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Agroforestry In India|How its benefiting Indian Agricultural Sector

Agroforestry In India|How its benefiting Indian Agricultural Sector

Agroforestry

 Agroforestry is the management and integration of trees, crops and/or livestock on the same plot of land and can be an integral component of productive agriculture. It may include existing native forests and forests established by landholders. It is a flexible concept, involving both small and large-sized land holdings.

Scientifically speaking, agroforestry is derived from ecology and is one of the three principal land-use sciences, the other two being agriculture and forestry. Agroforestry differs from the latter two principals by placing an emphasis on integration of and interactions among a combination of elements rather than just focussing on each element individually.

Agroforestry has a lot in common with intercropping (the practice of planting two or more crops on the same plot) with both practices placing an emphasis on interaction between different plant species. Generally speaking, both agrofrestry and intercropping can result in higher overall yields and reduced operational costs.

Agroforestry system components

Agroforestry systems can be made up of many different woody components (as well as the livestock and crop components).

  • Alley cropping - rows of trees (either standards or coppice) in between alleys of crops or pasture.
  • Hedges
  • Shelterbelts
  • Trees and woodland round riparian zones
  • All types of woodland areas – coppice woodland, woodland with standards, and coppice woodlands with standards
  • Orchards
  • Grazed woodland
  • Trees in pasture
  • Pollards
In an agroforestry system all woody components should be fully integrated into the agricultural production system. The woody components should have a beneficial ecological impact on the land and other system components (i.e. livestock and crops). Through management, it should also be possible to gain an economic profit from the woody components either directly by selling products (see below), or indirectly from the woody components having a beneficial effect on other system components (i.e. the shelter belt producing higher yielding crops or sheep)

Furthermore for an Eco-Agroforestry approach, diversity should exist on all levels of the system.

  • Within species diversity of trees, crops and livestock
  • Diversity of tree, crops and livestock species
  • Diversity of system components at the landscape level

The Benefits of Agroforestry

Over the past two decades, a number of studies have been carried out analysing the viability of agroforestry. The combined research has highlighted that agroforestry can reap substantial benefits both economically and environmentally, producing more output and proving to be more sustainable than forestry or agricultural monocultures. Agroforestry systems have already been adopted in many parts of the world.

According to the Agroforestry Research Trust, agroforestry systems can include the following benefits:

  • They can control runoff and soil erosion, thereby reducing losses of water, soil material, organic matter and nutrients.
  • They can maintain soil organic matter and biological activity at levels satisfactory for soil fertility. This depends on an adequate proportion of trees in the system- normally at least 20% crown cover of trees to maintain organic matter over systems as a whole.
  • They can maintain more favourable soil physical properties than agriculture, through organic matter maintenance and the effects of tree roots.
  • They can lead to more closed nutrient cycling than agriculture and hence to more efficient use of nutrients. This is true to an impressive degree for forest garden/farming systems.
  • They can check the development of soil toxicities, or reduce exiting toxicities-both soil acidification and salinization can be checked and trees can be employed in the reclamation of polluted soils.
  • They utilize solar energy more efficiently than monocultural systems different height plants, leaf shapes and alignments all contribute.
  • They can lead to reduced insect pests and associated diseases.
  • They can be employed to reclaim eroded and degraded land.
  • Agro forestry can augment soil water availability to land use systems. In dry regions, though, competition between trees and crops is a major problem.
  • Nitrogen-fixing trees and shrubs can substantially increase nitrogen inputs to agro forestry systems.
  • Trees can probably increase nutrient inputs to agro forestry systems by retrieval from lower soil horizons and weathering rock.
  • The decomposition of tree and pruning can substantially contribute to maintenance of soil fertility. The addition of high-quality tree prunings leads to large increase in crop yields.
  • The release of nutrients from the decomposition of tree residues can be synchronized with the requirements for nutrient uptake of associated crops. While different trees and crops will all have different requirement, and there will always be some imbalance, the addition of high quality prunings to the soil at the time of crop planting usually leads to a good degree of synchrony between nutrient release and demand.
  • In the maintenance of soil fertility under agro forestry, the role of roots is at least as important as that of above-ground biomass.
  • Agro forestry can provide a more diverse farm economy and stimulate the whole rural economy, leading to more stable farms and communities. Economics risks are reduced when systems produce multiple products.

Agroforestry also works towards land protection and conservation through more effective protection of stock, control of soil erosion, salinity and water tables and a higher quality control of timber.
A denser, more-dependable tree covering can provide shelter to livestock during the warmer months allowing the animals can conserve energy. That same tree covering helps block out wind, helping to boost water retention levels that can help produce a more robust crop yield.