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Insights on India

Deforestation happens everywhere, even in India. In 2010, India had 31.3 million hectares of natural forest, extending over 11% of its land area. In 2021, it lost 127 kilo/hectares of natural forest, equivalent to 64.4 megatons of CO₂ emissions.That’s why every system that includes trees is a major win, including agroforestry.

In India, agroforestry has been practiced for centuries and is becoming increasingly popular as a way to address the challenges of deforestation, soil degradation, and climate change. The Indian government has also supported agroforestry through various programs and policies aimed at promoting sustainable land-use practices.

Rising importance of agroforestry in India

Agroforestry is crucial to the Indian economy. It aids in the restoration of degraded areas and also boosts agricultural yield. Several other benefits associated with the practice include the production of food, fuel, and fiber; a contribution to nutritional security; sustaining livelihoods; helping to prevent deforestation; increasing biodiversity; protecting water resources; and reducing erosion.

Tirthan Valley, Himachal Pradesh, India

Agroforestry is currently being practiced on more than 13.5 million hectares in India, but its potential is much greater. It has been a part of life in India for countless years. In a country with an agricultural system and over 5000 years of history, that might not be shocking.

The importance of agroforestry cannot be underestimated, especially in the Indian economy, which daily feeds over 1.4 billion citizens and non-citizens. Hence, a revelation of how agroforestry is paramount to India for sustainability and continuity.

One of the best examples of agroforestry in India is the Farmer Managed Natural Regeneration (FMNR) system, which has been widely adopted in several states, especially in the drylands of India. In FMNR, farmers selectively prune and manage the regrowth of tree stumps, bushes, and shrubs that are left on their farms after felling or natural mortality. This results in the development of a multi-layer agroforestry system that provides multiple benefits such as increased soil fertility, improved water retention, increased biodiversity, and enhanced food security and livelihoods. FMNR has been recognized as a cost-effective and scalable approach to agroforestry and has been supported by several organizations and governments, including the Indian government, as a means of improving the livelihoods of small-scale farmers in India.

Trees and forests were always considered an integral part of Indian culture. In ancient times, planting trees was regarded as a noble act, but due to the increasing population and huge gap between demand and supply in this era, forests have been ruthlessly exploited to meet the increasing demand for fuel, fodder, and timber.

Trees not only offer immediate advantages such as food, fuelwood, fertilizers, and fodder, among others, but they also increase soil fertility, lessen soil erosion, filter air pollutants, and, most importantly, keep the carbon balance in the system. Agroforestry being practiced in India is regarded as one of the main routes to the prosperity of small and marginal farmers, who must contend with issues like low and unpredictable yields, deteriorating soil and environmental resources, hunger, malnutrition, and poverty, especially in regions that have been left out of the green revolution.

Considering the country’s unique land use, demographic, political, and sociocultural characteristics, India’s experience in agroforestry should serve as a model for most developing nations.

Soil Type in India

It is largely recognized that India thrives well in agroforestry as a result of its land system and soil type. This emanates from the offering of a variety of topographic characteristics, landforms, climate zones, and plant life. All these have aided in the emergence of numerous soil types.

Indian soil has been divided into 8 major groups by the Indian Council for Agricultural Research (ICAR) and this includes: 

  • Alluvial soil
  • Black soil
  • Red soil
  • Laterite soil
  • Desert soil
  • Mountain soil
  • Saline and alkaline soil
  • Peaty soil.

Some of these soils contain humus and are rich in nutrients which stand as an edge for successful Indian agroforestry.  

Alluvial Soil

The most significant and common type of soil is called alluvial soil. It’s formed by flooding. Approximately 46% of the country is covered by it. Because floods periodically deposit new sediment at the surface, alluvial soils can have a unique layered look. Dark and light colors alternate, along with assorted sizes of round gravel particles.

Although one of India’s most significant and fertile soils, it lacks humus, nitrogen, and phosphorus, which prevents it from supporting the growth of a wide range of crops like rice, wheat, sugarcane, cotton, jute, potatoes, and vegetables.

Black Soil

Black soil is just as it sounds; it is a dark soil. Since cotton is grown there, they are sometimes referred to as cotton soils. When it rains, they typically retain moisture and become sticky. Low infiltration rates, minimal usable moisture, poor moisture, drainage stress, and deep soils susceptible to salt and sodicity in underlying soil if irrigated are a few of the disadvantages of this soil type.

Red soil road at Hampi ruins, Vijayanagara district, Karnataka, India

Red Soil

This soil is red because it contains a lot of iron oxide. Ragi, groundnuts, millet, tobacco, and potatoes can all be grown there. They have high iron concentration, little humus because they retain moisture, are slightly acidic, and have low levels of phosphorus, nitrogen, and organic components. However, if the fields have sufficient irrigation systems, they can be used for a variety of crop production.

Laterite Soil

Laterite soils typically occur in environments with high temperatures and high rainfall.

This soil is abundant in iron and aluminum oxides but deficient in organic matter, phosphorus, nitrogen, and acid potash (which is occasionally high). Red is the hue of laterite soils. Contrary to alluvial soil, it is less fruitful. Due to its high acidity and inability to retain moisture, laterite soil is therefore unsuitable for agriculture. However, when fertilized with manure and irrigated, some crops, such as rice, ragi, sugarcane, tea, coffee, rubber, cinchona, and cashew nuts, can be grown there.

Sugarcane in India

Desert Soil

Because of the sandy nature of this soil, coarse grains can be grown there. This soil is inappropriate for crop production because of a number of factors, including high temperature, inadequate water availability, and precipitation of phosphorus. If properly irrigated, it may be fertile. These sorts of soils are used to cultivate crops including wheat, groundnuts, and bajra. These soils are also used to grow several desert fruits, such as pomegranate, ber, and pearl millet.

