Mountain Agro-Ecosystem: Traditional Science to Cost Effective Solution

May 14th, 2013 | By | Category: Adaptation, Advocacy, Agriculture, Biodiversity, Development and Climate Change, Ecosystem Functions, Environment, Forest, Governance, Government Policies, India, Information and Communication, M-20 CAMPAIGN, Opinion, Resilience, Rio+20, Women, Youth Speak
Dr. Shalini Dhyani

Youth Speaker

Shalini Dhyani: Writes about hill agriculture, agro-forest and such ecosystem practices from Indian Himalayan region. She emphasizes on improving the socio-economic condition of mountain people by adopting a range of animal husbandry, agro-forestry and traditional agriculture practices through better scientific and technical inputs.

Entire Himalayan ecosystem is undergoing rapid land-use and climatic changes in last few decades, and the hill communities, their lifestyle, livelihood, resources and activities are highly vulnerable to these changes. The landuse options that increase flexibility and reduce exposure of indigenous hill communities are essential to their livelihood improvement and adaptation to the climatic  changes. Agroforestry is common land-use adaptation practice throughout Hindu Kush Himalayan villages. Agro-forests are the only realistic option to natural forests as a source of fundamental energy to improve socio-economic condition of people living at subsistence level in Garhwal part  (Uttarakhand, India) and in other Himalayan regions.

Resource collection and harvesting is women’s job in hills hence, malnutrition of women and their off-springs, improper education of females, increased health and life hazards, accidents because of collapse, etc. are the concerns associated with resource harvest from natural forests and giving less importance to the role of agro-forests.  Agroforestry systems in hills have contributed differently to the ecological, social and economical development of the region. Even then, the agroforestry systems have always seen and treated as additional options not as alternative to natural forests in almost entire Indian Himalayan Region.

Agroforestry holds great potential and can help to contribute in rural poverty alleviation. This land-use option that is known as Agro-forest has the potential to successfully support livelihood through simultaneous production of food, fodder and firewood and other non-consumable direct use ecosystem services, if the resource is utilized efficiently and wisely by strategic planning at a large level. But this strategic planning lot of contribution should come from the hill locals itself by facilitating appropriately, because, they can only provide maximum inputs to improve the outputs drawn from agroforests. The local indigenous knowledge related to preference of species and their experience over the  generations  has the potential that if can be interlinked with modern science and technological inputs, which has huge potential to an improve the life and lifestyle of many in Himalayan states in India.

Evidences have shown that in last few years biomass flow from forests to nearby villages in Himalayas has crossed the carrying capacity of natural forests. Extensive and unscientific  extraction of resources from forests has enhanced resource extraction conflicts and has also become a major aspect  of contention among villages itself. The fuel wood, Fodder and other resources obtained from arable land is not sufficient to maintain the village life sound.

Ecological sustainability of extraction has been a much-debated issue over the period as many believe and to certain extent it is true too that, extraction activities compromise the aims of biodiversity conservation.

The best strategy for conservation and human well being can be accomplished by conserving and managing the fragile natural forest ecosystems in Himalayas while growing food on the smallest possible area using traditional crops and cropping practices to resolve food production with conservation. The idea of using traditional crops and indigenous cropping practices has to be taken very much seriously in current scenario.

Indigenous crops and traditional organic cropping practices have their own vital importance in conserving forests, reducing food miles and achieving food security through minimal input agriculture in small terraced land holdings of hills. Indigenous crops of Himalayas were called as famine food because they have the potential to withstand harsh climatic conditions, low rainfall, heavy snowfall, droughts and still provide food security.

The basic idea behind the whole thought is to use small patch of fertile land (without compromising with the need to use local soil fertility conserving practices, for more see the pdf on soil management) at max without chemical inputs and achieve food security and livelihood security.

Barahnaja (multi-cropping pattern) was one such practice that ensured at least some food crop at the end when due to climate or pest or insect other were unable to produce a single grain. Traditional crops were able to produce some post-harvest residue that otherwise with hybrid crops is not possible (for more see the pdf on sequestering carbon). These post-harvest residue of finger and pseudo millets (locally called as Kodnatha, Jhangortha etc.) can be seen well tied up on wooden poles, agroforestry trees or roofs throughout Uttarakhand to sustain livestock even during harsh winters when almost no fodder is available from forests. Though, again to mention this post-harvest fodder was and is still not a very healthy feed substitute for mulching animals of higher Himalayas.

Despite, of livestock based lifestyle in hill region of Uttarakhand in India the productivity per animal is still very low. Low productivity is the result of gradual deterioration of breeds from general neglect over centuries and chronic shortages of feed and fodder.

Attempts are, therefore, required to enhance the productivity in animal husbandry practices (cattle and buffaloes) and also improve their nutrition by augmenting feed and fodder resources.

For better utilization of dry fodder in hilly areas, the farmers and livestock owners need to be motivated and educated toward modern feeding options (complete diet system has been introduced in recent years in most of the developed countries with the aim of simplifying the feeding of high yielding dairy animals, so that labour is saved and a tighter and better control of the cattle nutrition is facilitated). Complete feed can ensure better consumption and avoid refusal of unpalatable portion of feedstuffs.

To minimize feed costs and labour and to maximize production is the need of the hour and could be achieved by blending concentrates, mainly locally available by-products (from agroforestry and agriculture ecosystems) and roughage portions of the ration to form a product called complete feed or complete diet. Novel feeding system of complete feed and silage preparation for lean periods is well suited to all hill states throughout Himalayas that needs to be promoted.

Employing Cost Effective Scientific Solutions

Investment of human energy into harvest of biomass and health of forests can efficiently be saved by adopting various cost-effective and novel scientific practices. Few of them are new feed and feeding activities being introduced such as cultivation of pastures and fodder crops on the farm or in agro-forests, backyard or cropland bunds or village common lands, which may include leguminous browse shrubs or trees; fodder conservation; as well as silage preparation (Silage is fermented, high-moisture fodder that can be fed to cattle or used as a biofuel feedstock. Silage can be made from many field crops).

Use of necromass (deadwood) on forest floor and on trees can be used as fuel. Apart from these sustainable methods promotion of energy plantation of village wastelands, agro-forests and forest fringes can also make a considerable change in attitude and livelihood options of hill locals.

Agro forests and agroforestry practice needs to be improved and reinforced by innovative inputs of technology for better planting material, domesticating fast growing, high biomass yielding, nutritious tree species, shrubs and grasses (both indigenous and introduced), improved governance and market establishment.

Taking into account the available stock of knowledge, efforts are needed to connect science into decision-making (that mostly lacks in present scenario.

Successful novel efforts and models also need to be considered to eradicate many of the doubts and traditional mind-sets that still remain in the region.

Also there is a need to carefully test the main functions attributed to agroforestry against alternative land-use options, in order to know unambiguously to what extent agroforestry served and can serve in future for all these purposes.

Photo Credit: Dr. Narendra Baduni, AFC, New Delhi


About Author: Shalini Dhyani has written this article for Climate Himalaya’s Youth  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


Started in year 2010, ‘Climate Himalaya’ initiative has been working on Mountains and Climate linked issues in the Himalayan region of South Asia. In the last five years this knowledge sharing portal has become one of the important references for the governments, research institutions, civil society groups and international agencies, those have work and interest in the Himalayas. The Climate Himalaya team innovates on knowledge sharing, capacity building and climatic adaptation aspects in its focus countries like Bhutan, India, Nepal and Pakistan. Climate Himalaya’s thematic areas of work are mountain ecosystem, water, forest and livelihood. Read>>

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