Agroforestry is the interaction of agriculture and trees, including the agricultural use of trees. Read here to know its significance.
Agriculture and climate change are deeply intertwined. Agriculture is responsible for almost 30 percent of global greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions and is the root cause of 80 percent of tropical deforestation.
Intensive agriculture which is characterized by monocultures and aimed at feeding farm animals is one of the sectors that generate the highest amount of CO2 emissions.
Agroforestry, an agricultural method that nurtures natural ecosystems, could reverse these disturbing trends, according to researchers.
What is Agroforestry?
It is the practice of combining trees and farming; it demonstrates how food production and nature can co-exist. It is a resilient and future-proof sustainable agricultural method that could effectively mitigate the climate crisis.
Agroforestry is the interaction of agriculture and trees, including the agricultural use of trees.
This comprises trees on farms and in agricultural landscapes, farming in forests and along forest margins, and tree-crop production, including cocoa, coffee, rubber, and oil palm.
Interactions between trees and other components of agriculture may be important at a range of scales:
- in fields where trees and crops are grown together,
- on farms where trees may provide fodder for livestock, fuel, food, shelter, or income from products including timber and
- Landscapes where agricultural and forest land uses combine in determining the provision of ecosystem services.
According to FAO:
- Agroforestry is a collective name for land-use systems and technologies where woody perennials (trees, shrubs, palms, bamboos, etc.) are deliberately used on the same land-management units as crops and/or animals, in some form of spatial arrangement or temporal sequence.
- In agroforestry systems, there are both ecological and economical interactions between the different components.
- Agroforestry can also be defined as a dynamic, ecologically based, natural resource management system that, through the integration of trees on farms and in the agricultural landscape, diversifies and sustains production for increased social, economic, and environmental benefits for land users at all levels.
- In particular, agroforestry is crucial to smallholder farmers and other rural people because it can enhance their food supply, income, and health. Agroforestry systems are multifunctional systems that can provide a wide range of economic, sociocultural, and environmental benefits.
Types of agroforestry
There are three main types of agroforestry systems:
- Agrisilviculturalsystems are a combination of crops and trees, such as alley cropping or home gardens.
- Silvopastoral systems combine forestry and grazing of domesticated animals on pastures, rangelands, or on-farm.
- The three elements, namely trees, animals, and crops, can be integrated into what is called agrosilvopastoral systems and are illustrated by home gardens involving animals as well as scattered trees on croplands used for grazing after harvests.
Why is agroforestry important?
Issues with traditional farming practices:
- A farmer may confront a series of adversities and climatic conditions during agricultural production, such as erratic rainfall, stone hail, drought, flood, and so on.
- In addition, challenges like post-harvest losses, storage, and unavailability of accessible proper marketing are further aggravating the problem.
- Currently, the human-wildlife and human-crops conflict, forest fires, organic matter deficit soil, monoculture, plant disease and infestation, migration, and the reluctance of youth towards agriculture are a new array of problems.
- The traditional approach of low input-based extensive and diversified agricultural practices termed ‘crop diversification could be an alternate approach that might be used to save farming as a counter-strategy for farming bio-socio-psychological anomalies.
- Crop diversification is a strategy applied to grow more diverse crops from shrinking land resources with an increase in productivity in the same arable land.
Issues with farming practices in India:
For more than five decades, Indian agriculture has been facing severe problems related to an increase in input costs to increase productivity. However, the productivity proportional to input is maintained for a certain time before stabilizing and then progressively declines in many cases.
Farmers have been using the common government-promoted Green Revolution cropping pattern of rice-wheat-rice for a longer time to enhance productivity.
Following the same cropping pattern for a longer period has diminished the specific nutrients from the soil, resulting in soil deficiency along with a declined population of microfauna in the soil.
- The microfaunal population is responsible for the mobilization and absorption of particular nutrients in the crop rhizosphere.
- Reduction of the microfaunal population in the soil is a serious issue because, without microfaunal activities, the soil is lost to self-perpetuate and its ecology for crop production.
The mono-cropping pattern also reduces resource-use efficiency.
- To meet the deficiency of soil nutrients, farmers apply fertilizers periodically, which further results in a change in the soil’s chemical and biological properties.
- Mono-cropping patterns have more chances to be attacked by the same types of insects and pests, which in turn are controlled by pumping the insecticides and pesticides. This accumulates the residue of these chemicals in soil which pollutes the soil, crop, and environment.
