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[World Environment Day] Agroforestry for better economy, ecology & biodiversity #ForNature

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Priyanka Dalal
Priyanka Dalalhttp://www.maproute.in
Avid solo traveller who blogs @ maproute.in. Digital nomad, growth marketeer & Isha volunteer.

This year’s World Environment Day is themed around Biodiversity because it is an urgent and existential concern. “Recent events, from bushfires in Brazil, the United States, and Australia to locust infestations across East Africa – and now, a global disease pandemic – demonstrate the interdependence of humans and the webs of life, in which they exist.” (says the UN)

India, with its many biodiversity hotspots, has to also tussle with the economic challenges ahead of it especially now in this COVID-19 era. How does one prioritize between the economic and ecological concerns? Isn’t a slew of human population in objectional states of poverty an environmental matter too?

In my volunteering activities at Isha Foundation, I perused a few agroforestry stories in one of their blogs. It piqued my interest and so I interacted with a few farming experts on-ground from Tamil Nadu.

As I find out more, I am left feeling puzzled. Because it seems they have found a superb solution to the economic and environmental threats facing the country – Agroforestry!

Here’s Why Agroforestry Can Significantly Impact the Climate Change Threat

  • Boost Farmer Income: The trees are valuable assets, they significantly improve the farmer’s income.
  • Significant Environment Contribution: The trees will take many years to mature. During these years, they will contribute significantly to the environment. It’s literally a win-win for everyone from what I understand.
  • Felling of these trees help save the forests: Of course, eventually, the trees may be cut off….. BUT this timber generation actually helps dense forests thrive! Here’s how: Forest departments are always planting new trees in scrub (sparse) forests and barren lands to increase forest cover. However, before these plantations mature into a thriving forest they are felled due to biomass requirements – timber, grazing and such. Agroforestry can assuage this biomass need and thus, reduce the pressure on forest department’s plantation efforts. (This was the most surprising impact of agroforestry to my urban understanding.)

The advantage of agro-forestry is that on one hand it increases tree cover due to tree-planting on private land and, on the other it reduces pressure on the scrub forests resulting in their improvement and eventual promotion into forest with higher crown density.” ~Dipak Sarmah, a retired IFS officer (source)

  • Farmers become passionate tree-growers: As Dipakji mentions, agroforestry does indeed increase the tree cover. Especially, since the trees will take years to mature. Moreover, the benefits of income and soil / water benefits will ensure that farmers will ensure they have trees on their farm in maximum capacity feasible.

So what are the issues with agroforestry? Why isn’t it being adopted rapidly across the country? 

I ask RP Ganesan, a farmer friend and Isha agro movement volunteer from Hosur, Tamil Nadu.

Paraphrasing him, it is largely the tedious government rules and regulations that makes agroforestry difficult. Horticultural practices of cultivating mango, coconut and other such plantations have clearer laws and can become a profitable business. However, timber agroforestry can become a hassle due to many archaic and complex rules.

Moreover, such restrictive practices towards timber agroforestry are seen to have an adverse impact on biodiversity as well. A key example being Sandalwood trees, which was made a “royal tree” by Tipu Sultan in the 17th century. These age-old restrictions on owning, growing, harvesting sandalwood are being lifted bit by bit but the tree is already scarce, farmers are scared to cultivate it and there is a strong smuggling racket around them.

Such restrictions not only curtail farmer earnings, but also endanger the trees, create a smuggling nexus and adversely impact biodiversity.

Mr Ganesan requests, “To remove hurdles and facilitate timber tree growing farmers with loans, drip irrigation, selling and promoting eco-friendly wood, Govt of India should create a Timber Development Board under agriculture ministry, as agroforestry had been added into their mandate by cabinet secretariat in 2017”

Niti Aayog reforms 2016 mentioned,

“All tree species grown in farm land shall be free from felling and transit regulations”

But these policy changes are yet to trickle down to the farmer in full measure.

Hopefully, now with the mounting climate disasters and focus on AtmaNirbharta or Make in India, we will seriously relook at the agroforestry norms and scale up timber cultivation. To reduce the timber import, ensure significant income boost for the farmers and increase the biodiversity of our country.

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Priyanka Dalal
Priyanka Dalalhttp://www.maproute.in
Avid solo traveller who blogs @ maproute.in. Digital nomad, growth marketeer & Isha volunteer.
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