I am Manish, from a small village called Navinagar in the state of Uttar Pradesh, India. Currently I am pursuing Masters Program in Agro-Forestry from SHIATS, Allahabad, where my journey to initiate a change in the present form of agriculture which mostly is concerned only with crop cultivation began, at least at a micro level.
Basically I belong to a family having sole agricultural background and family income is largely dependent on it. I started visiting the fields with my father since I was 13-14 years old. I saw how the farmers’ fate was at large determined by the will of the monsoons due to much dependency on rains for irrigation and lack of adequate irrigation facilities.
After completing my secondary education from agriculture stream at intermediate level, I decided to opt for forestry sciences as major subject for my further studies, the reason behind being my strong inclination towards nature and environment. So for my higher studies in the desired stream I took admission in SHIATS, Allahabad, which is one of India’s premier institutes in the field of Agricultural and Forestry sciences.
It all started when I visited my home after completing my first year of graduation. I realised that the kind of farming practices farmers were following were not fetching them decent returns, all credited to the backward farming practices adopted by them. The farmers were reluctant to go for tree plantation in or around the fields. This tendency was due to the belief that growing trees with crops will adversely affect their crop yields because trees will consume much of water and nutrients and there will not be sufficient production due to such scarcity. Not much emphasis was laid on the scarce forest cover which was gradually reducing as more parts of land were being cleared and brought under cultivation to get higher gains in economic terms.
This prevailing system required a change and I took this chance as an opportunity to impart my academic knowledge in the interest of farmer community towards some applicable good. So first of all I discussed this matter with my father. Although he was aware of all those things but the benefits of the technical front that
I put forward were hard to digest even for him, leave rest.
It required keeping at stake a huge chunk of land and above all the related output for the sake of experimentation and this made him a bit shy. The reason for this was age long traditional cropping pattern and the belief that trees and crops cannot be grown together in a compatible manner. This required a paradigm shift. I told my father that there is no such issue that trees will hamper crop cultivation. Instead this will raise capital by providing timber and other produce ultimately contributing to the financial strengthening.
I somehow gained a bit in convincing him. Since Poplar was easy to grow, required less or no special care and provided handsome timber output, we decided to plant Poplar trees along the fields’ periphery. We grew wheat, rice, mustard and potato along with Poplar and the results were quite fascinating. There was no significant reduction in the crop yield and the first batch of Poplar was ready within four years. The timber was in high demand so it also fetched good sum.
Since the results were quite fruitful, it inspired other farmers also to take up this practice and a new trend of agro-forestry based farming began in my village. I also tendered my cooperation and with their help expanded the new practice.
This practice has now become very popular among the farmers. At present about 85% of the farmers in my village are using agro-forestry models. They are also planting Teak and Subabul trees other than Poplar. The production from one hectare plantation is 120-180 cubic meters of saw log timber, depending upon the tree type.
I found that the awareness for agro-forestry technologies among farmers is low and this could be due to ineffective communication about the long term benefits of agro-forestry technologies between the change agents and other farmers.
This is the right time for agro-forestry extension. Natural tree cover has been diminishing over the years due to human activities of settlement and agriculture, gradually leading to land degradation by soil erosion, which has become a cause of constant drought, landslide, flood and ecological imbalance. This has also led to various socio-economic problems of which exorbitantly high cost of timber for construction work and industries, crisis of fuelwood for cooking and other purposes, scarcity of tree based fodder for animals in arid and semi-arid areas are only to name some.
There should be concern regarding steps required to be considered for extension. Local resources need to be identified prior to necessary external assistance for system and community needs should be kept in mind while planning for such activities; these may include items like water, food, shelter, energy etc. Different society groups could be assigned specific roles while coming up with the plans. Well organised surveys should be carried out to establish the resources base of the community, including land, labour and capital and the problems associated with utilization of the resources in the much anticipated agro-forestry system. The entrepreneurial ability of the community members must also be identified because this influences the intensity with which the existing resources are exploited.
At last concluding I would like to say that youth should come forward and enhance the scope of agro-forestry based systems. They are innovative and should impart their technical and managerial skills towards this developmental framework. With this pattern we can lend out a helping hand towards the depleting forest resources and simultaneously contribute to the economic upliftment of a larger section of the society which is directly or indirectly dependent on agriculture. Growth is important but sustainable growth is what present concern is.
Comments & suggestions are warmly welcomed
Picture: Top: different Agro-Forestry Models – Bottom: author (center) with farm labourers
Blogpost and photo by Manish Kumar (Navinagar, Uttar Pradesh, India) – manishmaanchaudhary(at)gmail.com
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