New policy to revive agroforestry

The National Agroforestry Policy 2014 can substantially reduce poverty in rural India

By Jitendra
Last Updated: Saturday 04 July 2015 | 02:50:09 AM

imageAFTER becoming the first country in the world to frame an agroforestry policy, India has gone ahead and allocated Rs 444 crore to promote agroforestry in the country. The National Agroforestry Policy 2014, announced on February 10, has the potential to substantially reduce poverty in rural India and revive agroforestry industry.

Agroforestry is a farming practice in which trees, crops and fodder are grown together on a farmland. Over 80 per cent farmers in India are small land-holders (owning less than two hectares). “Agroforestry will increase biodiversity in small farmlands, which will help mitigate climate change and improve the quality of soil. Also, as land-holding size is shrinking, combining tree farming with agriculture is the only way to optimise farm productivity,” says Ashish Mondol, a national advisory council member who steered the committee for drafting the agroforestry policy.

Farmers in India have been doing agroforestry since ages in the form of homegarden where fruit trees and woody plants are grown together. The practice has seen a sharp decline in the past few decades, primarily because of strict laws and lack of incentives to small farmers. The policy will try to reverse this trend by relaxing laws and providing loans and insurances to farmers.

A profitable proposition

India has been meeting its growing demand for agroforestry products such as plywood, timber, pulp and paper through imports, while the domestic industries have been under-performing. According to the National Research Centre for Agroforestry (NCRA), the country imported six million cubic metres of timber and round logs and spent Rs 18,000 crore last year.

NCRA data suggests India has 23,220 saw mills, 2,562 large and small plywood mills, 660 pulp and paper mills. “These wood-based industries are producing only 40 per cent of their total capacity because more than 70 per cent of wood industries are small, which are dependent on wood from small farmers who are not encouraged to produce,” says S K Dhyani, director, NCRA, Jhansi. He adds that the policy might change this trend. Small farmers are not practising agroforestry primarily because of unfavourable regulation of felling and transporting of farm grown trees, such as section 41 of Indian Forest Act. The section restricts felling and transportation of trees grown even on private farmland, especially those species which are found in the nearby forests. The new policy talks of uniform laws for harvesting and transportation of farm grown trees across states.

The sector, unlike the agriculture sector, lacks institutional insurance facility. The policy for the first time promises risk coverage to farmers practicing agroforestry against theft and natural calamities such as cyclone, storm, floods and drought. The farmers will also be provided soft loans for growing trees that have a long gestation period before they can be cut.

Government estimates suggest that the policy will help increase the area under agroforestry from 25.32 million hectares to 53 million ha. “The policy will enable farmers to reap the benefit of agroforestry and help meet the country’s demand for food, fodder, firewood and timber,” Dhyani says.

Agroforestry can also help reduce unemployment by creating job opportunities for chopping and transporting of trees. “As per estimates, 64 per cent of our timber requirement is met through trees grown on farms which generate employment for 450 people per day (450 employment-days) per hectare per year,” says Mondol.

The policy also calls for setting up a board to coordinate the various agroforestry initiatives undertaken by different ministries. Government estimates suggest the rural development, agriculture and forest ministries are currently spending close to Rs 4,000 crore on different schemes related to agroforestry.

The policy can also help the government implement the ambitious National Food Security Act, 2013, which makes it a legal obligation for the government to provide food to more than 800 million of the country’s population. “Agroforestry alone can increase agricultural production in a sustainable manner,” says Mondol.

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  • Excellent article. There is

    Excellent article.
    There is vast area of waste lands, about 65 million hectares in the country. Nature provides fast growing care-free growth plants which can be put to multiple uses.There are plants like Agave and Opuntia,both are care-free groeth and regenerative.

    Agave's lower lignin content (down to 2.4%) and higher cellulose content (62%) makes it ideal for production of Biofuel. Agave can be intercropped with Opuntia(Prickly Pear) which will be used to generate biogas for renewable electricity generation. Biogas power generators from KW size to MW size are commercially available from Germany,China,Vietnam etc. The cost of production per Kwh with Opuntia can be as low as US$ 3.00 per million BTU. On an annual basis,one hectare of agave can yield upto ten times the ethanol one hectare of sugarcane in Brazil. Agave to Ethanol's CO2 e emissions are lower than sugarcane and corn.
    Water - footprint -- agave does not have any. Agave uses water,light and soil most efficiently amongst plants/trees on earth. Agave is packed with sugars, on an annual basis one hectare of agave yoelds upto 10 thousand gallons of ethanol(from its sap/juice) and 6500 gallons of cellulosic ethanol. No other plant in the World has such potential.
    I have a plan: We have SPECIAL ECONOMIC ZONES (SEZ). Just like that we can start YOUTH ECONOMIC ZONES (YEZ). Wastelands can be given to youth on a lease basis(about 10 acres per youth) and 1o such youth can form a co-operative. They can cultivate fast growing multiple use plants like Agave and Opuntia. Power generation plants can be set up at local level. This way there will be decentralised power. This fits in Mahatma Gandhiji's Concept of AGRO INDUSTRIES utilising local resources and resourcefulness. Youth can be given short term training in Agricultural operations. This way we can provide employment to Youth besides bringing waste and vacant land under cultivation.
    What is more, large plantations of Agave and Opuntia lead to climate Stability as both are CAM plants. Crassulacean acid metabolism, also known as CAM photosynthesis, is a carbon fixation pathway that evolved in some plants as an adaptation to arid conditions. In a plant using full CAM, the stomata in the leaves remain shut during the day to reduce evapotranspiration, but open at night to collect carbon dioxide (CO2). The CO2 is stored as the four-carbon acid malate, and then used during photosynthesis during the day. The pre-collected CO2 is concentrated around the enzyme RuBisCO, increasing photosynthetic efficiency.
    Developing countries like ours which have millions of hectares of waste lands can transform rural economy by going in for Agave and Opuntia plantations on a massive scale. As one Exonomist put it, IT IS NOT THE LACK OF RESOURCES BUT RESOURCEFULNESS THAT EXPLAINS WHY PEOPLE PERISH IN THE MIDST OF PLENTY.