- Weed infestations are on the rise too, necessitating the application of weedicides or herbicides to eradicate them. Thus, persistent use of chemicals declines productivity reduces resource-use efficiency, and deteriorates soil health.
Breaking the mono-cropping pattern by introducing diverse crops and cropping patterns helps in reviving the soil health and increasing the resource-use efficiency.
The traditional pattern of agriculture in India has wider crop diversity, is more stable, and is natural.
- In the Garhwal Himalayan region of India, Barahnajais has a crop diversification system for cultivating 12 crops in a year.
- ‘Barah anaaj’ literally means ‘12 foodgrains’ and is the traditional heritage of the area.
The above issues faced by traditional farming practices can be solved by agroforestry to a great extent.
Benefits of agroforestry
- Reduction of pressure on natural forests.
- Agroforestry is known to have the potential to mitigate the climate change effects through microclimate moderation and natural resources conservation in the short run
- Carbon sequestration: Agroforestry species are known to sequester as much carbon in below-ground biomass as the primary forests, and are far greater than the crop and grass systems.
- Agroforestry enables agricultural land to withstand extreme weather events, such as floods and droughts, and climate change.
- Agroforestry increases the nutrient content of soil and prevents soil erosion as well.
- Tree products and tree services also contribute robustly to rural livelihoods.
- Fruit, fodder, fuel, fiber, fertilizer, and timber add to food and nutritional security, income generation, and work as insurance against crop failure.
- It provides an alternative for landowners to manage their agricultural land in absence of family labor.
- Agroforestry has significant potential to employ the rural and urban population through production, industrial application, and value addition ventures.
- Agroforestry provides better and stable income, improving the living standards.
- Self-dependent villages will be a reality.
Global climate goals:
- Agroforestry can help the world fulfill international obligations on the climate of creating additional carbon sink by 2030and net-zero by 2070.
- It will help tackle desertification meeting targets of sustainable development goals (SDGs).
Agroforestry in India
- India became the first country to adopt an agroforestry policy – National Agroforestry Policy (NAP) in 2014 to promote employment, productivity, and environmental conservation.
- 2016 saw NAP being pushed to national effort with funds to transform agroforestry.
- In the 2022-23 union budget, the finance minister of India highlighted the aim to promote agroforestry in India.
- But the Ministry of Agriculture and Farmers’ Welfare merged the SMAF with the Rashtriya Krishi Vikas Yojna which deprived the agroforestry sector of its flagship implementation arm
The National Agroforestry Policy 2014:
- Promote agroforestry to increase farm income and livelihoods of rural households, especially the small and marginal farmers.
- Protect and stabilize ecosystems, and promote resilient cropping and farming systems to minimize the risk during extreme climatic events.
- Simultaneously provide raw material to wood-based industries. Thus creating new avenues for rural employment, and reducing pressure on the forests.
- To develop capacity and strengthen research in agroforestry and create a massive people’s movement for achieving these objectives.
Challenges for agroforestry
Adverse effects on agricultural land:
- In the fields along which trees have been planted, the productivity per unit area decreases, as in at least about two meters from the trees the moisture content in the soil is significantly reduced.
- Unscientific planning can also negatively impact the agricultural productivity of the land.
- With increased diversity, the risks of pests and diseases may also increase.
Lack of knowledge in farmers:
- Many farmers are not keen to take it up because of a lack of information on tree rotation and also the legal aspects involved in the trade of matured trees.
- The tendency of farmers to opt for market-oriented trees rather than the trees which are more ecologically suited or are locally needed (fuelwood/fodder).
- Agroforestry has benefitted the big farmers more than the marginal and small farmers.
Effect on the food industry:
- The diversion of good agricultural land from cereal and commercial crops may create a scarcity of food and industrial raw material.
- Possible negative impact on crop production because of planting trees on fertile lands.
The concept needs to be financially backed and promoted with more zeal. Proper training and information should be given to the farmers for them to adopt the method scientifically.
Farmer collectives like cooperatives, self-help groups, Farmer -Producer Organisations (FPOs) must be promoted for building capacities to foster the expansion of tree-based farming and value chain development.
Policymakers should incorporate agroforestry in all policies relating to land use and natural resource management, and encourage government investments in agroforestry-related infrastructure.