Agroforestry Balances Hill Agriculture And PES Stewardship

Sep 15th, 2011 | By | Category: Adaptation, Agriculture, Biodiversity, Capacity Development, Carbon, Ecosystem Functions, Forest, Green House Gas Emissions, India, Land, Learning, Livelihood, M-20 CAMPAIGN, Opinion, Poverty, Women, Youth Speak

Dr. Shalini DhyaniShalini 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.

Indigenous systems

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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5 Comments to “Agroforestry Balances Hill Agriculture And PES Stewardship”

  1. I fully endorse Shalini’s approach which in one shot addresses food, fodder, timber and even raw-material for handicarfts ( livelihoods ). Take the case of Yemkeshwar block, in Pauri. Even a cursory trip would suggest that agro-forestry, with Bhimal( Grewia) interspersed and raised along the fields/in terraces, helps support both human and animal populations. Agro-forestry has alos proved so beneficial to the turai farmers, with poplar added as the tree species that the turai farmer is today one of the richest in India, and the practice supporting so many ply-wood industrial units. Agro-forestry thus deserves top billing in approaches suited to climate change compliant practices. Departments of Forest and Agriculture should be asked to have a major project with an eye of earning carbon credits. KN could you introduce Dr Shalini’s works/recommendations to Sri Gupta FRDC, Secy Agri Sri Om Prakas and Secy Forest Sri Khan for serious consideration ? RS Tolia

    • Shalini Dhyani says:

      Thankyou very much for your supportive comment, suggestions and very relevant examples. Traditional agroforestry indeed is a climate compliant and livelihood supporting practice. Issue definitely needs an immediate attention of policy planners to work in this direction.

  2. Suman says:

    Good read. Useful arguments. PES is inherently a market based mechanism. I guess successful experiments on PES are few and far between. Ecosystem Markeplace certainly seems to be doing well in collecting and reporting the evidence base and ‘RUPES’ seems one experiment on the roll in the Himalayan region. The main impediments, as I see, are definitions of beneficiares and their clear holding rights for PES to work well, application of economic valuation for arriving at the price to be paid to the beneficiaries and the negotiating levers of the players involved in the PES contracts.

    • Shalini Dhyani says:

      Thanks Suman for your comment. Regarding Economic Valuation in context to Himalayan ecosystem services I did a small case some 5 five years back. As my study was more on valuation of biomass flowing from forests to nearby villages based on local’s willingness to pay or accept for these goods they harvest. To my suprise I found that not even a single person in all these villages was willing to pay for these services because they thought that for millenia they have been the custodians of these forests and resources so, they all were eager to get paid for these services because they definitely think and have an idea that this country runs due to the ecosystems and services they have protected. Idea to say is that there definitely is a thought in the mind of all these rural poor to get paid (PES) for whatever they are providing to the country be it water, forest resources or aesthetic value.

  3. Pabitra says:

    Excellent article. However, it raises more questions to me than settles. First, for PES to be functional, valuation of ecologies/services is required – I am not sure if Neo-Classical Economics is capable of doing that. I am also not surprised by Shalini’s experience of refusal by local communities to buy ES at the first place – that’s a basic error of defining the demand-supply sides. Second, policy and administrative shortsightedness is another huge constraint. The administrative mindset of the Forest Departments is that they are the owners of forest services and produce – while actually they are simply custodians. The Nistaar bamboo issues is a ready reckoner of this point. Third, landholdings and their sizes are a practical constraint. Market Economy with its current global emphasis is an elephant in the room – if livelihood interests of communities living with forests could not be ensured with national policies and constitutional rights, it may be foolish to expect that MNCs will ensure that. But Shalini has placed the matter on the table for everyone to examine and I thank her for that.

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