Monetizing agroforestry in Northeast

The launching of the Framework for Voluntary Carbon Market in Agriculture Sector and Accreditation Protocol of Agroforestry Nurseries is good news for Assam and other states in Northeast region.
Monetizing agroforestry in Northeast

 The launching of the Framework for Voluntary Carbon Market in Agriculture Sector and Accreditation Protocol of Agroforestry Nurseries is good news for Assam and other states in Northeast region.  The Accreditation Protocol of Agroforestry Nurseries is aimed at strengthening the institutional arrangements for production and certification of planting material on a large scale to promote agroforestry in the country.  Agroforestry in homestead gardens of rural households in Assam is a rich traditional agricultural practice of different indigenous communities. The proposed framework can unlock a new window of opportunities for small and medium farmers in Assam and other states in the region if the accreditation protocol prioritises carbon marketing of agroforestry in the region. Decoding the concept of carbon marketing to farmers is a challenging task but accomplishing it is critical to achieving the core objective of the framework. According to Food and Agriculture Organisation of the United Nations (FAO), agriculture is an important contributor to climate change has the potential to lessen it as it is also a carbon sink.  The National Agroforestry Policy recommends for setting up of a Mission to address development of the agroforestry sector in an organized manner. Official data shows that the Sub-Mission on Agroforestry (SMAF) launched in 2016-17 in 23 States/Union Territories with an aim to encourage tree plantation on farm land led to covering 1.21 lakh hectares under plantations through planting of 532 lakh trees with an estimated expenditure of Rs 157 crore.  A report of the ICAR (Indian Council of Agricultural Research)-CAFRI (Central Agroforestry Research Institute) states that India has 28.43 million hectares under agroforestry as on October 2022. The Development Monitoring and Evaluation Office (DMEO), NITI Aayog, in its evaluation of the SMAF highlighted the opportunities of agroforestry. The evaluation report states that agroforestry adoption may result in increased self-employment opportunities through interventions like nursery raising, mat weaving, basket making etc. Employment may also be generated through plantation, processing, and utilization of marketing. It referred to Studies that claim that agroforestry systems have the potential to generate employment opportunities of 450 man-days per hectare per year. Besides, the Mission has high relevance in meeting National Development Agenda as it focuses on making agriculture more remunerative for farmers as agro forestry products have a higher market value due to their commercial nature. Additionally, these products can sustain extreme temperature changes compared to crops, making them more disaster resilient and enables crop diversification, the report adds. The “Agroforestry Extension Framework” prepared by FAO and ICAR-CAFRI also highlights the potential benefits of agroforestry. “Agroforestry supports farmers’ livelihoods while reducing pressure on forests. Agroforestry can provide many tree-related ecosystem services such as biodiversity and increased soil fertility and can contribute to water management. It also contributes to reduced erosion, a common environmental problem in various regions, and carbon sequestration thus reducing the net global emissions of greenhouse gases. Agroforestry has a potential to support large parts of the rural population with fuelwood,” it adds. A traditional agrofrestry in Assam- known as Bari- in the backyard of Assamese households speaks volume of the traditional knowledge of farmers in Assam of the benefits of integrated farming by making optimal use of small plot of homestead land for rearing of livestock, growing fruit, timber and fuelwood trees and different species of trees. However, leveraging this traditional practice for optimizing farmers’ household income for developing a market-oriented and commercially-driven agroforestry model is yet to emerge. There is a natural advantage for farmers in the region to adopt a commercially viable model of agroforestry.  This also makes the region an eligible candidate for mainstreaming its traditional agroforestry in the proposed voluntary carbon marketing. Private industrial players which are large carbon emitters such as fossil-fuel based power generators, coal mining companies look are the key buyers in voluntary carbon markets. These entities need to buy carbon credits to offset their carbon emission. However, the participation of farmers in the voluntary carbon markets is not feasible without decoding how these markets work. Clarity in the framework is crucial for reducing potential risk of exploitation of farmers by intermediaries. Pushing it without adequately informing the farmers in the region will make them vulnerable but, if trained, it will go a long way to benefit the farmers to move into agribusiness instead of depending only on rain-fed and subsistence farming. States in the region can help build the required ecosystem by combining traditional agroforestry and natural resource management practices of tribes and communities with promotion of voluntary carbon marketing.  The traditional agroforestry models in northeast also play crucial role in food supply for farm households and therefore, while promoting voluntary participation of farmer in carbon markets this vital aspect must be kept in mind by policy makers. Onus lies on States in the region to seize the opportunity of monetizing traditional agroforestry.

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