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Malabar Manual Vol 2
William Logan

By Atholl MacGregor, M.C.S., late Collector of Malabar.

The Nilambur Teak Plantations were first suggested in 1840 by Mr. Conolly, Collector of Malabar, who described their object as being to "replace those Forests which have vanished from private carelessness and rapacity—a work too new, too extensive, and too barren of early return to be ever taken up by the native proprietor.’’

Great difficulty was at first encountered in getting the seed to germinate, and many expedients were resorted to. It was argued that in the natural forest the hard outer covering of the seed was destroyed by the annual fires, and it was sought to effect the same object by covering the seed with a light coating of dry grass and setting fire to it. Soaking in water was also tried. In the one case the heat destroyed the vitality of the seed, and in the other the seed rotted. Removing the husk by hand was also tried, it being suggested that it was only the seeds in the forest which happened to be cleaned by white-ants that geminated.

The transplantation of self-sown teak saplings had been simultaneously tried, but whether from injury to the trees in removal, or from attempting to grow too much under shade, or too near mature teak that had already exhausted the surface soil so far as regarded the constituents of teak, this also proved a failure, and Mr. Conolly, in a letter of 4th August 1842 reported that of 30,000 seeds sown none had come up, and that of 10,000, saplings transplanted more than half had died.

Recourse was next had to a Mr. Perrotet, a French gentleman, Superintendent, Botanical Gardens at Pondicherry. His advice was to plunge the seed in water nearly boiling, and to uncover the roots of old stumps and cut them in places in order to cause the development of shoots ; this experiment came no nearer success.

The true method appears to have been first suggested by Dr. Roxburgh at the end of 1843. He advised sowing the seed at the beginning of the rains in shaded beds lightly covered with earth and rotten straw. The present method is given in an appendix, and it will be seen that 30 years have added little to the knowledge acquired in 1844—for except that the seed is sown 2 months before the rains, and artificially irrigated so as to give it an additional start the method is substantially the same.

Writing in 1845, Mr. Conolly described the experiment as at an end, and success achieved owing to the extraordinary healthy appearance of the young seedlings, 50,000 of which were raised in May, June, and July 1844.

The marginal statement gives the area planted annually arranged in periods of 10 years.

The years 1870 and 1871 are not represented, operations having been carried on elsewhere. The statement shows that up to 1874 the area planted in this section aggregates 2,730 acres, or an average of 91 acres per annum for the 30 years.

The Nilambur valley is of the shape of a horse shoe, and is elevated about 400 feet above sea level. The hills surrounding it on three sides rise in the direction of Sissapara on the S.E., and the Camel's Hump on the N.W. to 8,000 feet, while to the N.E, the plateau of S.E. Wynad, which closes it in on that side, does not attain an average elevation of more than 3,000 feet.

The semi-circle of hills overhangs one vast amphitheatre of valleys of denudation converging on Nilambur, and a great part of the Valley, including almost always the river bank to a distance of several hundred yards, is an alluvial deposit of enormous depth ; the rocks are described by Mr. King as gneiss of quartzo-felspathic or quartzo-horn-blendic variety.

The rainfall is about 120 inches, falling chiefly between June 1st and November 1st. The temperature in shade ranges from 80 to 90 throughout the year, and there is a singular absence of high wind all the year round.

NOTEs: Rainfall on slopes of surrounding ghats is probably over 200. END OF NOTEs

The rivers are navigable by rafts up to January, and below Mambat, the most westerly point of the Plantation, the navigation is so easy that the largest rafts can be managed by one man. The river which, drains the valley empties itself into the sea at Beypore, and 4 miles from the mouth of the river a navigable canal communicates with another river which traverses the heart of the Calicut Bazaar, the best timber market on the west coast. This river is connected with the Calicut roadstead by a bar always open, so that the cost of conveying timber from the Plantations alongside ship may be regarded as at a minimum.

A good cart road is carried from Calicut through Nilambur up the Karkur Ghat to S.E. Wynad, whence the main line is carried on to Mysore, with branches on the north to the Devala gold fields and South Wynad, and on the south to the Ouchterlony Valley and to Ootacamund. The road skirts the plantations for 6 miles, having bridges over the two large rivers.

