Indian village banks on tree mortgages in bid to go carbon-neutral

(Reuters, 4 Feb 2022) Striving to earn the title of India's first net-zero village, Meenangadi is giving farmers loans they never have to pay back - as long as they keep their trees standing

P. K. Madhavan stood proudly next to a young, sturdy mahogany tree, one of a hundred he planted three years ago on his farm in Wayanad district in the southern Indian state of Kerala.

Madhavan's two acres (0.8 hectares) of land in Meenangadi village used to be lush with cash crops - coffee, black pepper and betel nut - but two decades of drought and unseasonally heavy rain have decimated his yields.

Now the mahogany plantation is one of his only reliable sources of income, earning him up to 5,000 rupees ($67) a year - and all he has to do is keep the trees standing.

The 84-year-old farmer is being paid to plant and protect trees through a "tree banking" scheme, the project at the heart of Meenangadi's campaign to become India's first carbon-neutral village by 2025.

Madhavan got his saplings for free from Meenangadi's panchayat, or village council, which will lend him 50 rupees per tree for every year he does not cut it down until 2031.

At that point, the loan is written off and he can do what he likes with the trees, including felling them to sell for timber.

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Reuters, 4 Feb 2022: Indian village banks on tree mortgages in bid to go carbon-neutral