CED Documentation is for your personal reference and
The Business Standard, Mumbai, 04 Dec 2007
Agro-forestry can help sequester 10 per
cent of the atmospheric carbon over the next 25 years.
While it has become the in thing to talk about how climate change is
affecting or will affect agriculture, not much is said about what is
being done to enable agriculture to withstand global warming or to use
it for mitigating, if not averting, the impact of this menace. In fact,
farm research and development organisations the world over have already
begun treating this issue with the seriousness it merits. India,
fortunately, is no exception and can, in some respects, even be
included among the front runners.
As reported earlier in these columns, the Indian Council of
Agricultural Research (ICAR) has already launched a ‘Network Project on
climate change’ involving some 15 research institutes and state
agricultural universities for conducting critical research on crops,
livestock and fisheries. Besides, climate change has been identified as
a thrust area for research under the new National Agriculture
Innovation Project (NAIP) which has replaced the National Agriculture
Technology Project (NATP) on its conclusion.
The latest research and development (R&D) initiative on this front
focuses on agro-forestry which can help in reversing climate change
forces. For this, the ICAR has entered into an agreement with the
International Centre for Research in Agro-forestry (ICRAF) for
collaborative research on farm forestry aimed specifically at dealing
with climate change issues. A four-year work plan prepared for this
purpose is proposed to be executed in India with the involvement of
over 50 agricultural R&D organisations.
Indeed, agro-forestry (combining trees and crops together or in
sequence) is now being increasingly recognised globally as having
substantial potential to serve as a carbon sink to reduce the load of
harmful gases in the environment.
The basic objective of promoting agro-forestry is to extract more
carbon dioxide, one of the chief environment-damaging gases, from the
air and convert it into plant matter — a process technically called
carbon sequestration. As such, the advantages of agro-forestry go
beyond environment improvement, extending to the conservation of land
and amelioration of soil health and its fertility even while keeping
the land under agricultural production.
A report prepared by the United Nations Food and Agriculture
Organisation (FAO) has concluded that through agro-forestry and its
associated activities, the agriculture sector can help tap and bury
(sequester) about 10 per cent of the atmospheric carbon from the
emissions caused by human activity over the next 25 years. In the
process, it will also result in higher farm yields.
Significantly, the new collaborative agro-forestry project aims
especially at developing environment-friendly technologies which small
and resource-poor farmers can adopt. It will evolve novel agro-forestry
systems which may require the introduction of new tree species, besides
promotion of the known ones, having good potential for sucking in
carbon dioxide. These systems, moreover, will have the capability to
adapt to emerging conditions and mitigate the climate change process.
The new plant species will, of course, be introduced after due
diligence about their complementarity with agro-ecology and prevailing
cultivation practices. This will be ensured by undertaking the complete
life cycle analysis of the new agro-forestry systems before introducing
According to the ICAR deputy director general, A K Singh, the broad
strategy would be to introduce fruits and spices in timber-based
systems in the north-west; medicinal and spices in mango and
tamarind-based systems in the south; medicinal plants in guava, aonla
and mango-based systems in the east; and custard apple in parts of
The project, notably, will also attempt to develop agronomic management
and post-harvest techniques for the new systems. Besides, a knowledge
base will be created on important tree species, their characteristics
and applications. Not only that, it will also ensure the supply of
high-quality planting material through improved nursery management
Indeed, productive agro-forestry systems are deemed particularly useful
for the north-east, especially for areas where “jhumming” (shifting
cultivation) is still in vogue. For, this can help nomadic tribes, who
cut forests to grow crops for a while before moving on to the new
areas, to lead a settled life by adopting agro-forestry.
However, the outcome of this venture will depend largely on the level
of adoption of research-based strategies by rural communities. The
chances of success will, predictably, increase if these ventures can
somehow be linked to carbon trading to generate some additional income
to be passed on to the small stakeholders as an incentive for
continuing with the new systems.