India Fighting Unemployment by Planting 2 Billion New Trees

Money may not grow on trees, but India’s government hopes jobs do.

The country’s Rural Development Ministry on Friday announced a new afforestation plan to plant 2 billion trees along the nation’s highways in an effort to tackle youth unemployment. The country’s Road Transport, Highways, Shipping and Rural Development Minister Nitin Jairam Gadkari said in a meeting in New Delhi that the new initiative would also help preserve the environment.

“The length of National Highways in the country is one lakh kilometer [about 62,137 miles]. I have asked officials to come out with a plan to plant 200 crore [2 billion] trees along these stretches which in turn would create jobs for the unemployed on the one hand and protect the environment on the other,” Gadkari stated, according to Indian news agency PTI.

The plan could potentially employ 300,000 youths, Indian outlet NDTV reports.

Youth unemployment has been a large focus of the country’s development goals in recent years.

According to the United Nations, unemployment among Indian men and women ages 15 – 24 was 10.2 percent in 2010, the most recent year for which data is available. Indian Staffing Federation Vice President Rituparna Chakraborty, who spoke to the Times of India in January 2014 about unemployment, suggested the government tackle joblessness among young people through a “complete overhaul of our education system closely integrating it with an effective apprenticeship regime.”

Gadkari also met with another group of officials on Friday to discuss the idea of bringing the plan to more rural areas as part of the Mahatma Gandhi National Rural Employment Guarantee Act, an Indian labor law and safety net established in 2005 which seeks to guarantee 100 days of paid manual labor for adults facing poverty in rural areas.

“MNREGA funds can be utilized for planting trees along roads in rural areas. It has a lot of promise,” a top official attending the meeting said per Gadkari’s suggestion, NDTV reports.