The climate of Nilambur is tolerably healthy throughout the year. The months of March, April and May are the fever months, but with due precaution fever is seldom1 contracted at Nilambur itself.

NOTEs: 1. The whole establishment has suffered badly in the current season. END OF NOTEs

Forests in Malabar are chiefly private property and the great bulk of the land in the Nilambur valley is the property of the Nilambur Tirumulpad, a wealthy landowner not likely under any circumstances to sell land, still less for the purpose of instituting a local industry of a character to compete with his own agricultural and timber operations for the limited supply of local labour. The plantations owed their existence to the accident that one of the many religious bodies holding temple lands happened to be in want of funds and to own blocks of land scattered here and there in this valley, many of which constituted the very best sites for planting that could have been selected had the whole area been available to choose from.

In considering, however, the difficulties which had to be contended with, it is necessary to regard as occupying a prominent position, the jealousy of a local Janmi of overpowering influence whose house and pagoda formed the only point of social attraction in what was otherwise a jungle.

At first, operations were confined to the narrow strips of river bank west of Nilambur, and when in 1853 these appeared to be exhausted, a point to the east, further up the river was selected, and became the scene of the operations of that year as well as of 1855 and 1856. The mistake was, however, made of including in the planted area several laterite hills over which the trees signally failed.

Accordingly attention was again turned to the lands down stream, and in the vicinity of the earlier plantations on the north bank land was found yielding sites for 1857-1862 inclusive, of fair quality, some being very good. In 1860, however, exploration had been set on foot further up stream than had hitherto been attempted, i.e., above the junction of the Shurly river with the Karimpula or main stream. Here there were found several pieces of land included in the Government Estate, with first-class soil and water carriage which formed a compact block adapted for further extension on a larger scale.

In 1863 Mr. Ferguson arrived bringing the knowledge of a forester trained in the extensive plantations of Perthshire, and operations were vigorously prosecuted for the ensuing 7 years, i.e., from 1863-1869, by which time 619 acres had been planted in this quarter. The area of suitable land here having been exhausted, the experiment was made of further extending at Nellikutta, 10 miles up stream and near the base of the hills in 1870 and 1871 rather more than 100 acres were planted.

The site, however, proved so unhealthy that it was abandoned owing to loss of life and invaliding among the establishment. Fortunately at this time an opportunity presented itself of acquiring by purchase a block of land containing some superior planting sites, and almost surrounded by Government land planted or in forest. Here operations have been carried on since. In order to make up for the break of continuity caused by the plantings of 1870 and 1871 having been carried out at a site that had to be abandoned, 235 acres were planted in 1872 so as to bring up the average to 80 acres for the 3 years, which average was maintained during 1873 and 1874.

During these last two years operations had been carried on simultaneously at the newly-acquired site at Amarapalam, so as to open up a different source of labour-supply through the village of Vandur, and create a basis of operations for further extension at the Karimpula site. It is, however, not advisable to go further into these particulars, but to confine observations to the area already described, amounting to 2,730 acres, the object of this paper being to investigate the actual position of the undertaking, with reference to the ascertained survey areas.

To determine the success of the enterprise the questions to be asked are : What have the plantations cost ? What do they now return ? What are they likely hereafter to return ?

Taking as a basis the calculations made in 1872 at the suggestion of Major Pearson, and adding the subsequent cost, the total outlay on the plantations is Rs. 2,29,0001, of which since 1863 a sum of Rs. 1,01,000 has been recouped by thinnings, leaving the net cost Rs. 1,28,000. The opponents of planting, however, maintain that up to the period when interest is returned the cost must include compound interest at 4 per cent on the original outlay.

As a matter of pure calculation of financial results this must be conceded, without, however, admitting that on the showing of absolute profit thus computed is to depend the question of whether a certain portion of the Forest Revenue is to be returned to the land in view to reproduction of timber.

NOTEs: 1. Labour has cost 4 annas a day for many years. In the earlier years the cost was less. It may be roughly estimated that at present rates planting costs Ra. 30 an acre—felling, burning, pitting, planting, and once weeding, nurseries and establishment being included. END OF NOTEs

If the net expenditure of each year is taken and calculated up to 1874, at compound interest, the debt against the plantations amounts to Rs. 2,35,000.

