By Categories: Agriculture

Agro & social forestry have been traditionally practiced in India. Policy inclusion of agro & social forestry have not however brought in desired results. The article examines how agro & social forestry can be revisited and norms revised to make it more sustainable and meaningful.

Agroforestry –

Agroforestry is any sustainable land-use system that maintains or increases total yields by combining food crops (annuals) with tree crops (perennials) and/or livestock on the same unit of land, either alternately or at the same time, using management practices that suit the social and cultural characteristics of the local people and the economic and eco­logical conditions of the area.

Agroforestry is a collective name for land-use systems involving trees combined with crops and/or animals on the same unit of land. It combines:-

1) Production of multiple outputs with protection of the resource base;
2) Places emphasis on the use of multiple indigenous trees and shrubs;
3) Particularly suitable for low-input conditions and fragile environments;
4) It involves the interplay of socio-cultural values more than in most other land-use systems; and
5) It is structurally and functionally more complex than monoculture.

Its benefits include the diversification of agricultural income, cleaner environmental surroundings, provision of habitats, and maintenance of soil quality, food sources, carbon storage, increased agricultural incomes, and sustainability (National Agroforestry Centre, 2014).

Agroforestry, whether in small or large scale, is a characteristic feature of agriculture in India, although contemporary times have witnessed a lesser focus on traditional methods of agricultural practices. Estimations of area under agroforestry were initiated by the Ministry of Agriculture in 1977 is as per revenue records and satellite data. S.K. Dhyani (2014) in recent times has however, highlighted the need for proper area estimates of land in India under agroforestry.



A)  Environmental benefits

i)    Reduction of pressure on natural forests.
ii    More efficient recycling of nutrients by deep rooted trees on the site
iii)  Better protection of ecological systems
iv)  Reduction of surface run-off, nutrient leaching and soil erosion through impeding effect of tree roots and stems on these processes
v)   Improvement of microclimate, such as lowering of soil surface temperature and reduction of evaporation of soil moisture through a combination of mulching and shading
vi)  Increment in soil nutrients through addition and decomposition of litterfall.
vii) Improvement of soil structure through the constant addition of organic matter from decomposed litter.

B) Economic benefits

i)          Increment in an outputs of food, fuel wood , fodder, fertiliser and timber;
ii)         Reduction in incidence of total crop failure, which is common to single cropping or monoculture systems
iii)        Increase in levels of farm income due to improved and sustained productivity

C) Social benefits

i)          Improvement in rural living standards from sustained employ­ment and higher income
ii)         Improvement in nutrition and health due to increased quality and diversity of food outputs
iii)       Stabilization and improvement of communities through elimination of the need to shift sites of farm activities.

Functional Basis of Agroforestry

All agroforestry systems have two functions.
A) Productive functions,
B) Protective functions

The Productive functions are:
I) Food
II) Fodder
III) Fuel wood
IV) Cloths
V) Shelter

The Protective functions are:
i) Wind breaks
II) Shelterbelts
III) Soil conservation
IV) Soil improvement



It involves the conscious and deliberate use of land for the concurrent production of agricultural crops including tree crops.

Based on the nature of the components this system can be grouped into various forms.
(i) Improved fallow species in shifting cultivation
(ii) The Taungya system
(iii) Multispecies tree gardens
(iv) Alley cropping (Hedgerow intercropping)
(v) Multipurpose trees and shrubs on farmlands
(vi) Crop combinations with plantation crops
(vii) Agroforestry fuelwood production
(viii) Shelterbelts
(ix) Windbreaks
(x) Soil Conservation hedges

Improved Fallow Species in Shifting Cultivation

Fallows are cropland left without crops for periods ranging from one season to several years. The objective of improved fallow species in shifting cultivation is to recover depleted soil nutrients. Once the soil has recovered, crops are reintroduced for one or more seasons.

This system is practised extensively in the north-eastern hill region comprising the states of Assam, Meghalaya, Manipur, Nagaland and Tripura and the two Union territories of Arunachal Pradesh and Mizoram and to some extent Andhra Pradesh, Bihar, Madhya Pradesh, Orissa and Karnataka states. It is called ‘jhum’ in the north-eastern hill region and ‘podu’ in AP and Orissa states and considered most destructive for forest areas.

