Agroforestry could lead to sustainable land management - GulfToday

Agroforestry could lead to sustainable land management

Meena Janardhan

Writer/Editor/Consultant. She has over 25 years of experience in the fields of environmental journalism and publishing.

Repesentational image.

Repesentational image.

A recent report from India’s NITI Aayog on the greening and restoration of wastelands with agroforestry, focusses on sequestering carbon to combat climate change and addressing the sub-optimal use of arable land, as pointed out by a Mongabay-India commentary. At present, the commentary states the total area under agroforestry is about 28 million hectares that covers about 8.65% of India’s geographical area, while 16.96% of land area is still categorised as ‘wasteland’. Geo-spatial tools such as remote sensing and geographic information system have helped not only in locating inaccessible lands for agroforestry potential but are also expected to help farmers in taking informed decisions about cultivation.

The Executive Summary of the report ‘Greening and Restoration of Wasteland (GROW) with Agroforestry’ from NITI Aayog states that India is the first country in the world to form and announce the National Agroforestry Policy in 2014, which focuses on enhancing productivity, profitability, diversity and ecosystem sustainability.

The Summary adds that agroforestry is an agroecological nature-based land use system that can simultaneously address many ecological challenges of the current era, namely, food, nutrition, energy, employment, natural resources and environmental security. It includes both traditional & modern land use systems. Integrating and optimising the interactions of the components of agroforestry, i.e, trees, crops and/or livestock, can lead to improvements in the soil quality, greater vegetation and tree cover. Agroforestry can simultaneously address the mitigation and adaptation needs of managing climate change, along with many social and economic gains in the long term. Globally, empirical evidence of beneficial socio-economic and ecological outcomes of agroforestry interventions, in rural and urban areas, wastelands and degraded lands, have added momentum to harness this set of practices for achieving national and international targets and commitments.

The Summary points out that India is the seventh largest country in the world, with an area of 328.73 million hectares and has the second largest total arable area, after the USA. Due to anthropogenic activities, many regions have increased build up areas, degraded land, imbalanced natural resources that have adversely impacted the environment and lives on the planet. There has been a concomitant decline in per capita availability of land in the country. Hence, it is imperative to transform land-use systems across the country, especially when it comes to classified wastelands that need to be transformed to agricultural and other productive uses. About 55.76 million hectares, i.e., 16.96% of Total Geographical Area (TGA) of the country is wastelands and are currently under-utilized and deteriorating due to a lack of appropriate resource management or on account of natural causes.

The technical report explores the application of remote sensing datasets with GIS technology in prioritising wastelands in the country suitable for greening with agroforestry intervention. To support this analysis, the Agroforestry Suitability Index (ASI) was derived to develop a national level area prioritisation plan of wastelands for greening with agroforestry. Based on the analysis, 207,455.37 (6.31% of the TGA) area falls under ‘highly suitable’ category and 162,372.33 (4.94% of TGA) under ‘moderately suitable’ category. Madhya Pradesh (29,643.98, Rajasthan (27,662.046 and Maharashtra (24,228.03 are the top three states with significant extents of area under the highly suitable class. Most areas fall under ‘less suitable/not applicable’ category, and these include cropped areas, forests and other land use system, other than classified ‘wastelands’. At present, total area under agroforestry is about 28.42 million hectares that covers about 8.65% of TGA of the country. The conversion of underutilised areas, especially wastelands, can extend multiple benefits of agroforestry across vast areas in the country.

The Mongabay-India commentary highlights that the GROW with Agroforestry initiative aims to add 26 million ha by 2030 and a carbon sink of 2.5 to 3 billion ton CO₂ equivalent, which will achieve almost 50% of the national targets in next seven years if implemented without any issues. The Initiative will yield a natural resource-based spatial data, geospatial technology and spatial modelling which will lead to tremendous scope in developing decision support systems for natural resources mapping in the agroforestry sector. Accessibility to suitable information and adequate data sets, multi-sectoral approaches, multi-institutional participation and multi-department coordination is key.

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