NOTEs: This includes payments for land, viz., in 1840 for lease from Pagoda Committee Rs. 9,000 and in 1871 for Chetumboria planting site Rs. 5,000. END OF NOTEs

To estimate fairly the position, annual extensions must be kept out of sight, and the capital account closed. In 2 or 3 years there would be no very young plantations unable to take care of themselves and entailing, therefore, heavy expenditure. The future outlay will then be restricted to fire-tracing, clearing parasites, watching and thinning out of saplings.

A third of the existing establishment might be debited to the plantations, leaving the remainder to be divided between the natural forest operations, and extensions of plantations on new site.

Altogether an annual expenditure of Rs. 5,000 would probably suffice.

An annual revenue from thinnings of Rs. 10,000 would thus cover the upkeep, and pay 4 per cent current interest on the actual outlay ; and the question is, do the facts lead to anticipate a steady income of this amount ? The actuals derived from the sale of thinnings have been as under:

The period from 1868 to 1872, inclusive, shows a falling off. This may be partly accounted for by the fact that in the first year or two, owing to previous neglect of thinning, the return may have been abnormally large.

A further explanation will be found in the fact that at about 10 years of age a plantation begins to yield profitable thinnings, and that if the old years' figures be scrutinised, it will be observed that the years that supplied annually to each of these 6 years a plantation for the first time yielding profitable thinnings were those in which a marked diminution in the average area of extension is apparent. Thus the acreage planted, 1858—1862 inclusive, was only 256 acres, or an average of about 50 acres compared to an average of 100 in the earlier period.

During the next 10 years, on the other hand, the annual acreage that will come under thinning each year is 110, and when in addition to this, allowance is made for older plantations requiring thinning for a 2nd and 3rd time, there seems a fair ground for anticipating a gradual increase of income from this source.

The following table shows the classification of thinnings for the market :-

During the last few years some saplings have been annually brought to market realising from Rs. 5 to 10 each. This class must undoubtedly increase in number rapidly, as the plantations increase in age ; and here a few remarks may be appropriately introduced as to the system that has hitherto guided the selection of trees for thinning. The idea of revenue has been entirely and most wisely ignored, the number removed being decided solely with reference to requirements of space and light, inferior trees being invariably, if possible, removed in preference to superior.

The original planting may be reckoned as giving 1,100 trees to the acre, of which a considerable number never make any show, being dwarfed in the first 3 or 4 years by exceptionally vigorous neighbours, or perishing from other causes.

The first thinnings are not worth removal. The trees remaining per acre at 10, 20 and 30 years may be roughly stated at 750, 500 and 150 respectively.

Thus each tree in a 30 years’ old plantation represents a selection, partly natural, partly in accordance with principles of forestry of 1 in 7.

The farther reduction that will ensue is a matter of somewhat uncertain conjecture ; but, if a final crop is taken at 80 years old, a clean cut being then made, block by block, it is estimated that the trees would be of a size to admit of not more than 50 to the acre, so that 100 trees per acre would be obtained from a 30 years’ old plantation before the final crop was taken—timber that would be suitable for minor building purposes, for sleepers and for bridge work of a certain class.

The finding of a market for the ordinary thinnings of the classes before noted is an important consideration, and on the success with which the thinnings are brought to market at the right period and judiciously disposed of, the income from this source greatly depends.

There is a limit to the extent to which this class of materials can command a local market, and it is only the exceptional demand at Calicut that has hitherto admitted of so large an income being obtained. Calicut is a great enterpot for the trade of the Persian Gulf and Arabian Ports, and a demand for poles and minor building materials is naturally great from these rainless regions, not to mention the demand for materials so suitable as these are for the rigging of Native craft.

As years advanced, of course, the numbers of the thinnings of the smaller classes would decrease ; but, on the whole, it is probable that taking into consideration the increase in the larger timber annually removed, the revenue would at least maintain itself at 10,000, and thus simple interest and working expenses be secured till the final crop was realised. It is even likely that this amount may be largely exceeded, and any excess will be so much towards extinguishing the debt.

Captain Seaton, whose estimate is the most careful and business-like of any I have yet seen, calculated the final crop at 100 acres a year, of 50 trees to the acre and 50 cub. ft, to the tree, and taking the rates realised at Rs. 1, 1½ and 2 a cub. ft. he shewed a profit of Rs. 40 per tree, or 2 lakhs annually.

