3 Billion Tonnes of Additional Carbon Sinks
(Part 2 of the 6 part story series talking about the efforts the Indian Army is taking towards sustainable environmental conservation)

The rising level of atmospheric CO2 is believed to cause global warming at an alarming rate of 0.20C per decade with an estimated average rise in global temperature of 30 degree Celsius by 2100 (Ref ‘ Giles, J, Nature, 2007, 445, 578-579’). On an average 3.2 Giga tonne of carbon accumulates annually in the atmosphere because of anthropogenic activities. This will bring more freak extreme weather phenomena such as severe drought, dangerous floods and occurrence of extreme temperatures that will lead to serious water shortages and affect agricultural output and food security. Hence, various Governments and experts around the world have become increasingly concerned about addressing the two most important critical issues i.e. Global Warming/ Climate Change & Water Crisis.

Being a signatory to the Paris Agreement, i.e COP 21 (Conference of Parties 21) held from 30 November to 12 December 2015, at Paris, France. Countries, including India, agreed to strengthen the global response to climate change, reaffirm the goal of limiting global temperature increase to well below 20 degrees Celsius while pursuing efforts to limit the increase to 1.5 degrees Celsius. 

As a natural extension to this commitment, India will have to reduce its carbon emission intensity by 33-35% from what it was in 2005 and thus needs to create additional carbon sinks of about 2.5 billion to 3.0 billion tonnes by 2030 which would also include an increase in production of non-fossil fuel by 40%.

The Indian Army’s Role in this

The Territorial Army, through its 10 Eco Task Force Bns (25 Coys) has planned to embark on a mission of achieving India’s target of creating an additional carbon sink of 2.5 to 3.0 billion tonnes by 2030 through extensive use of Vetiver Grass.  

The expected outcome once the aforementioned start aims to achieve the following:

  • Significant reduction in temperatures and extreme weather phenomena in drought and floods, 
  • Improved agriculture output (thus better food security), 
  • Prevention of soil erosion, 
  • Rejuvenation of perennial and non-perennial water bodies, 
  • Groundwater recharging increased water table and recharging of the dry water bodies.  
  • Prevention of landslides, rainfall-runoff and groundwater recharging esp in mountainous regions

Understanding a Carbon Sink and Carbon Sequestration

A Carbon sink is a natural reservoir that stores carbon-containing chemical compounds (Green House Gases) accumulated over an indefinite period of time. The process by which carbon sink removes carbon dioxide (CO2) from the atmosphere is known as Carbon Sequestration.

Sequestration of Atmospheric Carbon into Subsoil Horizons

Carbon mitigation by photosynthetic capture by far remains a natural & sustainable proposition that complements environmental priorities and socio-economic interests. Photosynthetic increase of carbon stocks as soil organic carbon into the deeper soil horizons has a slower decomposition rate and helps in long-term subsoil carbon sequestration.

The fast-growing roots of the Vetiver trap a significant amount of atmospheric CO2 and facilitate uniform dispersal of stored carbon into the soil on account of their fibrous nature. As compared to shrubs like Lemongrass & Palmarosa, VG absorbs almost 100% more CO2.

Why Vetiver Grass?

Vetiver (Vetiver zizanioides) is a perennial grass, which is native to India. This non-invasive & non-competitive grass fits well in the ecosystem service model contributing to regional and global economies for its multifarious environmental applications and offers sustainable opportunities for carbon sequestration. Two third of the carbon dioxide (CO2) is stored in the roots of the trees/ plants, therefore normal crops/plants like wheat, maize or rice which have very short roots are not suitable for this purpose.

Other than Vetiver there are no other grass species that have such a fast-growing tufted root system, suitable for translocation of carbon deep into the soil. It can survive extreme climatic variations such as prolonged drought, flood submergence, fire, frost & heatwave (-150C to 550C). When planted in hedgerows, a VG multiplies itself a minimum ten times a year. 

