Sustainable farming: Agro-forestry in Nepal

It’s essential to focus on Agro-forestry System instead of focusing on intensive modern agriculture and forestry separately in order to achieve sustainable food production and sustainable socio-economic well being of small farmers

Agro-forestry isn’t a new practice; it has been in practice since ancient time in Nepal. Shifting cultivation, an example of AFS dated back to Neolithic period around 7000 BC, is still in extensive practice in some part of the Indian subcontinent. Similarly, in Nepal, Taungya system of AFS initiated in 1972 at Tamagadhi area of Bara district reduced the cases against villagers for encroaching forest reserve. After the settlement of conflict between agriculturist and forester, agro-forestry has become an established technology. Burgeoning population, disasters of climate change, agricultural land degradation and forest encroachment have given rise to the needs of agro-forestry.

Agro-forestry is a sustainable land use system and practice in which woody perennials (trees, shrubs) are grown with herbaceous annuals (crops, pasture grass) integrating livestock (animals, birds, apiary, fishery etc.) on the same land management in spatial and/or temporal arrangement and/or both in such a way that economic and ecological interaction between components is positive.

AFS provides natural resource management, biodiversity conservation and sustains production for increased social, economical and environmental benefits for rural small farmers at all level. Farmers can produce multiple outputs from the same unit of land. Total productivity of agro-forestry system is usually higher than monoculture system.

Agro-forestry system supports livelihood of billions people worldwide, and provide wide range of products and services such as food, fuel, fiber, fodder and forage for livestock, timber, industrial products  thatching materials, gardening materials, medicinal products, craft products, agro-tourism, ecological services etc. under same unit of land and common management.

Vegetative coverage of trees and shrubs of agro-forestry system helps to minimize soil erosion, surface runoff, soil nutrient loss, and evaporation of soil moisture effectively. Furthermore, ameliorative benefits of AFS improve soil nutrient status - in case of nitrogen fixing species, soil organic matter, pH, soil structure.

The canopy of multistoried maintains suitable soil temperature and solar radiation which improve soil microbial activities, litter decomposition and nutrient recycling. Similarly, AFS plays a significant role in water cycle regulation and watershed conservation.

AFS strengthens climate change adaptation and mitigation capacity of small resource poor farmers. It has paramount importance not only in satisfaction of human needs but also maintaining ecological balance in different physiographical regions of Nepal. Forest trees are the efficient sink of carbon emitted to atmosphere. Forest absorbs 4-6 gigatons of carbon annually. Tree cover contributes to carbon pool on agricultural land. Healthy forest ecosystem influences the productivity of land, water and agriculture positively. For healthy and productive agriculture, three hectares of forest area for one hectare of agriculture land is necessary.

Production and sales of agro-forestry products, farm trees are critical components of climate-smart agriculture in many systems. Trees regulate drought, heavy precipitation and soil temperature. The importance of forest has been well recognized in Paris Climate Agreement of 2015.

Agro forestry ecosystem services are indispensable for the Paris mitigation goal to keep the earth’s temperature below 2 or even 1.5 degree Celsius. Better mitigation and adaptation to climate, small holder farmers, forest-dependent people make entire Nepal more resilient to climate shocks.

Multiple outputs and synergetic effects of components in agro forestry offer almost double productivity than monoculture. Easy market access and selling of these eco-friendly products fetches better price and double income of small holder rural farmers. This system ensures the steady income of subsistence farmers.

Even the landless farmers sustain their livelihood with Taungya system. A case study from the mid-hills of Nepal stated that agro-forestry can pay Rs. 45,490 per hectare in 20 years from carbon sequestration per household if a payment scheme was introduced. Ultimately, the protective and ameliorative roles of agro-forestry lead to long-term benefits. AFS will sustain crop productivity of given land ensuring sustainable food production for subsistence farmers. A good AFS provide vegetables, meat, honey and other high value foods and medicinal products on one’s own land.

AFS such as contour hedgerows inter-cropping, alley cropping, silvopastoral, implies land use management technology to make stable and prevent the further degradation of undulated fragile land of hilly areas. Moreover, government can develop suitable policy for the management of fragile landmass.

Hence, in the country where about two-thirds of population solely relies on agriculture, most of the people lives in rural areas, having over exploitation of forest reserve, migration from hilly areas to Tarai and forest encroachment, frequent natural hazards, declining soil fertility and productivity are the prevailing problems, a wise, natural and innovative idea has to be thought out to secure social happiness, quality of life and overall satisfaction. And, this is the new agriculture revolution, the agro-forestry system.