India announces national agro forestry policy

India announced a US30–40 million investment in its first-ever national agro forestry policy designed to put more trees back on farms to benefit the people and the environment.

Madam Rita Sharma, India’s Secretary of the National Advisory Council that helped develop the policy made the announcement at the World Congress on Agro forestry 2014 in New Delhi, India.

India‘s President Shri Pranab Mukherjee, who closed the Congress on Friday said “The cylinders can no longer remain idle; it is time to fire,” making reference to the importance of agro forestry to India’s future.

“Agro forestry produces food, fuel and fibre; contributes to nutritional security; sustains livelihoods; helps prevent deforestation; increases biodiversity; protects water resources, and reduces erosion,” he said.

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

According to President Mukherjee, the policy will not only help farmers but will also help the environment and militate against the negative effects of climate change.

“Tree-based production systems abound in the tropical regions of the world. Yet, natural conservation has taken a backseat owing to the restless human drive towards urbanization, industrialization and food production. It has also suffered the impact of climate change, which has captured global attention now.”

“2014 should be a defining moment for evolving tree-based production systems to fight the debilitating impact of climate change in agriculture.”

The win-win policy brings together India’s agro forestry guidelines into one central document. It establishes an agro forestry commission dedicated to agro forestry and will overhaul regulatory mechanisms relating to agro forestry produce.

Considerable new investments will be made in research, extension and capacity building. Greater industry involvement is also a major target.

“All the stakeholders can have their input,” says Sharma.

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 come from trees grown on farms.

In India, agro forestry is being practiced throughout the country in about 13.5 million hectares. However, the potential to expand this, especially with small marginal farmers, is enormous.

Eighty per cent of India’s farmers are smallholders with two hectares or less and 60 per cent of the cultivated area relies on infrequent and low rainfall. This land is on the margins of agricultural productivity, is stressed by lack of water and has low biodiversity.

Dr. S Ayyappan, Secretary of the Department of Agricultural Research says the policy will mainstream agro forestry into agricultural policies, promote agro forestry as a farming system and will encourage participation of industries in agro forestry. GNA

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