Taungya System

A form of agroforestry system in which short term crops are grown in the early years of the plantation of a woody perennials species in order to utilize the land, control weeds, reduce establishment costs, generate early income and stimulate the development of the woody perennials species.

The taungya (taung = hill, ya = cultivation) is a Burmese word coined in Burma in 1850s. The taungya system was introduced into India by Brandis in 1890 and the first taungya plantations were raised in 1896 in North Bengal. It is practised in the states of Kerala, West Bengal and Uttar Pradesh and to a lesser extent in Tamil Nadu, Andhra Pradesh, Orissa, Karnataka and the north- eastern hill region. In southern India, the system is called ‘kumri‘. It is practised in areas with an assured annual rainfall of over 1200-1500 mm.

This is a modified form of shifting cultivation in which the labour is permitted to raise crops in an area but only side by side with the forest species planted by it. This labour is responsible for the upkeep of a plantation. The practice consists of land preparation, tree planting, growing agricultural crops for 1-3 years, until shade becomes too dense, and then moving on to repeat the cycle in a different area. In some cases crops may be grown one year before the trees are planted. A large variety of crops and trees, depending on the soil and climatic conditions.

Taungya systems are of three types:

(a) Departmental Taungya : Under this, agricultural crops and plantation are raised by the forest department by employing a number of labourers on daily wages. The main aim of raising crops along with the plantation is to keep down weed growth.

(b) Leased Taungya: The plantation land is given on lease to the person who offers the highest money for raising crops for a specified number of years and ensures care of tree plantation.

(c) Village Taungya: This is the most successful of the three taungya systems. In this, crops are raised by the people who have settled down in a village inside the forest for this purpose. Usually each family has about 0.8 to 1.7 ha of land to raise trees and cultivate crops for 3 to 4 years.

Advantages offered by the taungya system are:
(i) Artificial regeneration of the forest is obtained cheaply
(ii) Problems of unemployment are solved
(iii) Helps towards maximum utilisation of the site
(iv) Low cost method of forest plantation establishment
(v) In every case highly remunerative to the forest departments
(vi) Provision of food crops from forest land
(vii) Weed, climber growth etc. is eliminated.

Disadvantages of the taungya system

(i) Loss of soil fertility and exposure of soil
(ii) Danger of epidemics
(iii) Legal problems created
(iv) Susceptibility of land to accelerated erosion increases
(v) It is a form of exploitation of human labour

Multispecies Tree Gardens

In this system of agroforestry, various kinds of tree species are grown mixed. The major function of this system is production of food, fodder and wood products for home consumption and sale for cash.

Alley Cropping (Hedgerow Intercropping)

Alley cropping, also known as hedgerow intercropping, involves managing rows of closely planted (within row) woody plants with annual crops planted in alleys in between hedges.The woody plants are cut regularly and leaves and twigs are used as mulch on the cropped alleys in order to reduce evaporation from the soil surface, suppress weeds and/or add nutrients and organic matter to the top soil. Where nitrogen is required for crop production, nitrogen-fixing plants are the main components of the hedgerows.

The primary purpose of alley cropping is to maintain or increase crop yields by improvement of the soi, microclimate and weed control. Farmers may also obtain tree products from the hedgerows, including fuelwood, building poles, food, medicine and fodder andon sloping land, the hedgerows and prunings may help to control erosion. Alley cropping usually works best in places where people feel a need to intensify crop production but face soil fertility problems.

Ideally, trees and shrubs used for alley cropping should fix nitrogen and should also produce wood, food, fodder, medicine or other products used by farmers or other local community.


These are belts/blocks consisting of several rows of trees established at right angles to
the prevailing wind. The purposes are:
a) to deflect air currents,
b) to reduce the velocity of prevailing winds,
c) to provide general protection to the leeward areas against the effects of wind erosion,
d) to protect the leeward areas from the desiccating effects of hot wind,
e) to provide food, fodder, timber etc.


