India leads the way with agroforestry policy

On the opening day of the World Congress on Agroforestry in Delhi, India’s President announced a new landmark National Agroforestry Policy that will mainstream the growing of trees on farms to meet a wide range of development and environment related goals.

India is the first nation in the world to adopt such a policy, which seeks to overcome many of the obstacles to the adoption of agroforestry in the country, including adverse policies, weak markets and a dearth of institutional finance.

“Agroforestry produces food, fuel and fiber, contributes to nutritional security, sustains livelihoods, helps prevent deforestation, increases biodiversity, protects water resources and reduces erosion,” said Honorable Shri Pranab Mukherjee in his opening address.

“The cylinders can no longer remain idle; it is time to fire,” he added, making reference to the importance of agroforestry to India’s future.

Rita Sharma, India’s Secretary of the National Advisory Council which helped develop the policy, announced there would be an investment of US $30 to 40 million attached the new policy.

The policy is not only seen as crucial to India’s ambitious goal of achieving 33 per cent tree cover but also to providing many of the other benefits discussed during the Congress, such as increasing food and nutrition, supplying fodder, fuelwood and timber for India’s growing population.

The policy promises greater coordination across the wide range of agroforestry programs currently operating in different ministries, such as agriculture, rural development and environment. It will be implemented through a newly established mission or board solely dedicated to agroforestry.

Legislation that is currently unfavorable to agroforestry is expected to be amended through the policy, and regulations that relate to forestry and agroforestry simplified such as those relating to land revenue and the felling and transportation of trees.

There are also plans to provide incentives to farmers, insurance schemes and great access to markets for agroforestry products. Research, extension and capacity building are also key areas of focus as is stimulating greater industry involvement.

While farmers have been growing trees on their farms for generations to maintain healthy soils, secure food supplies and for timber and fuel, the practice of agroforestry has been declining sharply in India in the past few decades.

Agroforestry is currently practiced on 13.5 million hectares in India, but its potential is far greater. Already an estimated 65 per cent of the country’s timber and almost half of its fuel wood come from trees grown on farms.

Agroforestry is also viewed as a means to reduce rural unemployment, with timber production on farms currently generating 450 employment-days per hectare per year in India.

The climate change mitigation and adaptation benefits of agroforestry are also a significant driving force behind the policy. As President Mukherjee stressed, “2014 should be a defining moment for evolving tree-based production systems to fight the debilitating impact of climate change in agriculture”.

Dr S Ayyappan, Secretary of India’s Department of Agricultural Research says the policy will mainstream agroforestry into agricultural policies, promote agroforestry as a farming system and encourage participation of industries in agroforestry.

“As land-holding size is shrinking, combining tree farming with agriculture is the only way to optimize farm productivity, added Ashish Mandol, a National Advisory Council member. “Agroforestry intervention can be a potent instrument to help to achieve sustained growth in agriculture.”

Related stories:

India’s bold plan to achieve 33% tree cover through agroforestry (WCA2014 Blog)

Agroforestry in India: new national policy sets the bar high (The Guardian)

Proper implementation of agroforestry policy a big challenge (The times of India)

India’s new agro-forestry policy is pro-farmer (SciDev.Net)

India: first country to announce a national agroforestry policy (The Non-Profit Press)

More about the World Congress on Agroforestry