January - March 2014
Indian agriculture is facing diverse challenges and constraints due to growing demographic pressure, increasing food, feed, fuel, and fodder needs, natural resource degradation and climate change. Diversification of land use with agroforestry can address some of these challenges. Realizing the potential of agroforestry, ICAR initiated the All India Coordinated Research Project on Agroforestry (AICRPAF) in 1983 and subsequently established a National Research Centre for Agroforestry (NRCAF) on 8 May in 1988 at Jhansi (Uttar Pradesh) to accelerate basic, strategic and applied research in agroforestry.
Diagnosis and Design of the agroforestry practices, collection and evaluation, and propagation of Multi-Purpose Tree Species (MPTS) and development and management of agroforestry systems for different agro-climatic regions were the central themes of agroforestry research in the country. Diagnostic and Design survey by the centres generated valuable information and identified important agroforestry practices in the country. Tree selection and improvement of species such as poplar, Eucalyptus, Dalbergia sp., neem, Acacia sp., Leucaena sp., Ailanthus sp., Pongamia sp., Casuarina sp., Anogeissus sp., bamboos and Mangium constituted another principal focus of the scheme. Clonal seed orchards for a number of important tree species have been established. In 2003, the AICRP on Agroforestry also initiated systematic work on biofuel research with major emphasis on Tree Borne Oilseeds such as Jatropha sp., Pongamia sp., Simarouba sp. etc. Besides, agroforestry practices have been inter-twined with the several programmes/ schemes like watershed development, rehabilitation of problem soils, treatment of degraded and other wastelands etc. Poplar and Eucalyptus based agroforestry in the Indo-Gangetic region; Eucalyptus and Leucaena based agroforestry in Andhra Pradesh and other southern states; Ailanthus based in Gujarat are prominent examples in this respect. The multifunctional homegardens in Kerala and other coastal states promote food security and diversity and provide basic needs of food, fuel-wood, fodder, plant-derived medicines, and cash income from their small holdings. They also provide 70 to 84 % of the commercial timber requirements in these states. Agroforestry is also providing livelihood opportunities through livestock production, lac, apiculture and sericulture cultivation etc. Suitable trees for gum and resin have been identified for development under agroforestry.
Due to diverse options and products, the agroforestry systems provide opportunities for employment generation in rural areas through the MNREGA programme of the Ministry of Rural Development, Government of India. Increased supply of wood in the market also stimulated the smallscale industries dealing with wood and woodbased products in several localities in the country. S e r i c u l t u r e - b a s e d agroforestry systems on sloping areas combine soil conservation with production function and generate income as well as employment. At land management level, sericulture-based silvihorti- pastoral system with mulberry, guava, pineapple (in paired rows) and grasses on bunds was found ideal on the hill slopes (30-45%) with 0.6-1.0 m soil depth. For the foothill and valley land situations, agriaquaculture system comprising composite fish culture with azolla, rice, vegetables, groundnut and fruit crops was profitable and provided employment to two persons throughout the year, besides ensuring food supply to the family. Livestock is one of the important components of an agroforestry system and fodder scarcity is a major concern particularly in the arid, semi-arid and hilly regions of the country. During summer and lean periods, the only source of fodder in many regions is the trees. Species like Grewia optiva, Morus serrata, Celtis australis, Robinia pseudoacacia, Ulmus wallichiana, Quercus spp., Bauhinia variegata etc. in the hilly regions and Ailanthus, Albizia, Acacia, Leucaena leucocephala etc. in the dry regions are well known. Agroforestry also has the potential to provide most or all the ecosystem services viz. provisioning service (e.g. fuel-wood, fodder, timber, poles etc), regulating service (hydrological benefits, micro-climatic modifications), supporting service (nutrient cycling, agro-biodiversity conservation), and cultural service (recreation, aesthetics). Agroforestry land use increases livelihood security and reduces vulnerability to climate and environmental change. During the past three decades, many agroforestry technologies have been developed and demonstrated. But most of them did not reach the farmers' to the desired extent, for want of awareness, inadequate infrastructure and lack of policy support. In order to promote growth of agroforestry in India, the Ministry of Agriculture, Government of India has recently launched a National Agroforestry Policy which is expected to facilitate credit and insurance to farmers, besides improving market access to them and will help farmers to gain from agroforestry, and has potential to achieve sustainable production, improved livelihood in rural households, stable ecosystems and resilient cropping and farming systems.
Recently, World Agroforestry Congress (WCA 2014) was successfully organized in New Delhi with the theme 'Trees for Life: Accelerating the Impacts of Agroforestry' jointly by ICAR and ICRAF. In the next 30 years, agroforestry is estimated to meet almost half of the demand of fuel wood, two-thirds of the small timber, 70-80% wood for plywood, 60% raw material for paper pulp and 9-11% of the green fodder requirement of livestock, besides meeting the subsistence needs of households for food, fruit, fibre, medicine etc. Besides, agroforestry is the only alternative to meet the country's target of increasing forest cover from present less than 25 to 33%.With the current area under agroforestry in India at 25.32 m ha i.e. 8.2% of the total geographical area of the country, the subject matter specialists have projected an increase in the area by another 28.0 m ha. The major share of the land to be brought under agroforestry will come from fallows, cultivable fallows, pastures, groves and rehabilitation of problem soils. Thus, a total of 53 m ha, representing about 17.5% of the total reported geographical area of the country could potentially be brought under agroforestry in the near future, which will make agroforestry a major land-use activity, after agriculture and forestry. With about 85% of India's famers being small and marginal in landholding, the way forward in agroforestry research for development is to emphasize upon: (a) location-specific tree-based farming systems for small- and marginal-farmers, (b) suitable agroforestry models for different agroclimatic conditions, problem soils/sites, (c) harnessing the ecosystem services of agroforestry through micro-level assessment and planning, and (d) promoting adoption of agroforestry through cluster approach to translate the ecological foundation to market benefits.