Shalini Dhyani: Well developed agro-forestry systems have been integral to traditional hill agro-ecosystem for the innumerable techno-socio-economic benefits that they provide. Farmers in the rural areas of Indian Himalayan Region have integrated and practiced agro-forestry based agriculture, reaping rich benefits, individually and for the community as well. Therefore, agro-forestry has been a part of peasants’ subsistence strategies.
Trees are either planted or they grow their own on small cropland bunds, which are either maintained by the owners or Van Panchayat (Village Forest Committees). The Agro forestry practice complements hill farming in terms of manure, fodder and fuel needs of the farmer. It forms the backbone for practicing integrated farming systems which is necessary for self dependent and sustainable agriculture. The purpose of tree growing on cropland bunds have multiple socio-ecological benefits, for example; to meet consumption of family or cattle, means for building soil fertility, as wind barriers, to generate cash through sale of leaves, fruits, etc. in the market.
However, over time, with shrinking land holdings, traditional and indigenous crops and cropping practices have been replaced with cash crops of hybrid varieties for various reasons. The population expansion and pressure on land, where the land itself has become a constraint coupled with the development of a market economy has also made an effect on agro-forestry systems.
In present scenario including trees in farming is becoming more crucial than ever before. Agroforestry system is also considered as an effective carbon sinks, and one of the well known ways of reducing global warming effects.
Trees which have multiple uses are preferred in traditional agroforestry systems of villages in hills, especially yielding fruit, fodder and mulch and being suitable in providing sticks as supporting structures for the legume and cucurbit climbers. Tree fodders play an important role in traditional farming systems common across the Himalayas. A number of multipurpose tree species are conserved as scattered trees in settled croplands, on terraced slopes by the traditional farmers in Central Himalaya. They are especially valuable during the dry winter season, when fodder from other sources becomes limited in quantity and quality. This diversity has also reduced risks from pests and adverse weather as they tend to affect different indigenous and traditional crops and cropping practices differently.
Agroforestry for improve livelihoods
Farming in hills has become more and more unsustainable due to increasing populations and market in-flux. Large tracts of land is left degraded which cannot support agriculture. A majority of small farmers still depend on such unproductive lands for their livelihoods. To help such farmers to make a living, efforts can be made to promote and use maximum benefits by integrating more multipurpose trees in already prevailing agroforestry as a component in the traditional farming systems of hills.
Choice of species is one of the key factors for the success of any such programme. While promoting tree planting on croplands, kitchen gardens and bunds, the preference of farmers is very important. The plant species like; Pangar (Aesculus), Utis (Alnus), Papdi, Khadik(Celtis), Chamkhadik (Carpinus), Bedu (Ficus), Thelka (Ficus), Timla (Ficus), Paiyan (Prunus), Harinj (Oak), Banj (Oak), Syanru (Dabregeasia), Malu (Kachnar/Bauhinia), Bhimal (Grewia), Hippophae (Seabuckthorn) are some of the preferred agroforestry trees across various altitude Indian Himalayan villages. A few are preferred in foot hills while others in lower and higher Himalayan villages of Garhwal.
The locals dwelling in higher Himalayan valleys of India (Niti, Mana, Gangotri, Bhyundhar, Yamunotri etc.) of Uttarakhand also prefer horticulture trees like Apple, Plum, Aadoo, Hippophae for their agroforestry systems along with their medicinal crops to maximize their benefits from their meagre landholdings. It is suggested that the tree species to be selected for hills, should be based on the altitude, quality of land in the village, suitability of climate, growth rate, profitability etc. The profitability should be one of the main factor for developing agroforestry systems on private croplands or community lands or fodder banks (See previous article for details), followed by other minor factors such as demand for produce, access to market, availability of planting material and specific local uses, which can influence the farmers to select species for planting on their lands.
Most of these fruit and wild fruit yields from agroforestry trees like Timla (Ficus auriculata), Kachnar (Bauhinia), Hippophae can be value added by preparing various products like Jam, Jelly, Squash, Pickle etc for earning economy and supporting livelihood. All these can be managed by cost effective local level technologies that are also provided my many NGOs free of cost during their capacity building programmes. To make and sell these local value added products women can come forward and can even take benefit of high pilgrimage season or other tourist in-flux times in Uttarakhand, India. These tourists mostly have interest in local foods and products and hence they can be excellent customers initially.
The Bhimal, Khadik and Chamkhadik trees, if grown on community lands in large number can be a good source of economy by selling their leaves in nearby markets as they are excellent fodders and enhance milk yield in bovines.
The social structures and institutional building are important in having sustainable positive impacts of the initiatives on the communities. For instance, the Mahila Mangal Dals (women groups), Yuvak Mangal Dals (Youth groups) and Van Panchayats (village forest committees) in many villages of Garhwal (Uttarakhand, India) region are strengthened to help women make decisions in forest use. The members ensure that forest product collection did not conflict with periods of heavy agricultural work like sowing and harvesting seasons.
Profits ahead of croplands
Agroforestry is seen as an important means of ‘climate- smart’ development. Maximizing the productivity of trees and crops in agricultural landscapes becomes important as they serve as the much needed ‘carbon sinks’. It has been found that a significant improvement in soil physico-chemical characteristics and the ability of the soil to sequester carbon increases tremendously after five years of planting trees on degraded lands. Agroforestry is uniquely suited to improving food and fuel security, while they continue to improve ecosystem services.
Apart from this, the farmers dwelling in hills can be paid incentives for providing environmental services. The best known system to pay incentives is “Payments for Environmental Services” or PES, which make direct payments to farmers. So far, farmers dwelling in various states of Indian Himalayan Region have rarely been rewarded for their environmental services.
Paying some incentives to communities for environmental services can provide an efficient mechanism for conservation, while also offering new sources of income to support rural livelihoods. By doing so, the rural communities who have been blamed for most of the over exploitation of resources will become stewards of the environment.
Dr. Shalini Dhyani has written this article for Climate Himalaya’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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