Utilizing VG to Achieve the Impossible

The requirement would be to plant 500 Crore trees in the next 10 years which is a challenging target both in terms of the number of trees to be planted and the availability of land. However, this target can be achieved using VG commonly known as ‘Khas’, an Indian origin plant, the roots of which have been used for cooling purposes since the time immemorial.

Four mature clumps of VG (one-year-old) sequester the same amount of atmospheric carbon as one fast-growing Poplar tree(Poplar is considered to be the best of all trees for carbon sequestration).

The Process

Territorial Army has 10 Ecological Battalions comprising of 25 companies. Each Battalion had planted two lakh tree saplings per company along with one lakh VG, totaling to 50 lakhs of tree saplings and 10 lakhs of VG by mid-Oct 2019. The basic model of plantation was four tree saplings in a three-meter square area, at the extremities with nine x nine (9×9) rows of VG in between them.

The Vetiver so planted multiplied by 10 times by the year-end. The plan for 2020 is to uproot 50% of the multiplied Vetiver and transplant them to the freshly allotted land while the remaining 50% will be left to double (thus catering for any shortfall). The Vetiver will be planted in this manner up to 2024. From the Yr 2025 to 2029 it will be maintained & managed properly so that it can continue to multiply as per its natural tendency. It is assumed that up to 2027 it will multiply at the rate of minimum 10 times per season/ yr and thereafter just double itself in the Yr 2029 (multiplication factor of 10 times taken by us for the purpose of calculation has been duly vetted by National Botanical Research Institute, Lucknow & Dr. Richard Grimshaw from Vetiver Org). 

It is being assumed that by 2029, it will just multiply two times from the figure achieved in 2027 due to its already attained thickness and lack of space. With the above calculation, we are hoping to achieve the figure of 155520 x 109 Vetiver slips or 15552 x 108 clumps by 2029 (One clump taken as 100 slips). 

How this approach Fairs

The rate of Carbon sequestration by Vetiver varies from 0.454 to 0.700 Kg/ clump/ yr for approx one-year-old Vetiver and 2.74 Kg/ clump/ yr for a five yr old Vetiver. However, we have taken the rate of only 0.2 Kg/ Clump/ yr for a five yr old Vetiver i.e in the yr 2029  thus leaving 0.7 Kg as cushion (A five years old properly managed Vetiver sequesters about 2.74 Kg Carbon per year per clump CSIR – NBRI report forwarded to this date 09 Sep 2019.) It is presumed that based on this calculation, by 2029 or latest by 2030, the National goal of creating an addl carbon sink of 2.5 to 3.0 billion tonnes shall be achieved.

It is also felt that along with achieving the target of 2.5 to 3.0 billion tonnes carbon sink  by Vetiver plantation as primary aim, the following will also be achieved as additional gains : –  

  • Reduction in soil erosion and rainfall-runoff.
  • Recharging of groundwater.
  • Reclamation of degraded lands.
  • Riverbank stabilization.
  • Sand dune stabilization.
  • Rejuvenation of water bodies.
  • Revival of water streams and land pastures.
  • Provisioning of cut and carry forage for livestock in plenty.  
  • Provisioning of sustainable habitat for birds, animals, and beneficial insects.
  • Preservation of biodiversity
  • Setting up biofuel industries for energy production in vills (centrally).

(Ecological Task Force battalions of the Territorial Army are proven force in the field of afforestation starting from 127 ETF in Dehradun to 128 ETF in Shri Mohangarh, Rajasthan both ready capable & willing to take on the challenge for the National Cause. The plan for VG plantation has been duly recommended by different concerned agencies namely FRI, Dehradun, National Botanical Research Institute, Lucknow, Dr. Richard Grimshaw, Vetiver Org. Also, samples of already grown one yr old VG in our respective ETF Units were sent to different agencies to measure the carbon content in it namely, Defence Research Laboratory- DRDO, Tezpur, Assam, Sam Higginbottom University of Agriculture Technology & Sciences, Praygraj, UP.)