Wind-breaks are strips of trees and/or shrubs planted to protect fields, homes, canals or
other areas from wind and blowing soil or sand.
The important reasons for which wind-breaks are planted include:
 to protect livestock from cold winds
 to protect crops and pastures from hot, drying winds
 to reduce/prevent soil erosion
 to provide habitat for wildlife
 to reduce evaporation from farmlands
 to improve the microclimate for growing crops and to shelter people and livestock,
 to retard grass fire
 for fencing and boundry demarcation

Gaps are required for gates and tracks, but because of the funneling effect through gaps, wind velocity in these areas can be substantially increased. In multi row wind breaks this can be eliminated by angling the gap at about 45 degrees to the prevailing wind direction. Alternatively, a few plant, trees or shrubs can be used on either side of the gate or track to broaden the gap and reduce the funneling effect. Other solutions are to plant five or six trees at an angle to the main belt as a wing or to plant a second short row to cover the gaps.

Soil Conservation Hedges

Trees can be planted on physical soil conservation works (grass strips, bunds, risers and terraces) wherein they play two roles: ie., to stabilise the structure and to make productive use of the land they occupy.

Stabilisation is through the root system. In some
of sloping landscapes of the country, the risers or terraces are densely planted with trees, with multiple use being made of them for fruit, fodder and fuel wood . In this system the major groups of components are: multipurpose and trees and common agricultural species. The primary role of multipurpose trees and agricultural species is soil conservation and provision of various tree products.

Criteria of Good Agroforestry Design

A good agroforestry design should fulfill the following criteria:
i) Productivity: There are many different ways to improve productivity with agroforestry viz., increased output of tree products, improved yields of associated crops, reduction of cropping system inputs, increased labour efficiency, diversification of production, satisfaction of basic needs and other measures of economic efficiency or achievement of biological potential.

ii) Sustainability: By seeking improvements in the sustainability of production systems, agroforestry can achieve its conservation goals while appealing directly to the motivation of low income farmers , who may not always be interested in conservation for its own sake

iii) Adoptability: No matter how technically elegant or environmentally sound an agroforestry design may be, nothing practical is achieved unless it is adopted by its intended users. This means that the technology has to fit the social as well as environmental characteristics of the land-use system for which it is designed.


The production of woody plants combined with pasture is referred to Silvipasture system. The trees and shrubs may be used primarily to produce fodder for livestock or they may be grown for timber, fuelwood, fruit or to improve the soil.
This system is classified in to three categories

a) Protein bank
b) Livefence of fodder trees and hedges
c) Trees and shrubs  on pasture

a) Protein bank:
In this Silvipastoral system, various multipurpose trees (protein rich trees) are planted in or around farmlands and range lands for cut and carry fodder production to meet the feed requirement of livestock during the fodder deficit period in winter.

b) Livefence of fodder trees and hedges:
In this system, various fodder trees and hedges are planted as live fence to protect the property from stray animals or other biotic influences.

c) Trees and shrubs on pasture:
In this system, various tree and shrub species are scattered irregularly or arranged according to some systemic pattern to supplement forage production.


The production of woody perennials combined with annuals and pastures is referred Agrisilvopastural system.
This system is grouped into two categories.

a) Home gardens
b) Woody hedgerows for browse, mulch, green manure and soil conservation

a) Home gardens

This system is found extensively in high rainfall areas in tropical South and   South east Asia. This practice finds expression in the states of Kerala and Tamil Nadu with humid tropical climates where coconut is the main crop. Many species of trees, bushes , vegetables and other herbaceous plants are grown in dense and in random or spatial and temporal arrangements. Most home gardens also support a variety of animals. Fodder grass and legumes are also grown to meet the fodder requirement of cattle. In India, every homestead has around 0.20 to 0.50 ha land for personal production.

Home gardens represent land use systems involving deliberate management of multipurpose trees and shrubs in intimate association with annual and perennial agricultural crops  and livestock within the compounds of individual houses. The whole tree- crop- animal units are being intensively managed by family labour. Home gardens can also be called as Multitier system or Multitier cropping.

