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There is a need to evolve new strategies for development. Some of these strategies can be incorporated within the existing framework of policies and priorities. Individual programmes can be upgraded to yield the maximum immediate benefit through better coordination. The key lies in evolving a very broad perspective of the society which views the complex interrelationships between all its different levels and sectors.

The value of this perspective can be illustrated with reference to the perennial shortage of paper in India, which persists in spite of the fact that production has increased 900% since 1950. The source of this problem is the rapid increase in literacy through formal education which has resulted in a fivefold increase in per capita consumption of paper.

Until now the emphasis has been on meeting the crisis of increasing shortages by the construction of huge modern paper mills in each state which become status symbols for politicians to fight over, ignoring considerations regarding employment generation, availability of raw materials and proximity to markets. As a result, new paper mills have been established relying on supplies of wood from already over-depleted forest areas; thereby creating a further drain on the reserves and boosting the price of wood for paper production, construction and fuel.

There is an alternative strategy based on the perception that meeting the nation's need for paper can be linked with agricultural prosperity, expansion of industry in the small scale, greater employment potential, stimulation of forestry, and increased transportation in rural areas.

The key lies in organising paper production and consumption in each district around a central pulping mill of 50 to 100 ton per day capacity which obtains its raw material from local forest plantations fast-growing tree crops and which supplies dry pulp material to 50 to 100 mini-paper mills of one ton per day capacity.

There is an enormous potential for agricultural development by cultivation of tree crops. In the same manner as sugarcane is now grown over an area of 30,000 acres in a district as a registered crop hypothecated to a local bank through a sugar mill, trees such as bamboo, cashurina, and the fast growing leucena can be introduced as registered crops over thousands of acres in each district.

It is well known that bamboo is a highly remunerative crop which can yield upwards of Rs.2000 per acre annually after seven years. It has been projected that the present requirement of 2.5 million tons of bamboo pulp will rise to 10 millions tons in the next ten years. The major constraint on increased cultivation is the relatively long gestation period before the first harvest and the absence of financial support in the form of term loans until the plantation reaches maturity.

One solution to this problem is to extend the concept of registered crops to trees like bamboo. Banks should be encouraged to lend money for tree cultivation through pulp and paper mills against hypothecation of the crop. As an alternative, special term tree crop loans can be directly offered by banks to the ryots.

Another solution is to encourage the cultivation of other fast-growing trees like cashurina and leucaena, commonly known as the "Hawaiian giant" which can be harvested three years after planting instead of seven years as in the case of bamboo, and which like bamboo is self-degenerating after harvest. Leucaena has the added advantage that it can thrive even on nutrient poor soils which it builds up with the aid of nitrogen fixing bacteria, and it can survive in areas receiving only 10 inches annual rainfall.

The process of paper production is composed of a pulping phase and a sheet making phase. Pulping can be economically done only on large scale, while sheet making can be scaled down without much reduction in efficiency. By separating these two processes, the sheet making phase can be carried out by small scale units each producing one ton of paper per day and all obtaining their pulp from a central or Mother pulping unit which in turn draws its raw material from plantations within the same district.

The advantage of this set up is that it reduces paper-making to a small scale industry, thereby bringing it within the reach of entrepreneurs with more limited financial backing. It also permits a wide diversification in type of paper being produced, enabling each unit to specialise in a particular field. This means that the entire needs of a district for most types of paper can be produced within the district itself.

The establishment of 50 or more small scale units scattered throughout a district will tap the huge labour reserves of the rural areas. It will also encourage expansion of the road transport industry to outlying areas where the plantations and paper mills are located for carrying raw material from the field to the pulp mill, dry pulp from there to the mini-paper mills, and finished paper from there to markets within the district.

A variation of this model can be based on a new process recently developed in Europe called Universal pulping, which converts agricultural wastes like paddy straw, banana stem, and begasse into pulp for paper production by a low temperature, low cost process and also generates a nutrient-rich cattle feed for dairy development. This process lends itself to division into central pulping and mini-paper mills just as the conventional process.

This approach is based on an integrated perspective which meets a pressing need of the country while generating agricultural prosperity and fostering industry, transport and forestry.

The cotton industry also lends itself to a graded approach. Small scale ginning factories can be established at the panchayat union level to process locally grown cotton and supply it to medium scale spinning factories at the taluq level. These in turn can supply a central weaving factory in each district.

Sugar mills are already organised along these lines to closely link agricultural production with industrial output. Further expansion of this industry is in the interests of both sectors.

The same strategy can be applied for organisation of many other small scale and agro-based industries, some of which can be established in the tiny sector. For example, the jasmine essential oil industry is organised in Europe and North Africa as a medium scale industry based on large oil extraction plants capable of handling upwards of 3000 kg of flowers per day.

As an alternative it is possible to achieve the same output with 300 mini-extraction units which cost Rs.15,000 each and are within the reach of small farmers. These mini-units permit the farmer to participate in the complete range of processing from cultivation to production of essential oil.

It is already known that growing flowers is more profitable than growing cereals and other cash crops. An acre of jasmine flowers can easily yield Rs.10,000 net profit to the grower. The same flowers, if they are converted into oil by the farmer, can yield him Rs.35,000 or more.

Here again the concept of centralised coordination comes in at both an earlier and later stage. A chemical factory is needed to purify the solvent and make it available to the farmer, who cannot undertake that on his own. Similarly an organisation is needed to further process the raw extract known as "concrete" into "absolute", which can then be easily sold in bulk.

This concept of reducing the unit of industrial production to an optimum size is already being followed in regard to other essential oils such as citronella and lemongrass. It can be further extended to many other agro-industries.

story | by Dr. Radut