Shalini Dhyani: With depletion of agricultural lands due to shift in monsoon patterns, landslides, run off, regular leaching of nutrients, and drying up of natural springs and lack of irrigation facilities has resulted into uneconomical agriculture in the mountain regions of India. Most of the villages in mountains are witnessing migration at a very large scale and lands turning up barren.
The agro-forestry system can provide a viable solution for such problems and in some way can definitely show a way to stop migration from hills that is for livelihood generation and employment. This has been very much part of agriculture in mountains for millennia but, over the years harvesting of bio-resources from forests and trees in agro-forestry beyond it’s carrying capacity has resulted into reduction of these trees and regeneration potential. This problem has added workload to women and enhanced leaching of nutrients from terraced small landholding of mountain farmers. Under agroforestry system, trees serve as wind breaks, source of organic matter, shade and soil binder to prevent soil erosion while generating additional income.
The fodder and litter has played and still plays a very important role in crop-livestock-manure-soil nutrient cycle of farms in middle and higher mountains of the Himalaya. In Garhwal part of Indian Himalayan region fodder is mainly collected by lopping the vegetative biomass of trees, shrubs, herbs and grasses. Tree based fodder plays an important role in traditional farming system. It is common across Himalayas and especially valuable during the dry winter season, when fodder from other sources becomes limited in quantity and quality.
In the agro and village ecosystems of Indian Himalayan Region (IHR) livelihood is agriculture dependent in the foot hills of IHR, livestock and agriculture dependent in middle hills and livestock based in higher reaches of IHR. Hence, can be seen transhumance along with sheep and goat rearing as main source of livelihood and economy generation in many higher Himalayan villages.
Rearing animals is an inevitable part of the social system in all parts of IHR, as well as other prominent and lesser known mountain chains across the world. In IHR region each family maintains 5-8 cattle of indigenous breed i.e. a cow, a pair of bullocks, a buffalo, a horse or mule along with a few sheeps and goats that are reared on traditional lines. It has been recorded that the practice of sheep and goat rearing has reduced drastically over the last few decades due to the ban imposed on free grazing in most of the pasture land and alpine meadow areas in Garhwal (Uttarakhand) by declaring them as Protected Areas. In such situation, the fodder obtained from arable land is not sufficient to maintain the livestock. Therefore, the inhabitants largely depend upon the forest based fodder resource.
The area under potato, kidney bean, tomato, pea and similar cash crop cultivation is increasing tremendously in most valleys of Uttarakhand by abandoning traditional and indigenous cropping practices. This has added more pressure on forests biomass (leaf-litter) for preparing farm yard manure (FYM) and cutting tree branches to support legume crops.
The major part (62%) of the fodder is extracted from forests (tree, shrub, leaves and herbaceous ground flora). And the remaining fodder (38%) is derived from agro-forestry systems, low altitude grasslands, degraded lands, high altitude grasslands and crop residues. A large variety of tree species, forest floor phyto-mass and agricultural by-products are used as animal fodder. In earlier times, livestock was left to graze in the forests of community lands. The animals sought out their own food and were assembled only for milking and to protect them from wild animals. In the present setting, cattle are generally stall fed but buffalo’s sheep and goats are left for grazing in nearby forests, alpines and kharaks or pastures.
With the introduction of stall feeding, the demand for fodder has increased highly with subsequently increase in women workload. In my previous article, I mentioned that the unavailability of green forage during winters in higher Himalayan region has always been a serious issue that has added to the drudgery of women (Mountain Women- Key Drivers of Change).
The women in hills are mostly involved with the collection of fodder so, they spend more of manual energy for collection of fodder. Fodder collection is quite a frequent household activity and you can notice every time group of women carrying heavy fodder loads on their backs or head and travelling long distances. Almost one woman from each household visits the forests twice a day to collect fodder and other forest produce. These women walk at least 1-2.5 km for harvesting fodder and during winters walk more than 3-4 km. During winters, local women leave their houses before sunrise and climb the rocks and mountains to collect dry grass and come back to their dwellings by afternoon. They carry a backload of more than 50-65 kgs sometimes.
As per my experience following are the suggested way forward:
- # The development of an agro-forestry model by integrating trees in the cropping system in present scenario, when climate change is also a serious issue, seems a much viable solution in Indian Himalayan region. This will not only supplement economic benefit to the people but, also ecological benefits in many ways. The plantation of trees in degraded lands accompanies significant tangible (viz., improved production of food, fuel wood, fodder, timber, etc.) and intangible (viz., carbon sequestration, hydrological balance, recovery of soil fertility and slope stability) benefits serving the interests of both local and global community.
- # Developing fodder bank can be a good option to relieve women from various such problems. One such model among a few village clusters is already underway in Kedarnath Valley of Rudraprayag district in India. The objective of the fodder bank is to relieve the pressure on women by reducing their fodder collection time as well as the distance they travel. It is also about creating awareness among locals on better methods of livestock feeding and novel feeding options having nutrients that can be developed using cost effecting and locally available fry biomass of crop residue. In further course this can yield better health, improved milk and meat yield by improved quality of fodder.
- # Fodder bank model can be developed in all parts of IHR by using fast growing and high biomass yielding nutritious species (both indigenous as well as introduced).
- # Selecting indigenous species for plantation based on people’s choice and need, while considering their indigenous knowledge about the species, with regard to enhanced lactation, better nutrition etc.
- # Identifying and prioritizing indigenous species for plantation needs a series of meetings with locals based on their knowledge and demand.
- # Introduced species can be selected based on discussions with fodder experts.
- # Women can be trained in growing high biomass yielding fodder species in their cropland bunds and kitchen gardens. Fast growing fodder plants can also be introduced into cropland bunds and kitchen garden boundaries to get fodder within village vicinity.
- # The livestock owners and farmers are also trained to construct their animal houses and sheds on scientific lines provided with cost-effective feeding and watering systems and proper ventilation using locally available materials under these model sites.
- # The plantation needs to be carried out twice a year – once during monsoon and other during spring so that plant gets increasing temperature conditions that are better suited for adaptation and growth.
- # With active involvement of local women plant development of nurseries and agro-forestry models could be developed as a mean of livelihood generation. This will help the hill women earning alternative income from selling harvested fodder and seedlings in nearby market, as most of these markets have a great demand for fodder for pack animals and other livestock.
In my next article I will be writing about multifarious virtues of having well developed agro-forestry systems or fodder banks in village vicinity. And how bio-prospecting can help in developing value added products and generate economy within the villages with minimal resources that are cost effective and available locally.
About Author: Dr. Shalini Dhyani has written this article for Climate Himalaya Initiative’s Youth Leaders Speak Column. Shalini’s research focus is on understanding the functioning of mountain ecosystem in context to livelihood and women.
Disclaimer: The views expressed in this article are personal and do not necessarily reflect the views of Climate Himalaya Initiative’s
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