Home gardens are highly productive, sustainable and very practicable. Food production is primary function of most home gardens.

b) Woody Hedgerows:

In this system various woody hedges, especially fast growing and coppicing fodder shrubs and trees are planted for the purpose of browse, mulch, green manure, soil conservation etc.


a) Apiculture with trees: In this system various honey (nector) producing trees frequently visited by honeybees are planted on the boundary of the agricultural  fields

b) Aquaforestry: In this system various trees and shrubs preferred by fish are planted on the boundary and around fish ponds. Tree leaves are used as feed for fish. The main role of this system is fish production and bund stabilization around fish ponds

c) Mixed wood lots: In this system, special location specific MultiPurpose Trees   ( MPTs) are grown mixed or separately planted for various purposes such as wood, fodder, soil conservation , soil reclamation etc.

Constraints in agroforestry

The following are the major constraints in agroforestry
1. Depression in crop yields due to interference effects caused by the tree
2. Delayed liquidation of planting investments due to long gestation period
3. Increased damage to crops due to birds which the trees attract
4. Increased damage to crops due to pests for which the tree serve as alternate hosts
5. Allelopathy – UPSC Question

Interference effects

In an agroforestry system, trees being the dominant partners,will compete with the herbaceous substratum for resource pools of light, water and nutrients. When the immediate supply of a single necessary factor falls below the combined demands of the plant, then the competition begins.The competition is also referred as Allelospoly.

The nature and quantum of these adverse effects depend upon I) the age and size of the trees, ii) nature of the tree species iii) nature of the agricultural crops ,iv) availability of water, nutrients , light, etc. The impact of the adverse effects is greatest in the close vicinity of the trees and diminishes as the distances increases Such effects were observed in different crops with a combination of different tree species.


Muller(1969) emphasized that allelopathy, the direct or indirect effect of one plant upon another through the production of chemical inhibitors that are released in to the environment , should also be recognized as another factor in analyzing mechanisms of plant interactions. The species interaction due to chemical influences is also designated as Allelochemistry, Phytochemical ecology or Ecological biochemistry and Allelobiology.

Most of the chemical substances involved in allelopathic reactions are secondary compounds. Though the toxic metabolites are distributed in other plant parts also, leaves are the potent source of allelochemicals. Summer materials are more toxic than those of rainy and winter season. Toxins released from plant litter are the primary causes of allelopathy.


Tree root pattern-

It is generally assumed that trees have deep and spreading roots and hence are capable of exploiting more soil volume and taking up nutrients and water from deeper layer not usually contacted  by herbaceous crops. This process of taking up nutrients from deeper soil profiles and eventually depositing at least some portion of them on the surface layers through litter-fall and other mechanisms is referred to as ‘nutrient pumping’ by trees. It is well known that the development of plants depends on site characters and environmental factors. Many woody species have the largest number of roots and the majority of the fine roots are located in the uppermost fertile portion of the soil profile. Some tree species are shallow rooted. Prosopis chilensis has a shallow and spreading root system whereas P. juliflora, is known to have a very deep root system.

Role of trees in soil fertility

1)Organic matter and nutrient addition to the soil -litter fall

2)Dinitrogen fixation by trees – Mimosoideae and Fabaceae are well known to fix nitrogen.

3)Nutrient cycling

Policy on Agroforestry

B. Chavan, n his  paper ‘National Agroforestry Policy in India: a low hanging fruit’ (2015) talks about agroforestry being a traditional form of land use in India. He argues that although it is beneficial to both the environment and farmer’s income, and enjoys support in certain regions of India from industry, wide adoption of agroforestry remains a bulwark due to a lack of policy initiatives and the strictness of trade regulations.

The authors cite that a lack of a clear-cut mechanism to moderate the agroforestry sector makes it difficult for it to be a success. Their paper mostly talks about the ‘National Agroforestry Policy, 2014’ that addressed certain aspects of agroforestry without providing an archetype for clear-cut management of the sector.

The National Agroforestry Policy (NAP) was born out of consultations in the World Congress on Agroforestry held in New Delhi in 2014. In the presence of delegates from 80 countries worldwide, the President of India Pranab Mukherjee launched the Policy – the first of its kind globally.

However, there are many hurdles in implementing the NAP in a proper manner. First, there is incoherency in the regulation regime as regards the species utilized by agroforestry. The multifarious restrictions over the harvesting, transit and marketing of various species in the absence of uniform systems lead to farmers adopting crops that are sometimes outside their natural habitats.

