Introduction: To realize the vision of doubling farmers’ income (DFI) by 2022, agro-forestry can play an extremely supportive role by improving livelihoods of poor communities. Traditionally, India’s agro forestry policies have been designed to address problems related to fuel-wood shortages and forest resource sustainability. Given the huge potential of agro forestry in India, intelligently designed policy interventions can go a long way in increasing income levels of the farmers and creating additional employment opportunities in rural areas. It has been estimated that agri-silviculture can create employment potential of 119.3 million person days annually (NRCAF 2007). Given the vulnerability of agriculture to climate change, agro-forestry can also help build a carbon sink of 2.5-3 billion tonnes through additional tree cover.
This paper presents a strategy to bring about a paradigm shift to increase the cultivation of trees on non-forest lands. It explores the opportunities for agro forestry in India, and policy reforms needed to harness the immense possibilities. Using the analogy of Make in India’, ‘Grow, Supply and Earn in India’ initiative (GSEI) can aim to achieve self-sufficiency in timber production. With a forecast of doubling of demand for timber in future, aiming for self-sufficiency can save Rs. 42,454.8672 crore, which was spent on timber imports in 2015-16.
Globally, countries are maintaining significant areas under tree cultivation on non-forest lands. Specific agroforestry systems (e.g. agro-forests in Indonesia, farmer managed parklands in Africa, treed rangelands, scattered trees on pastures and shade trees with plantation crops such as coffee and cocoa in Central America, Brazil or Cameroon) or practices (e.g. widespread fodder shrubs and trees in semi-arid and sub-humid Africa or in East Asia, fruit growing in Kenya) exist world over. However, agro-forestry has not spread with much vigor in India. Despite, several policy initiatives, there have been missed opportunities in expanding agro-forestry areas. The real challenge lies in making agro-forestry an attractive investment option for farmers. Ease of tree cultivation on non-forest lands can be facilitated through multiple reforms in regulatory framework, support mechanisms, agricultural research & innovation, and supply chains.
Area expansion: According to one estimate, thirty million hectares of private land and eighty million hectares of common land in India are fit for cultivation of trees (Katar, 2000). To begin with, approximately five million hectares of available non-forest land can be taken up for tree cultivation in the first phase on the following kinds of private and common lands:
i) Farm-forestry on private farms and marginal farming lands. For instance, with about two-thirds of the farmers being small and marginal, farmers can be encouraged to grow trees on field boundaries.
ii) Large scale plantations on non-agricultural rural lands like homesteads, school yards, compounds of various offices, private/public establishments, public spaces, community land, fallow land (other than current fallow), culturable waste land, roadsides, land along canals etc.
iii) Private participation in cultivation of non-forest lands on lease-hold basis with suitable revenue sharing model.
Besides expansion in area, suggested policy reforms (regulatory and non-regulatory) to energize agro-forestry practice in rural India are as follows:
A. The biggest hurdle in tree cultivation on non-forest lands is the highly restrictive felling and transit permit regime. It is apparent that difficulties in obtaining permits, long delays and arbitrariness by handful of forest officials discourage farmers. It is important to liberalize the ‘permit raj’ to incentivize farmers by adopting automatic and approval routes in the grant of felling and transit permits. Guidelines issued by the Union Ministry of Environment, Forests and Climate Change have removed transit permits on 34 tree species and relaxed felling permits on trees not found in local forests. It is for the State Governments to now notify state-wise list of exempted trees. Only 20 States/Union Territories have responded; more need to comply with the Centre’s initiative. A necessary corollary to this would be to make farmers aware of the exempted trees and extend handholding support.
Simplified procedures using technology can be considered in respect of trees that need to be safeguarded to discourage indiscriminate felling, particularly trees that are found in local forests proximate to farm lands and community open spaces/Government land. Under this ‘approval route’, an online platform would enable the tree cultivator to register the tree details under cultivation on his land along-with updated photograph. The cultivator would be able to apply three months in advance for felling permission. Geo-tagging would establish traceability and authenticate ownership at the time of harvest. In case permission is not granted or no objection is raised within thirty days, permission would be deemed to be given. Inter-state movement of timber for trade/export could be made easier by introduction of National Permits – permit with a unique bar code issued by the originating state and endorsed at inter-state borders. At the check points, the National Permit would be supported by tree record from farm gate to sale point maintained by the trader.
Expanded tree cultivation would need improved tree produce processing and marketing. Restrictions such as non-use of indigenous raw material by importing units, distance norm in location of saw mills, issue of license after assessment by State level committee, excessive fees etc need to be revisited.
B. Besides a highly restrictive regulatory framework, a significant barrier to the adoption of agro-forestry is the lack of an enabling environment (institutions, support services and infrastructure facilities). Building viable supply chains holds the key to bridging gaps between farmers, processing units, suppliers and exporters. Effective coordination and collaboration between farmer and industry can reduce transaction costs and remove institutional barriers that decouple traditional marketing and distribution linkages.
Tie-ups in the entire value chain can leverage state-of-the-art R&D and agricultural innovation to make available high yielding seeds with higher survival rate and compressed harvesting cycle. Innovations in clonal technology would be particularly useful in developing indigenous plant varieties that can replace imports of tree species such as pinewood, sal, meranti, kapur, keruing, etc. Joint R&D and collaboration between Indian and International research bodies, Agricultural Universities & Forest Research Institutes and Industry can be fostered to develop certified seeds and hi-tech nurseries. Public–Private partnerships can be designed to give input and R&D support, improve market access through buy back arrangements, set up organized timber markets and clusters, outsource forest certification for Sustainable Forest Management and develop market feedback systems to keep abreast of changing conditions. Institutional reforms such as extension of low interest bearing loans/fasal bhima/interest subvention schemes, credits for improved soil carbon content and eligibility for compensation after natural disaster can incentivize the small and marginal farmer towards tree cultivation. A revolutionary idea is to consider declaring produce from tree cultivation and plantations as ‘agriculture produce’. This would make it easier to extend institutional financial support to agro-forestry at par with that being extended to agriculture. Negative list of trees which need to be safeguarded can be excluded from this definition.
Tree cultivation and plantations can also be integrated with MNREGA and adopted under CSR initiatives. Jharkhand’s Jan Van Yojana pays fifty percent of the cultivation cost to the farmer. ITC is implementing Sustainable Agro-forestry model. Similar best practices across States and sectors can be adopted to encourage agroforestry.
The active engagement of the community is integral to any program to make an impact on development outcomes and environmental sustainability. Changing farmers’ perception about the commercial success and returns from tree cultivation can serve as a major catalyst in triggering a revolution in agroforestry.