Agroforestry benefits Indian farmers and climate - GulfToday

Agroforestry benefits Indian farmers and climate

Meena Janardhan

Writer/Editor/Consultant. She has over 25 years of experience in the fields of environmental journalism and publishing.

India agroforestry sector needs government help for growth.

India agroforestry sector needs government help for growth.

A new World Resources Institute (WRI) India paper explores how growing trees in agroforestry systems — a landscape restoration technique where farmers add trees to their land — and in and near cities can bring socio-economic and ecological benefits to people and the planet.

The US Department of Agriculture defines agroforestry as the intentional integration of trees and shrubs into crop and animal farming systems to create environmental, economic, and social benefits. As World Agrofroestry emphasizes, it is the interaction of agriculture and trees, including the agricultural use of trees. This comprises trees on farms and in agricultural landscapes, farming in forests and along forest margins and tree-crop production, including cocoa, coffee, rubber and oil palm.  The WRI Insight that highlights this study states, “The prosperity of rural communities and the health of ecosystems…depend on public policies and incentives that enable people to improve their livelihoods and sustainably invest in the land. But, in practice, aligning those two goals is easier said than done.

Nowhere is that challenge more apparent than in India…The fragmentation and declining productivity of its terrestrial ecosystems, including 45% of its farmlands, are undermining the ability of dependent populations — like farmers, forest dwellers and tribal/Indigenous communities — to sustain themselves…Any solution to these challenges must both help India’s communities adapt to climate risks and build low-carbon, resilient landscapes that help farmers, 85% of whom are small and marginal landholders.  Landscape restoration, the process of bringing ecological and economic vitality to unproductive and fragmented landscapes, is one solution that can’t be ignored. Done properly, landscape restoration can help build resilience to climate change and store carbon.”

The WRI India’s analysis highlights the types of policy incentives that India currently employs to help people grow trees outside forests. With a focus on six states — Gujarat, Karnataka, Maharashtra, Odisha, Punjab and Telangana — this paper explores the enabling conditions that support uptake and scaling of these systems, as well as the barriers that need to be broken to effectively implement and expand them.

It identified 10 types of incentives — seven monetary and three non-monetary — that policymakers use to encourage farmers to grow trees. Subsidies for planting material (like saplings) and infrastructure (like greenhouses and irrigation) emerged as the most commonly available and utilized incentives, followed by direct technical assistance to farmers from government agencies.

Across those ten types of incentives, common themes emerged among the most successful policies, those that improve the quality ecosystem services, such as clean water and healthy soil, and the incomes and resilience of the local communities that rely on them.

Various actors have a role to play in helping farmers embrace different systems to ensure this success. Political and bureaucratic willingness and support has spurred comprehensive program. NGOs played a critical role in connecting government schemes with farmers on the ground. Several research organizations and state agriculture universities are developing new agroforestry models and techniques that are specific to the agricultural, social and climatic conditions of each landscape, which can help farmers maximize the function and yields of trees.

The private sector is connecting farmers with markets for their tree crops, such as buying their wood products for paper mills. In recent years, several innovative business models and entrepreneurs have emerged who have successfully combined profit with sustainable use of land.

In its synopsis for the ‘Restoration Opportunities Atlas’, the WRI points out that protecting forests from degradation, deforestation and fragmentation, and tree-based landscape restoration are globally recognized as cost-effective solutions for combatting climate change. As part of the Nationally Determined Contribution (NDC) under the Paris climate agreement, India committed to sequester additional 2.5 to 3 billion tons CO2 equivalent by 2030. The Restoration Opportunities Atlas brings together best available data and rigorous analysis relevant to India’s NDCs.

The Atlas will be useful for decision-makers in national and state governments, funding agencies, restoration practitioners, researchers and academics as well as private and civil society organizations committed to climate action in India.

The key findings show that India has nearly 140 million hectares of potential for forest protection and landscape restoration that can sequester 3 to 4.3 billion tonnes of above ground carbon by 2040.  Protection and restoration can lead to several benefits including biodiversity conservation, provisioning of fuelwood, fodder and non-timber forest produce and enhanced livelihood opportunities for local communities. India’s extensive and varied experience of initiatives for improving forest and tree cover provide a strong foundation for planning programs and projects at scale. Local communities play an integral role in protecting forests and restoring forest and tree cover.

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