve as an excellent carbon dioxide absorbers. These trees can grow without any competition, provided they are not tampered with by goats, sheep, livestock and human beings. Trees to be selected need to have food or commercial value like tamarind, neem, fruit trees or even timber trees. The choice depends on the region.
At 200 trees per kilometer, the total number of trees that needs to be maintained would come to 700 million. But the canopy of the full grown trees which joins at the centre of the road also spreads out on either side of the road and therefore the canopy area would, for a kilometer, be 1000 x 20 =2 hectares. For 3.5 million kilometers it is 7 million hectare equivalent. As said earlier, these trees will have no competition from other vegetation and therefore, it is estimated that it would absorb 280 million tons of CO2 annually at the rate of 40 tons per hectare per year. If Certified Emission Reduction units (CER) as per Clean Development Mechanism (CDM) at $15 per ton is given, an amount of $4200 million could be made available for maintenance of trees i.e. Rs 20,160 crores.
Forests alone cannot succeed in absorbing the huge emissions the world is now making nor can agriculture alone absorb the surplus carbon dioxide. Is it not time to think out of the Box? Communities in New Zealand deal with planting trees on the bunds in a field so that they can prevent wind damage. If this could be replicated in Indian conditions, we can prevent increase in temperature and increase in humidity in some 60 million hectares of dry farming region.
K V S Krishna