Agro-forestry in Nepal: Multiple benefits

The agro-forestry system provides solutions to increased demand for forest resources, thereby reducing pressure on degraded forests of Nepal (for example, in the Terai and Inner Terai) where forest protection is of utmost importance

Burgeoning climate change (CC), population growth, inaccessible and degrading forests and lands, high demand and costly management of forest products have precipitated interest in Agro Forestry (AF).

Unlike other forest system, Agro Forestry (AF) has the potentiality to address various on-farm adaptation needs, to fulfil myriad roles in agriculture, forestry, and land use related mitigation pathways.

AF system incorporates the integration, in space or time, of woody perennials with herbaceous crops and/or animals on the same land management unit.

AF system helps in rehabilitation of waste land i.e. it can easily regenerate in landslide damaged sites. This system ensures success of plant growth as it incorporates the planting of multipurpose trees that are fast growing and easy to propagate.

There is year round distribution of employment, increased rainfall utilization, assistance in pest management and disease resistance.

AF provides connectivity through corridors between habitats, preserves sensitive species, and buffers climatic changes that affect crop growth.

The plantation of broom grass, along with cinnamon and lemon to curb shifting cultivation by the Hariyo ban program (in Tanahu district) has helped to connect the corridor along the river bank linking the low lying Terai forests with that of the mid-hills and mountain forests of the Annapurna Conservation Area (ACA) and has provided additional benefit to prevent crowding from invasive species.

AF improves soil properties facilitating tighter nutrient cycling preventing nutrient including re-occurrence of limiting nutrients, adding organic matter (o.m) and nitrogen fixation by leguminous plants.

Moreover, some forms of AF system require low inputs that help sustainability of such growing practices. It incorporates high biodiversity resulting in ecosystem services.

This system provides solution to conflicting objectives of forest protection and land management because it increases the carbon storage (about 3-4 times more than traditional treeless cropping systems due to increase in above and below ground biomass with indirect effects on carbon sequestration reducing harvesting pressure on forest area due to availability of land resources for cultivation) enhancing agricultural productivity.

It helps in countering global warming and the risk of hunger by increasing the drought resistant trees and the subsequent production of agricultural and forest crops. It also aids in carbon storage in soil through accumulation in soil o.m.

A study has revealed that this system has a high carbon sequestration potential on the long term not because it has a carbon density (compared to forests) but because a lot of land can potentially be turned into this system.

AF system is being practiced in Kailali, Sunsari, Bara , Dhading , Nuwakot, Ilam, including the Himalayas Sagarmatha region and others as a climate smart agricultural practice under different AF projects.

Forest development projects that include three districts Sarlahi, Mahottari and Rautahaut have practiced AF system in a very large scale.

A five year (2013 - 2018) AF and Community Forest (CF) research project funded by The Australian Centre for International Agriculture (ACIAR) is being implemented in Kavre Palanchowk, Lamjung, Sindu Palchok and Kaski district.

Prior to the 21st CC conference at Paris, a draft called Intentionally Nationally Determined Contributions (INDCs) was proposed illustrating the nationally climatic contributions to limit global warming to 2.7°C by 2100.

Nepal has already communicated the INDC proposed plan to the UNFCC (United Nation Fund for Climate Change) Secretariat in February 2016.

As per the promise made in INDC to limit CC effect Nepal has made plans to promote afforestation in public and private land and has also announced a forest decade for 2014-2023, that aims at creating new forests and tree groves in areas where complete deforestation has occurred, including managing natural forests.

However, the result also shows that the forest area of Terai occupies only 3.08% of the total land of Nepal and is degrading at the rate of 1.3% annually.

Some studies reveal that some of the AF practice system raises the Greenhouse gases emission like shifting cultivation, pasture maintenance by burning and over fertilization.

Likewise, plant competition, the shading effect on the yield production is its other drawback.

It seems necessary to predict which tree and crop association and management practices are suitable for different places and implement strategic plan, programs with effective policies accordingly.

Though having multitude benefits of this plantation system the initiative taken by Nepal government to develop it is low.

However, AF is the most promising sustainable forest management system that helps in climatic adaptation and resilience through increased biomass production, maintenance of soil properties and biodiversity, thereby, conserving natural forest with the scaling of farm based forestry system.

This system provides solutions to increased demand for forest resources, thereby reducing pressure on degraded forests of Nepal (for example, in the Terai and Inner Terai) where forest protection is of utmost importance, Thus, the country needs to scale up this system more effectively and widely.