Since FRA came into force, 12.8 lakh land titles covering 18.80 lakh hectares of forest land have been distributed in the country under the Scheduled Tribes and Other Traditional Forest Dwellers Act in the last five years.
NAGPUR: Though India's first National Agroforestry Policy (NAP) announced by finance minister P. Chidambaram in the interim budget on Monday will help natural resource management and improve forest cover, experts say it is a damage control measure for the Forest Rights Act (FRA) 2006, which envisages distribution of forest land to tribals.
The maiden policy comes following the World Congress on Agroforestry held in New Delhi from February 10-14. It aims to include agroforestry in the mainstream of agricultural policies and strategies, by promoting it in integrated farming systems. The policy was recommended by National Advisory Council headed by Congress chief Sonia Gandhi. Since FRA came into force, 12.8 lakh land titles covering 18.80 lakh hectares of forest land have been distributed in the country under the Scheduled Tribes and Other Traditional Forest Dwellers Act in the last five years. In the same period, only 13.5 lakh hectare land has been brought under agroforestry.
The agroforestry policy unveiled this month focuses on improving productivity of small and marginal farmers and providing them sustainable livelihoods. It also makes trees complementary to crops and planting trees could help solve waterlogging problems through 'bio-drainage'.
However, former member of National Board for Wildlife (NBWL) Kishor Rithe feels that the policy of distributing vast tracts of forest lands under FRA is leading to hundreds of trees being chopped to convert them into agriculture farms. "Now, under agroforestry, the government will ask them to promote tree-based farming systems. The two things are totally contradictory," he said. Many experts said NAP looks like a new policy. Under it, investments will be made in research, extension and capacity building, and promoting agroforestry for renewable energy and sustainable development projects, said Rithe. "Making it successful will be a big challenge," he added.
The policy has linkages with several ongoing mega campaigns, like the 'Green India Mission' under which the state plans to plant 100 crore trees to improve forest cover. Rithe said the state government should now put to use zudpi jungles to implement agroforestry and improve green cover.
"Given the fact that landholding size is shrinking, tree farming combined with agriculture is perhaps the only way forward to optimize farm productivity. But agroforestry is not delivering, as it is a long-term concept. Instead, farmers want short-term hassle free (devoid of TPs) gains and therefore going in for horticulture forestry," said Raju Pugalia, a stakeholder practicising agroforestry.
Prafulla Bhamburkar of Wildlife Trust of India (WTI) says there are many constraints, ranging from unfavourable legal provisions for felling and transportation of trees planted on farmland. "The mandate of agroforestry falls under various departments, but there is no serious institutional effort to remove hurdles. The government system is ambiguous and corruption rules the roost," says Bhamburkar.
Agro-Forestry Policy Highlights
* Inclusion of trees in farming systems and their management in rural landscapes to enhance productivity, profitability, diversity and ecosystem sustainability
* Enhance ecosystems through carbon storage, mitigate climate change effects, prevent deforestation, improve biodiversity, provide cleaner water and reduce land erosion
* Maintenance of green cover on farmlands throughout the year
* Significant potential to provide employment to rural and urban population through production, industrial application and value addition ventures. Current estimates show about 64% of country's timber requirement is met from trees grown on farms
* Augmenting energy capacity through biomass, biodiesel, ethanol, bio-char and biogas production. Bio-fuel generation in degraded and marginal lands is being taken up on an experimental basis