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Save trees for food security

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Are you environment conscious? Do you love trees? Do you love them enough to write `don’t print this unless you must’ or save paper, save trees’? If yes, then read on. If no, you would love to read this even more.

I often receive emails suggesting that one should not print unless one must, to save trees. It made me curious enough to dig deep into this matter. Upon little exploration, I discovered some interesting pieces of information. Information, they say is power in today’s world, although it can’t guarantee wisdom. So for whatever it’s worth, here is more information. Read on.

But before you do that, stop for a moment and take a look around the room and notice all things made of paper. Notice those newspapers lying on that side table, a couple of coffee table books underneath them, those financial reports there, a few other books on your desk, and that book shelf full of books of all sizes. Notice those family pictures on your desk and those certificates on the wall. That diary, those tissue papers, files, all of them. All paper. Needless to say there are more papers to be found in other rooms as well.

Where does all this paper come from? Trees, you should think and hence those `Green’ emails. Well, if you think so, then you are only about 50% right. Only 50%. Let me explain. We consume 300 million tonnes of paper each year. US, obviously US alone, consumes 30% of it. With only five percent of world’s population, US consumes 30% of world’s paper. Each person in US uses about 350 kgs of paper annually i.e. 8 trees per person each year. This calculation is based on the fact that 24 trees make one tonne of paper. What will put things in perspective is the fact that India’s per capita consumption is just about 5 kgs while China’s is 30 kgs.

Cutting trees is the primary source of paper. Annually around 4 billion trees are cut worldwide which amounts to 35% of green cover. Gone, for paper. One may not understand the enormity of this unless I add that each year green cover of the size equalling entire Ireland (nearly 60,000 sq kms) is cut down to make paper. US alone generates 200 billion dollars of revenue out of paper industry which accounts to 7% of their manufacturing output. Big numbers these! Do you think capitalist America would let go of this revenue to save earth? To add to these woes, paper making is one of the most polluting industries. It pollutes air, water and land alike. Each year millions of pounds of hazardous chemicals are released in the air and water polluting all of it. Further, waste paper while decomposing also emits hazardous gases in the air. A good reason for all environmentally conscious people to go up in arms against these industries!

Here are more interesting numbers. Newsprint forms a big part of paper products. Newspaper with highest circulation comes from Japan. Six out of ten newspapers with highest circulation come from Japan while two each from US, UK, India, China. Yes, there are actually 14 newspapers in top 10. While world over newspaper readership is on a decline, in India and some other developing countries it is rising. Any guesses, how many newspapers are operating in India? A whopping, take a breath, 82237 of them. Over 33 crore prints in circulation all across the nation and another 9 crore magazines. If we assume each newsprint size is 12 pages and magazine 25 (which is still on a lower side), India needs to cut down 10 crore trees, considering 40 % paper is recycled.

All this made me curious about paper industry in India and I started finding more facts. After reading all the above, I am not sure you would be thrilled to know that Indian paper industry is growing steadily, but it is, whereas in the developed countries it is saturated. There are several reasons to this growth in India. First of all, GOI has recognised this as a priority industry giving it a lot of protection and sops. Second of all, as a nation we are growing and growing at the rate of one Australia per year. This is consistently increasing readability and paper usage. Third of all, government’s literacy mission and overall emphasis on education at all levels has tremendously increased the load on paper.  Advertisement revenue that is generated has made print business highly lucrative. Open any leading newspaper and you will have to search news amid all ads. There are 8-10 page supplements full of ads atleast a dozen times each year these days. Today our newsprint demand is two million tonnes. School books are seldom reused or handed down. I have a friend in a small village away from here who is compelled by his daughter to buy a new set of text books each year and insists on not using books handed down by her big brother. Many people I share this nod in agreement.

Also challenges of Indian industry are not too unique. India always had far less forest cover ever since this industry started as an organised sector. Whatever little forests we had, had very little productivity in terms of wood fibre which is the raw material for paper. GOI doesn’t allow private forests and organized farming for this industry and rightly so. This forced us way back in 70s to consider alternate sources like bamboo, agri waste, recycled paper etc.

This read, there is another side to this paper story. You would be delighted to know that US alone plants 2.5 billion trees each year. If there are 4 billion trees cut each year, there are also 10 billion planted all across the globe. India alone has been planting nearly 1 billion trees over the last five years. We can safely assume that the number of trees that don’t make it after planted is set off against the number of trees that are planted but not counted. In US and such progressive countries, government allows organized private farming for paper industry. So there are trees planted in 20, 30 or 40 year cycles depending upon their type and are farmed. Such farms source over 25% wood. So, in all, 70% trees are safe. There are alternate non-wood sources such as Hemp and Kenaf. Some of them have traditionally been used by China. Unfortunately Hemp comes from the same plant as Marijuana hence US can’t produce it and moreover using these plants would required serious alterations to our existing processes and machinery which doesn’t make a good business case for the industry. As a result, 45% paper world over including in India, is recycled. This industry generates precious employment opportunities for over 1.5 million Indians. In a poor country like ours, this means a lot. Therefore your answer, if Trees, is only 50% right. And also half of this comes from organised farming.

Information over-dose, isn’t it! Anyway, to cut the long story short, what I really mean is this. It is not about cutting trees. There are enough trees and more. In times to come, more trees will be planted and lesser will be cut. My sensibilities tell me something else. I think it is the environmental pollution that is killing us more. Tree is a renewable source. Trees can be planted but air, if polluted, can’t be purified that easily. Water if contaminated cannot be purified easily and reasonably. There is another thing. If there’s so much land consumed, 60,000 sqkms, it’s a huge pressure on our landmass. Could this land be better deployed? What if we bring this under cultivation of food crops, say paddy, wheat, millets, fruits, vegetables or cereals? Would it not do a great turn to our food security globally? Consider this, 60,000 sqkms is 6 million hectares. According to World Bank data (WDI) world produces around 3600 kgs of cereals per hectare, which means 22 million tonnes of cereal. Cereal is world’s most consumed food contributing 50-60% of developing economy’s source of calories, hence all these calculation in terms of cereals. With this bumper 22 million tonnes of cereal we could easily feed 144 million people every year @ 150 kg consumption per person per year in India (as per data from HeliLiabrary.com). Mind blowing numbers these! It would take care of about 50% of India’s population below poverty line or 40% of entire Africa’s BPL population. That’s a huge contribution.

For me `don’t print unless you must’ is still not a bad idea but not just to save trees. Trees are well taken care of. I will do it to save us from pollution and to save land, to feed the hungry. Food security is one of the major challenges today and this is a great thing we could do without putting pressure on our exchequer. I know that this is only one part of the story. Landmass saved does not ensure it is deployed well. It will be years before the other part of efficient deployment is played. And I don’t even know if it will be played but I hope to create awareness with these set of numbers. Awareness is the first step. And if you intend to take this further, consider unsubscribing your daily printed newspaper, monthly phone, electric, credit card and other bills & statements. You can always get these electronically. I don’t miss my daily print newspaper anymore.

Join me in not printing paper unless you must!

- Rahoul Joshii

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