Second, given that forests are located usually at the fringes of populated areas, and some farmers might be cultivating in such regions, only 10 per cent of quality planting material reaches the remote regions.

Third, given that farmers involved in agroforestry are sometimes poor and remotely located, there is a lack of insurance and credit from organized finance (S.B. Chavan, et. al. 2015). The traditional methods of agroforestry tend to preserve the biomes in localities and thus aid ecosystem services. A lack of policy sensitive to the widespread traditional technique of planting trees by farmlands or as farming could disrupt entire ecosystems.

The Bansal Committee, instituted in 2011 by the Ministry of Environment, Government of India to carry out studies on regulations for tree-species on non-forest private lands, recommended that the permissions for the felling of tree-species required by farmers be relaxed. The plan is not included in the policy yet, but is intended to encourage the large-scale cultivation of crop tree-species.

However, the NAP in 2014 identified 20 tree-species most utilized by farmers to be free from such restrictions. The supply of quality planting material to remote regions is also a bottleneck to large-scale cultivation, which can involve the application of biotechnology in forest land.

Throughout the conditions for the implementation of the NAP, forest certification acts as a hurdle rather than facilitator, preventing the large-scale planting and cultivation of crop tree-species. Forest certification is often tapped through international accreditation agencies like the Forest Stewardship Council and the International Timber Trade Organization. There is a possibility though to include agroforestry under organic farming as forests tend to be self-sustained systems of production that require less external inputs, and bring their products under organic farming certification.

Social Forestry

Social forestry slightly differs from agroforestry in that while social forestry involves human intervention in managed forests, here though, management is not private, and engages involvement from the people in managing forests, i.e. social management (, 2015). There can be a wide range of social and economic goals to social forestry, and the objectives are based on the useful benefits of growing trees, placing a focus on social efforts towards afforestation. Social forestry involves more than just social co-operation in planting trees. Social forestry engages social collectivities in the activity of large or small scale planting of trees and vegetation outside traditional forest areas with the objective of achieving balanced and symbiotic land use that can have environmental, social or economic goals. The term can be used in conjunction with any programme involving social activation in afforestation.

Policy on Social Forestry

Social forestry is especially important for marginalized and poor rural people and communities as a source of social and economic security. The form of land use is important for social forestry as it utilizes community lands, land under public ownership, and replenishes degraded lands and puts them to ecologically beneficial social and economic uses. This form of cultivation is suitable even for remote areas as governmental intervention is not an important determinant for its ends, and finance is usually arranged through the Panchayat.

In such a scenario, the National Commission on Agriculture (NAC) suggested certain guidelines in 1976 to encourage the widespread adoption of social forestry. These guidelines were intended with a view to protect rural communities against the spread of production forestry. However, most forest renovation efforts of degraded forests are taken up by forest departments, while on the ground the majority of intended participants were poor, marginalized rural folk usually living in remote areas who fall outside the policy radar. The onus instead falls on certain NGOs and local collectivities that are too sparse to make a total impact across the country.

The guidelines include pastoral requirements; household, cottage and small-scale requirements for raw materials; employment for rural poor through social forestry activities; rejuvenation of degraded forest lands; supplementing the NAP; providing recreation or tourism; and improvement of the aesthetic value of landscapes.


The problem in both agro & social forestry is a lack of policy outreach, and is borne from the transition from traditional ways of living in rural communities to modern forms of agriculture and livelihood. There is thus a lack of participation from local communities with respect to policy, that has not yet assimilated the traditional methods and ethos of agro & social forestry.

While social forestry is invaluable to conservation efforts towards forests and ecosystems, agro forestry opens up certain tree-species to production processes. Traditional methods of agriculture involve the maintenance of a balance and co-existence with the native ecology, which is disturbed by artificial and extraneous constraints placed on farmers by income expediency and the market.

Agro forestry can work in tandem with forest certification if it can maintain this healthy co-existence, especially when it can be a significant practice in remote locations. Activating this traditional ethos can be a step forward towards social forestry as well. Agro & social forestry thus needs active research and best practice norms to mark its efficacy.

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