Tapping agroforestry knowledge pool of NE

India was the first country to adopt and declare a National Agroforestry Policy in 2014.
Tapping agroforestry knowledge pool of NE

India was the first country to adopt and declare a National Agroforestry Policy in 2014. The policy envisages encouraging and expanding tree plantations in a complementary and integrated manner with crops and livestock to improve the productivity, employment, income, and livelihoods of rural households, especially smallholder farmers. The policy bears great significance for the northeastern region, as agroforestry is a popular agricultural practice for tribal communities. A recent publication of the NITI Aayog, “Greening and Restoration of Wastelands with Agroforestry (GROW),” presents a comprehensive analysis of the potential of agroforestry in ecosystem restoration in identified wastelands. Falling jhum cycles across the northeastern region have triggered a livelihood crisis and the degradation of community land belonging to different tribes practicing shifting cultivation due to the reduction of the fallow period. Shorter jhum cycles lead to a greater shortage of water and topsoil erosion. Extreme weather events like heavy rainfall within a short window period trigger soil erosion on the hills under jhum cultivation, resulting in a loss of soil fertility and a decline in ecosystem services in ecological landscapes. The two key objectives of the study conducted by the apex think tank are: deriving an Agroforestry Suitability Index (ASI) for delineating and prioritising suitable areas across the country, especially wastelands, based on suitable biogeophysical parameters and geospatial technology; and developing a universal access platform for stakeholders to view suitability regions, statistics, and maps at the district level for planning greening projects across states and districts. The report highlights that “over decades, considerable area has been subjected to desertification or other types of degradation that have resulted in the depletion of natural resources, urbanisation, and other anthropogenic activities.” Apart from falling jhum cycles due to an increase in population pressure, rampant forest destruction by timber smugglers, diversion of forest for infrastructure development, and mining of mineral resources, these are also key factors behind the increase in wasteland area in the region and in other agroclimatic zones. India’s commitment under the climate goals is to restore 26 million hectares of wasteland by 2030. For the purpose of identification, the study refers to the Department of Land Resources, which defines wastelands as degraded land that can be brought under vegetative cover with reasonable effort and that is currently underutilised and is deteriorating due to a lack of appropriate water and soil management or on account of natural causes. The rationale behind greening wasteland, as explained by NIT Aayog, is to reduce pressure on natural resources. It explains that due to conventional land use practices, rising population, industrialization, and rising food demand, pressure on land resources has exceeded their carrying capacity, resulting in land degradation. India has 18% of the world’s population and only 2.4% of the global land area, and the per capita availability of agriculture land in India has decreased over the years, requiring the transformation of these wastelands into productive areas, the report adds. One of the key highlights of the GROW analysis is that bringing areas formerly classified as wastelands into productive uses through agroforestry can enhance avenues of employment, not just from primary production but also from processing and other related value chain activities. These economic benefits come on top of improving soil fertility and helping to meet the targets for increasing tree cover and other environmental services. It also highlights the fodder shortage gripping the country due to a net shortfall of 35.6% green fodder, 10.5% dry crop leftovers, and 44% concentrate feed ingredients, and concludes that wastelands greening can support meeting the fodder supply deficit to boost the growth of the dairy sector in the country. Livestock rearing is a part of agriculture and the allied activities of tribal communities in the northeastern region, but growing fodder shortages pose hurdles to the sustainability of dairy farming in the region. The Agroforestry Suitability Index developed by the NITI Aayog will be useful for the states to undertake planned and area-specific interventions. The report mentions that four states—Manipur, Nagaland, Jharkhand, and Mizoram—had more than 10% of area under the highly suitable category, closely followed by Meghalaya (9.8%). India has already launched the Framework for Voluntary Carbon Market in the Agriculture Sector and the Accreditation Protocol of Agroforestry Nurseries, which are aimed at strengthening the institutional arrangements for production and certification of planting material on a large scale to promote agroforestry in the country. The National Agroforestry Policy also recommends setting up a mission to address the development of the agroforestry sector in an organised manner. The knowledge base of farmers in the region in agroforestry is very rich, which can be tapped to achieve the desired objectives of promoting agroforestry for greening wasteland and monetizing those under voluntary carbon marketing protocols. This can be possible only if they are made aware of the consequences of the degradation of their agricultural land and how to utilise their traditional knowledge to restore them for a better livelihood and augment household income.

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