    Here is an interesting analysis on Jatropha in India.
    ÔÇ£The Indian experience The National, a newspaper published in Abu Dhabi in its May 11, 2009 issue, published an article titled; ÔÇÿJatropha seeds yield little hope for IndiaÔÇÖs oil dream.ÔÇÖ The article referred to a project that was embarked upon by Professor R. R. Shah in 2005, when he sent a team to Navsari Agricultural UniversityÔÇÖs most parched and desolate strip of land, a farm in the Vyasa district of IndiaÔÇÖs northern state of Gujarat. The team was instructed to set up a model farm for jatropha, the hardy shrub with oil-rich seeds that were then emerging as one of the most promising alternatives to crude oil. At the time, jatrophaÔÇÖs promise seemed boundless. A. P. J. Abdul Kalam, the president of the University, even used his presidential address that year to extol the virtues of jatropha. ÔÇ£Jatropha can survive in the most arid wastelandsÔÇØ, the story went. And so vast barren swathes of India could be put to productive use. It is inedible so it would not cause a backlash by competing with food crops, it said. The government, according to the publication announced a scheme to plant 13 million hectares, enough to generate nearly 500,000 barrels of jatropha oil per day. But as Prof ShahÔÇÖs project in Vyasa nears its end this month, the dean of agribusiness at Navsari is sceptical. ÔÇ£There is no yield,ÔÇØ he says. ÔÇ£The literature said that with dry land, after four yearsÔÇÖ growth, you can get a yield of 1kg per plant. For us, it is hardly 200g per plant.ÔÇØ The consensus of the team of experts after evaluating IndiaÔÇÖs jatropa projects from 22 agribusiness colleges across the country was that, indeed, jatropha would grow on wasteland, but would give no appreciable yield. ÔÇ£This is not a wasteland crop. It needs fertiliser, water and good management. Yes, it grows on wasteland, but it doesnÔÇÖt give you any yield,ÔÇØ the publication quotes Dr Suman Jha a researcher on Prof. ShahÔÇÖs team as saying. If this observation is anything to go by, then the persistent argument that jatropha could grow on unproductive agriculture land should be looked at again. This argument also challenges the assertion that investors are not a threat to smallholder farmers,whose productive agriculture land stands to be annexed by powerful multinationals for the cultivation of biofuel crops. Non of the projects cited in The National story, including D1 OilsÔÇÖ, a London-listed biofuels company, which has planted about 257,000 hectares of jatropha, mainly in India was successful. The company moved far too early. The report indicated that D1 is also having some nasty surprises on yield. It said in 2006 that it aimed to produce 2.7 tonnes of oil per hectare from areas planted with its new E1 variety, and 1.7 tonnes of oil from normal seed. That is equivalent to about 8 tonnes and 5 tonnes of seed per hectare respectively, or 3.5kg and 2kg a plant. According to the report, Pradip Bhar, who runs the companyÔÇÖs D1 Williamson Magor Bio Fuel joint venture in IndiaÔÇÖs north east, admits he has yet to achieve a fraction of that. ÔÇ£Hitting 500g is the challenge,ÔÇØ he says. ÔÇ£Mortality is quite high. But if we can reach 500g in two yearsÔÇÖ time, after that the bush will continue to grow. Our expectation is that after the fourth year we will hit 1kg. The 1.5kg mark we havenÔÇÖt touched as yet.ÔÇØ Those are the results from the fertile state of Assam, According to the report. The yields in other, dryer states such as Jharkand and Orissa, he says, are much worse. Mr Bhar intends to hold the area under cultivation steady at about 132,000 hectares this year. As his plantations account for more than half of D1 OilsÔÇÖ Jatropha crop, the companyÔÇÖs goal of planting 1 million hectares by 2011 looks like a tough one. He is concentrating instead on ensuring his small contract farmers continue tending it for the two or three years needed before it becomes profitable. This challenge is one of the reasons why Prof Shah doubts the 500,000 hectares of jatropha the Indian government estimates has been planted so far. Only last month, he unsettled an annual meeting of the universities researching jatropha and IndiaÔÇÖs National Oilseeds and Vegetable Oil Development Board by reporting that only 5,000 hectares was actually under plantation in Gujarat, half the official estimate, the report added. The Indian experience can provide sufficient evidence for a careful, and thorough, cost-benefit analysis of GhanaÔÇÖs jatropha dream, before the bubble most probably bursts. From May 27 to 28, an international conference on jatropha in Ghana would be considering the benefits of the crop to the global economy. Hopefully, the conference would not hype the benefits of jatropha and neglect the possible pitfalls. An objective consideration of all the possibilities, including that of possible failure, as the Indian experience has shown so as to minimize any collateral damage in the long term is necessary for the move forward. The companies investing in jatropha and other non-food crops for the production of biofuels including the ones from India, have lots of lessons to learn from IndiaÔÇÖs example, so as not to repeat the mistakeÔÇØ. - See more at:ÔÇÖs-jatropha-failure/#sthash.oPBf4MQg.dpuf

    Dr.A.Jagadeesh Nellore(AP),India

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