Agroforestry - How can it solve our problems related to Climate change, Farmer income, productivity and Farmer suicides

February 19, 2018

The world's population has already reached 7 billion and is expected to reach 9.3 billion by 2050. The present system of land use seems to be unable to fulfil the requirements of increasing Human population. To meet the demand for food by 2050, production needs to increase by 60%. It coupled with other problems like soil degradation, unbalanced utilisation of fertilisers, climate change, poverty and malnutrition, deforestation etc ; we need to be innovative with our methods in solving them.  

Agroforestry ; What is it?

 

As defined by FAO, " Agroforestry is dynamic, ecologically based, natural resource management system that, through the integration of trees on farms and in the agricultural landscape, diversifies and sustains production for increased social, economic and environmental benefits for land users at all levels". 

 

In simple terms it is growing both trees and crops or trees and animal rearing on the same land at the same time for increasing and diversifying production and thus leading to social, economic and environmental benefits for the farmers, community and the nation. It is diversification as the farmer doesn't have to rely solely on crop for his livelihood. Even if due to some reason, the crop fails, he can still earn his livelihood by selling the produce of trees into the market. 

 

Myth associated with Agroforestry:

Practicing agroforestry will lead to reduction in yield due to allelopathy.


Note: Allelopathy is the chemical inhibition of one plant, by another due to release of growth inhibitors by one plant. We can visualise this as growing wheat and lamb's quarters (bathua) in the same farm. So, the weed will eat up the nutrients and release chemicals in the soil to inhibit the growth of wheat.

 

Reality: Agroforestry may or may not impact the yield of the crop depending on the combination of tree and crop. The famous Eucalyptus controversy is a case where agroforestry led to decline in yield as eucalyptus soaked up all the nutrients of the soil and also caused decline of water table. But Perennial trees and shrubs (Cocoa, tea, coffee) combination has shown improvement in the yield.

Agroforestry classification based on nature of components:

 Benefits of Agroforestry:

  1. Restore Barren Lands.:

    • There are trees called fertiliser trees that have the capability to restore barren lands even in drought areas. Examples of these trees are Moringa (Drum sticks tree), Neem, Acacia, Cassia. These also provide multiple benefits which can be monetised for increasing farmer income. 

  2. Reduce Poverty and malnutrition by tripling yields:

    • It reduces the vulnerability of farmers on a single crop and thus diversifies his sources of income. 

  3. Feeding animals.

    • It provides grounds for foraging of livestock without depleting it to the level of no return. These trees or grasses are of the variety having speedy recovery and thus able to feed animals.

  4. Protecting running water.

    • World Agroforestry centre calls Agroforestry as water wise farming. Planting of trees lead to better capturing of rainwater and provide watershed protection. A study by researchers from the World Agroforestry Centre conducted at the Bialo watershed in South Sulawesi province, Indonesia, has found that the watershed remained ecologically healthy for more than two decades thanks to the agroforestry. 

  5. Conserving biodiversity:

    • It has been found that due to agroforestry, there has been an increase in bird and insect diversity.

  6. Protecting wildlife:

    • Agroforestry reduces deforestation as the trees can be obtained from farms instead of forests. Thus, it protects the habitat of wildlife. Also, reduced interference of humans in forests is observed to have stimulated reproductive cycles of animals leading to increase in diversity.

  7. Holding and repairing soils.

    • Agroforestry provides protection from soil erosion through both wind and water by providing wind breaks and shelter belts. It also provides nutrients to the soil in the form of humus and thus both holds and repairs soils.

 Challenges associated with Agroforestry:

  1. Regulations:

    • Regulations imposed by multiple agencies like departments of forest, land revenue and other local bodies on felling and transit of trees.

  2. Delayed return on Investments:

    • ​The breakeven point of investment in agroforestry might happen after couple of years when the tree starts to provide produce.

  3. Under developed markets:

    • ​Markets for tree product are less developed as compared to crop and livestock products.

  4. Limited Awareness:

    • ​Still people suffer from multiple myths and lack awareness about agroforestry. Even though Government of India has adopted National Agroforestry Policy, still its implementation on the ground level is sub-optimal.

  5. Unclear status of land tree resources:

    • Unsecured or ambiguous land tenure, common in developing countries, results in confusion about land delineation and rights, which may discourage people from introducing or continuing agroforestry practices.

National Agroforestry policy will be covered separately.

 

 

 

 

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