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Agroforestry key to save environment, economically empower farmers

Agroforestry is derived from two words: agriculture and forestry. It is a farming system that integrates crops or livestock with trees and shrubs.

Statesman News Service | New Delhi |

It is evident that many agriculture practices disturb the balance of nature. These result in loss of soil through soil erosion and also causes the reduction of soil fertility. Intensive cultivation without either natural or artificial argumentation of nutrients can only exhaust soil fertility to overcome this problem nowadays farmers are adapting to agroforestry.

The term agroforestry is derived from two words: agriculture and forestry. Agroforestry is a farming system that integrates crops or livestock with trees and shrubs. The resulting biological interaction provides multiple benefits including diverse field income sources, increased biological production, better water quality, and improved habitat for both human and wildlife. Farmers adopt agroforestry practices for two reasons; i) they want to increase income stability and ii) they want to Improve the management of natural resources under their care.

Agroforestry involves combining tree plantation with another enterprise, such as grazing animals, production of mushrooms, or managing woodlot for diversity of special forest products. Agroforestry system can produce firewood, biomass, feedstocks, pine straw mulch, fodder for grazing animals, and other traditional forestry products. At the same time, the trees shelter livestock from wind or sunlight, providing wildlife habitat, controlling soil erosion and in the case of most luminous species and fixing nitrogen to improve soil fertility.

The agroforestry programmes in India were started in late 1970s as a result of recommendation of the national commission on agriculture. This in turn led to various social forestry projects, which provided the farmer additional income from the sale of timber and other subsistence benefits like fuel wood, fodder, and non-timber forest products.

Advantages of agroforestry

Agroforestry reduces the farmer’s dependency on a single source of income from the farms and it provides them economic benefits. It results in a more diverse, healthy, and sustainable land-use system. It focuses on meeting the economic, environmental, and domestic needs of people on their private lands. For hundreds of years, farmers have nurtured trees in their fields, pasture lands, and around their houses.

All plants compete with their neighbour to some degree for the vital resources. But they can also be helpful to each other. For instance, some trees have a thin canopy, which allows adequate light to filter through to crops below. Crops growing under them save their own moisture as the protection of the tree cover reduces decomposition. This benefits subsequent non-leguminous crops, which do not have this capacity.

Trees also improve the soil in other ways. Trees use nutrients and regain them through their recycling system; however if leaves and branches are left on the ground to decompose and their nutrients are lost, the tree will have to be nourished with equivalent nutrients added as fertilizer or organic manure.

Agroforestry is sustainable if it is well-managed, by growing trees and crops in harmony, by returning to the earth, in one way or another, most of the nutrients taken from it by organic or inorganic means the system can be biologically sustainable.