Jharkhand Bioeconomy Mission: Tapping the potential of community-owned forests and technology
At the Jharkhand Budget Conclave on 3rd February 2023, which was presided over by the Chief Minister Shri Hemant Soren, Professor Ashwini Chhatre discussed the immense potential for bioenergy production in Jharkhand’s forested areas and the importance of secure tenure to unlock this opportunity. Prof. Ashwini Chhatre proposed the Jharkhand Bioeconomy Mission that aims to promote the growth of the bioenergy sector through collaboration across agencies and departments. The event was attended by many prominent figures, including the Jharkhand Chief Minister Hemant Soren and Chief Secretary Sukhdev Singh. Professor Ashwini, in the presence of a 200+ audience that comprised leaders from both the private and public sectors, outlined the massive potential from constitution of this mission. The Jharkhand Bioeconomy Mission is set to play a crucial role in the development and growth of the bioenergy industry in the region.
Prof. Ashwini Chhatre began his speech at the Conclave by setting the economic premise of partnerships that can be based on the principle of crowding in private investments, which states that public finance can be used to attract private investment. He pointed out the power of “crowding in” private investments, where every rupee of public finance invested can bring in more private capital. He emphasized that state interventions are most effective when they provide a guarantee of profitability to private investors. He stressed that the goal of a state budget should be to encourage private capital to flow in and support the development of the region. He stated that” state interventions are most successful – when it enables private capital to flow in with an assurance that it will make money for the investors. “
Prof. Ashwini Chhatre highlighting the potential of Jharkhand’s forest landscapes and the subject garnered unwavering attention of the audience. He emphasized the significance of these discounted forest land resources and their critical role in driving economic growth and development in the state. “I want to point to the large presence of forest land that does not have forests – in the best estimates it is about 1.5 million hectares, i.e., 15 lakh ha – that is forest land but does not have trees – either open forest or no forest. This is right now producing nothing and caught in a quagmire of regulatory tripwires.,” he shared, and this fundamental idea set the stage for the Jharkhand Bioeconomy Mission.
These forested lands with high restoration potential present a significant opportunity for forest regeneration with native species such as bamboo. Bamboo, in its native landscapes, not only grows fast but also thrives from regular harvesting and will sequester large amounts of carbon both above and below ground. This bamboo will serve as valuable raw material for industry and nation’s pressing need for ethanol and fossil-fuel alternatives.
Prof. Ashwini Chhatre also highlighted the 1.2 million hectares of standing Sal forests in Jharkhand as a significant opportunity for economic growth and development. He estimated that even if only 10% of the seeds that fall are collected and processed into biodiesel at the current rates that Indian oil companies are willing to pay (Rs. 70/litre), the production of biodiesel would be worth Rs. 6 Lakh crores ($8 billion).
He provided further context by explaining that “A bioeconomy mission for the state of Jharkhand fortunately does not require additional resources. It does not require the budget to create new line items. What it requires is a coordinated mechanism – because the Sal seeds already exist, the land already exists – there is a pool of central funding such as CAMPA, NREGA and other centrally sponsored schemes that can be harnessed and targeted at specific landscapes where these resources already exist in extremely large numbers, using technology that is well used and commercially available for large scale application and, building on the current entrepreneurship that already exists.”
This mission can fructify through a concerted effort to convert this standing wealth into a source of energy that will reduce emissions and put Jharkhand on the map as a leader in India’s future energy sector. Prof. Ashwini Chhatre proposed a “triple win” solution to address issues such as unemployment, forest degradation, and elevated emissions leading to climate change. This mission can fructify through a concerted effort to convert this standing wealth into a source of energy that will reduce emissions and put Jharkhand on the map as a leader in India’s future energy sector. India can become a beacon of hope for the rest of the world and Jharkhand can lead that way in emission reduction.