Agroforestry and its Rich South Asian History
Agrihood in essence is agroforestry, but what is agroforestry exactly?
Agroforestry is a practice that intentionally links trees, crops, and livestock to optimise the benefits of their biological interaction (Baral, 2022). Agroforestry covers 43% of agricultural land (Baral, 2022). Historically, agroforestry has been a widespread practice in Asia. However, with the sharp rise in population as well as modern agricultural trends and technology, mono-cropping and monoculture tree plantations have been causing harm to habitat and contributing to food insecurity.
There are three main types of agroforestry systems, agrisilvicultural, silvopastoral, and agrosilvopastoral (FAO, 2022). Here, the root "sylvan" is an adjective that means "of the woods" derived from french Sylvain, and Latin silvanus, "about wood or forest". Therefore,
Agrisilvicultural systems combine crops and trees.
Silvopastoral systems combine forestry and grazing animals.
Agrosilvopastoral systems combine crops, trees, and grazing animals.
How has agroforestry historically been practised?
According to Mohan Kumar, Anil Kumar Singh, and S.K. Dhyani in the paper "South Asian Agroforestry: Traditions, Transformations, and Prospects", agroforestry in South Asia "has taken the form of woody perennial-based systems furthering employment avenues and rural industrialisation; fertiliser trees and integrated tree-grass/crop production systems favouring resource conservation; and tree-dominated habitats, which sustain agro-biodiversity and promote climate change mitigation (Kumar et al., 2012)." These systems, curated through years of shared wisdom and traditional insights from indigenous people, have been able to meet a wide array of community needs for "food, fuel, fodder, green manure, plant-derived medicines, and timber resources" (Kumar et al., 2012).
What are the environmental, economic, and social benefits of agroforestry?
In agroforestry practices, forests and animals are not considered competitors in systems. As forests are frequently being razed to clear space for agricultural activity; agroforestry could decrease the rate of deforestation (FAO, 2022). The health of the soil is also far more sustainable in agroforestry approaches. Healthy soil results in a reduction in fertiliser usage. Both deforestation and heavy fertiliser usage are significant sources of GHG emissions; agroforestry provides a sustainable alternative for these sources of emission (FAO, 2022). As the environment shifts from monocropping to agroforestry, biodiversity increases and the landscape is restored. An increase in biodiversity also means that natural enemies to common crop pests reduce the usage of pesticides (FAO, 2022). In addition, landscape restoration has positive benefits as the water supply is regulated through trees (FAO, 2022).
Subsistence farmers using agroforestry are less susceptible to price fluctuations of a single crop (FAO, 2022). Trees can not only produce food for households and energy for cooking and heating, but they can also serve as forage for livestock (FAO, 2022). In addition, common problems such as the cost of labour and land productivity are not as prominent since agroforestry practices need fewer inputs and have higher productivity (FAO, 2022).
As mentioned earlier, South Asia has a long and rich history of agroforestry practices. Indigenous communities can continue to take lead to implement long-term sustainable agroforestry systems which celebrate the agricultural heritage and cultural diversity (FAO, 2022).
Agroforestry is considered a key solution to sustainable, climate-smart, climate-resilient agriculture. The beneficial interaction between the key players of agroforestry (crops, trees, animals) can create a system which not only reduces human impact on the environment but also increases productivity. As Agrihood implements agroforestry solutions in the Thal Desert, we look forward to sharing the transformation of barren depleted land into a productive and sustainable food system.
Author: Rida Ahmad
Baral, H. (2022, August 1). Asia and Agroforestry: A systematic approach to policies and practices. CIFOR Forests News. Retrieved August 12, 2022, from https://forestsnews.cifor.org/78652/asia-and-agroforestry-a-systematic-approach-to-policies-and-practices?fnl=en
Sylvan (adj.). Etymology. (2020, December 7). Retrieved August 12, 2022, from https://www.etymonline.com/word/sylvan?ref=etymonline_crossreference
Kumar, B. M., Singh, A. K., & Dhyani, S. K. (2012). South Asian agroforestry: Traditions, transformations, and prospects. Agroforestry - The Future of Global Land Use, 359–389. https://doi.org/10.1007/978-94-007-4676-3_19
Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations. (n.d.). Agroforestry. Retrieved August 12, 2022, from https://www.fao.org/forestry/agroforestry/en/