Mountain Soil

This soil is acidic by nature because it is humus-rich. It is not very fertile. They are also particularly vulnerable to soil erosion. Mountain soil is mostly good for orchard crops (trees that produce fruit or nuts).

Saline and Alkaline Soil

Saline and alkaline soil are the two forms of salt-affected soil that can be found in India.

One of this soil’s major drawbacks is its high sodium content, which lowers its productivity and makes various other minerals and micronutrients less available. They are referred to as saline and alkaline soils because they contain significant amounts of salts and alkalis. They encourage the growing of tobacco and coarse grains. After adding gypsum, they can be used to grow rice, cotton, bajra, sugarcane, wheat, barley, rhode grass, and sugar beet.

Peaty Soil

This soil originates from wetlands with limited drainage. The soil that is peaty or marshy is rich in soluble salts and organic matter since there is a lot of organic matter there, but it is deficient in phosphorus and potash. They are employed in various areas for the cultivation of rice and pineapples (as these have acid tolerance).

Planting a new system at Khetee, India

Climate and Cropping Pattern in India

Ecosystems, food security, health, and other areas essential to human existence and well-being are impacted by climate change and unpredictability. The majority of the interior of the nation experiences a tropical climate, which is a combination of wet and dry conditions. A humid tropical climate prevails in the northern regions, and wet tropical regions can be found near the western coast. 

The growing season in India runs from July to June. Based on the monsoon, the Indian cropping season is divided into two primary seasons: the Kharif and the Rabi. Crops known as rabi are planted in winter between October and December and harvested in summer between April and June. Wheat, barley, peas, gram, and mustard are a few of the significant rabi crops. In various regions of the nation, kharif crops are planted as the monsoon season begins, and they are harvested between September and October. Paddy, maize, jowar, bajra, tur (arhar), moong, urad, cotton, jute, groundnut, and soybean are significant crops farmed during this time. 

Kharif CropsRabi Crops
Kharif crops are the crops which are sown at the beginning of the rainy season, e.g. between April and May.Rabi crops are the crops that are sown at the end of the monsoon or at the beginning of the winter season, e.g. between September and October.
These crops are known as monsoon crops.These crops are also known as winter or spring crops.
These crops depend on rainfall patterns.These crops are not affected by rainfall.
Major Kharif crops are rice, maize, cotton, jowar, bajra, etc.Major Rabi crops are wheat, gram, peas, barley, etc.
It requires a lot of water and hot weather to grow.A warm climate is required for seed germination and a cold climate is for the growth of crops.
Flowering requires a shorter day length.Flowering requires a longer day length.
Harvesting month from September to October.Harvesting month from March to April.

Threats to Indian agroforestry crops

With its impact on food production, pricing, and security, climate change significantly complicates issues with food security. Overheating or a lack of water can hinder crop development, lower yields, and have an impact on irrigation, soil quality, and the environment that agriculture depends on. Natural disasters and water scarcity are two elements that affect the risk to food security. Crop production in the nation may be severely harmed by the effects of excessive rainfall leading to floods or a lack of rainfall leading to drought. There is evidence that there is a strong correlation between rising extreme weather events, such as severe and frequent floods and droughts, and agricultural production. 

According to a report by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), the frequency and severity of heatwaves, excessive rainfall, frequent dry spells, water scarcity, and soil degradation would all have a considerable negative impact on Indian agriculture. The harm caused to foodgrains, vegetables, and other crops by unseasonal rain and heat patterns is one of the major risks to agriculture. It alters the supply of food, thereby increasing the prevalence of world hunger. 

Advances in India Agroforestry

About half of the country’s fuel wood and approximately 65% of its timber originate from trees cultivated on farms. With timber production on farms currently creating 450 employment days per hectare per year in India, 450 employment days per hectare per year is considered to help reduce rural unemployment. In India, timber production on farms currently generates 450 employment days per hectare.

Agroforestry in India has direct and indirect merits, which give India a head start in productivity and climate sustainability. Notably it:

  • supplies the growing population’s demand for fuel, food, and wood;
  • eases the biotic burden on already-existing woods;
  • gets the highest yield possible out of the same plot of land;
  • restores deteriorated or wasteland areas by planting appropriate tree species alongside agricultural crops;
  • lessens environmental pollution;
  • lessens soil erosivity:
  • improves soil fertility by planting trees that fix nitrogen;
  • increases the availability of raw materials for enterprises using wood;
  • boosts crop production in order to increase the return on investment and also gives locals the chance to work. 

How is reNature supporting Indian farmers shift to regenerative agriculture?

We work with local associations and non-governmental organizations to implement agroforestry systems and climate-resilient solutions while providing food and income security for rural communities. 

We currently have three ongoing projects in India:

  1. Tamil Nadu: reNature supports AHIMSA to develop two Model Farms that will serve as a training hub for the local farmers. The two Model Farms will directly involve 260 local farmers. Once the project has scaled it will impact over 5,000 community members. The main focus is to establish sustainable organic food and self-supporting livelihood systems to mitigate rural poverty
  2. Ayyalur: reNature and SEEDS Trust implement a Model Farm and a Model School to train 50 farmers to incorporate agroforestry techniques in the cultivation of various fruit trees. The project aims at improving farmers incomes and soil health and mitigating the impacts of climate change. 50 local farmers from the surrounding 20 villages participate in the Model School and the project can potentially impact more than 1000 indigenous farming families.
  1. Khetee: reNature, together with Khetee, fine-tunes an existing regenerative agroforestry plot and aims at upscaling it onto the remaining 30 hectares utilized by the Durdih community. This system will be more resilient against flooding, thus, securing important yields, while creating a range of additional benefits for the community and the environment

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