Towards a rethinking on agroforestry

Towards a rethinking on agroforestry

A National Policy on Agroforestry has just been promulgated a few months ago.This policy has been designed with the goal to improve agricultural productivity, create rural employment, and most of all meeting the ever increasing demand for timber, fuel, fodder, food, fertilizer, fiber for a rapidly growing population.

Government of India has mandated the agriculture ministry to lead this programme by merging and dovetailing all programmes which are otherwise being implemented by diverse ministries.

It is feared that this change of guard at this juncture, when agroforestry under the stewardship of forest department has made its mark, would be a retrograde step.

The forest department which has the biggest stake in this national asset building work has been deprived of the position of leadership.

Around 90 million hectares of land are classified as waste land and out of 170 million hectares of arable land 60 million hectares of land are located in drought prone areas.

Introduction of improved technology and using suitable species in these areas would act as insurances against failure of crops.

In the past over 50 years, not much has been achieved by the Indian Council of Agricultural Research in agroforestry. In fact the time has come when there has to be a rethinking on the term agroforestry which has become a cliché.

In its present connotation it includes birds, animals, fishes, ponds, trees and agricultural crops. We need to come out of this and just confine ourselves to trees on farm lands. 

Greening of land

Looking at the operational level, the strength of ICAR lies in areas related to research and developing varieties of agricultural crops in which it has done a great service to the nation.

The task of greening the land by using trees on farm lands is too big to be handled by the ministry of agriculture.

In the past, we have created Waste Land Development Board and National Afforestation and Eco-development Board, which still exist, but they have made little impact on greening of land.

Operationally it is the forest department which has successfully kept intact the area mandated to its charge over the past decades.

Cooperation from all concerned will be absolutely essential in this gigantic task.

To put it into simple words, more than a crore of seedlings of various species which are suitable to the area and are demanded by the people will have to be planted in every taluk of the country on continuous basis to make some impact.

Use of better technology will be required to take this forward. It is doubtful whether much will be achieved under the present situation.

By reallocating little bit of funds from the existing programmes we will be only nibbling at the fringes of the problem.

Agroforestry is very little of agriculture but it is lot of forestry.

The department of agriculture has advisory and facilitating role while the forest department is an operations d.

If agroforestry has to succeed it must be anchored in the forest departments of the country.

What is needed at this juncture is creation of a separate department at the centre for trees outside forest under the ministry of environment and forest and  substantial budget allocation for planting of trees on farm lands. 

The private nurseries supplying horticultural plants have done a very good work and should be encouraged.

Similarly, some private companies and individuals have created very good nurseries of the forest species. Another area which needs to be tackled to boost trees on farm lands is about regulations on felling of trees and transit of wood.

The agricultural lands are faced with decreasing productivity and lesser water holding capacity due to inadequate organic matter in the soil.

These point to a situation that we need lot more greenery than now.

Nearly 70 per cent of the country lies in the dry tropics and supportive vegetation can be the only hope for sustainable agriculture.

Ecological restoration or greening of an area to check the soil degradation or to improve the quality and quantity of water, air and the environment is a long term process.

Forestry is a field operation and in some way it is like para military operation which not only needs resources but also a mind set to deliver.

Agroforestry is vital for the survival of the humanity and it must be given its due place and anchored in the forest departments of the country.