India’s bold plan to achieve 33 per cent tree cover through agroforestry

There is a sanskrit verse that includes the words ‘ten sons are equal to one tree’. If India is to achieve its ambitious goal of 33 per cent tree cover through agroforestry, then a great many sons (and daughters too) need to be involved.

The World Congress on Agroforestry opened in Delhi, India with President the Honorable Shri Pranab Mukherjee saying to the 1,000 delegates gathered: “The cylinders can no longer remain idle; it is time to fire”.

Shri Mukherjee announced a landmark National Agroforestry Policy for India which is aimed at not just increasing tree cover, but providing multiple livelihood and environmental benefits.

The policy is expected to benefit the country’s farmers through incentives for agroforestry, insurance schemes and greater access to markets for agroforestry products.

2014 should be a defining moment for tree-based systems to address climate change

President of India Pranab  Mukherjee

According to President Mukherjee, the policy will enable farmers to reap the benefits of agroforestry, including sustainable crop production, improved livelihoods, stable ecosystems and resilient cropping and farming systems.

He particularly pointed out the role of agroforestry in climate change mitigation, saying “2014 should be a defining moment for tree-based systems to address climate change.” Certain agroforestry systems have been proven to sequester as much carbon in below-ground biomass as primary forests, and far greater than cropping and grassland systems.

Agroforestry is not new to India, having been practiced for generations. But the full potential of agroforestry has not been realised for many reasons. Among these are adverse policies, legal constraints, inadequate investments, weak markets and a dearth of institutional finance.

In India, as in many other countries, the mandate for agroforestry has fallen through the cracks in various ministries, departments, agencies and state governments.

The new policy brings together all the sons and daughters (i.e. ministries, institutions, programs, agencies and farmers) needed for an agroforestry revolution. It will see the establishment of a new Mission or Board dedicated to agroforestry.

Regulatory mechanisms relating to agroforestry produce will be overhauled, sound databases and information systems developed and considerable new investment made in research, extension and capacity building. Greater industry involvement is also a major target.

The policy comes at a time when trees outside forests are becoming increasingly important for India. An estimated 65 per cent of the country’s timber and almost half of its fuel wood comes from trees grown on farms.

With India’s ever expanding population and increasing competition for land and water resources, agroforestry is viewed as having enormous potential to supply nutritious foods, fodder, firewood and timber.

Hopefully this new policy will provide the necessary incentives and remove obstacles so that agroforestry can be adopted with enthusiasm and confidence by farmers across the country.

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