The figures given in this report show that the average area planted annually for the 30 years has been 91 acres, and from this a deduction is necessary to cover spaces, where from some cause or another there has been failure, or where hereafter failure may occur. Looking at the long period of time that is to elapse, the area may, from this cause, bo reduced yearly 25 per cent, say to 70 acres. The yield per tree of 50 cub. ft. seems a moderate estimate, considering that exceptionally fine trees might now be pointed out in parts of the older plantations containing more than half that quantity1.

NOTEs: 1. Mr. Stanbrough, Assistant Conservator, took measurements in 1874, and calculated on them an average of 1,500 cub. ft. per acre of timber in the plantations of 1844-1863, inclusive—the maximum of a year being 2,500 and minimum 1,350. Further measurements and calculations are desirable. END OF NOTEs

Supposing the average price to be 1 - 8, a net profit of Rs. 40 leaves Rs. 35 for expenses, or 11 annas a cub. ft. This, if applying merely to felling and floating, is excessive, as it is well known that inferior woods, fetching no more than 4 and 5 annas a cub. ft. in the Calicut market, are profitably removed from forests further up the same rivers, and consequently more expensive to work.

Establishment charge, too, would dwindle to a very small figure per cub. ft. over such extensive operations.

It is doubtless safe to allow a wide margin in such calculations, but here there is sufficient to cover not only large excess in cost of operations but also a falling off in the number of trees per acre or in the price realised.

Regarding this last it seems very improbable that at such a distant date, when it may be presumed the natural supply of timber in the market will have so much diminished, an average rate of Rs. 1½ per cub. ft. will not be realised by teak of the clean, straight, sound growth, for which the Nilambur Valley teak is celebrated, a character which in the plantations promises to be fully maintained.

Colonel Beddome's apprehension that the quality of the timber will be found in a considerable degree inferior in the market to Anamala teak does not seem well grounded2, especially when the absence of heartshake and the economy of working secured by straight growth is considered. A comparison of the conditions under which the two classes of timber can be brought to market shows what a hopeless disadvantage the Anamala teak labours under.

NOTEs: 2. Here and there natural teak trees have been left standing, to the great detriment of saplings planted near them. They are from time to time felled, and a batch of such logs was seen by Colonel Morgan, Conservator of the Mudamala Teak Forest, and Mr. Douglas, Conservator of the Anamalas, while inspecting in 1872. A fair sample of the batch was judged by these two competent authorities to be some 60 years old and to contain 50 cub. ft. of timber worth, from its even growth and quality, Rs. 2 a cub. ft. in the market depot, to which Rs. 5 or 6 would suffice to transport it. END OF NOTEs

Speaking of the latter, in a letter, dated 14th May 1875, No. 128 (G.O., Madras Government, Public Works Department, 6th July 1877), Captain Campbell Walker observes that he doubts whether Rs. 1½ a cub. ft. for timber delivered in Coimbatore leaves any profit to the department, and Colonel Beddome, under date 19th April 1876 (vide same proceedings), wrote that it was very evident that those rates could not be remunerative or even cover working expenses.

In other words, the Anamala teak, despite its excellent quality, can scarcely be brought to market for the market value owing to the absence of perfect water communication between the forests and market depot. Hitherto the use of teak generally for bridge work has been on the west coast greatly discouraged by the difficulty of securing with certainty and with no very long notice a large number of beams of the necessary scantling, and hence either inferior sorts of timber are used or iron girders imported.

With these compact areas to work on, and the great number and uniformity of growth of the trees, it may be fairly expected that teak for bridge work will be much more extensively used when the plantations begin to mature their crop.

It must be freely admitted that all calculations of this nature are liable to error, but making all allowances, it seems impossible to resist the conclusion that eventually the result of the plantations must be to contribute to the wants of the country an immense stock of useful material, realising such a revenue as fully to reimburse the State for their outlay even after compound interest for the unproductive period is allowed.

This result must be deemed a satisfactory outcome of the exertions of Mr. Conolly, the zealous pioneer of the enterprise, of the late Chattu Menon, the native Conservator, who for 20 years carried on the operations, and of Mr. Ferguson, whose skilled and unremitting attention during the last 14 years has brought the plantations to their present pitch.

Commentary                MMVol 1               MMVol 2

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