One of the ways India could help both landowners and wildlife is to encourage agroforestry

The United Nations has declared the decade 2021-2030 the Decade of Ecosystem Restoration. The United Nations Convention on Biological Diversity recently released the first draft of a new framework ahead of the United Nations Conference on Biodiversity (COP 15) where the next set of global biodiversity targets for 2030, to stop the loss of biodiversity, will be decided.

One of the main goals is to ensure that at least 30% of the world’s land and sea areas are conserved through efficiently and equitably managed and well-connected protected area systems and other effective area-based conservation measures. . India has a huge responsibility in contributing to this goal, but the existing network of protected areas is limited by the availability of land. There are other challenges to expanding India’s protected area network – such as political will, more focus on ‘protected areas and tiger conservation’, but less focus on others. habitats such as grasslands, dependence of human resources on protected areas and controversies over resettlement.

As a result, the value of private land around protected areas, playing a complementary role in wildlife conservation, is recognized.

In central India, there are 16 protected areas linked by about 35 corridors. Pench Tiger Reserve (famous for being portrayed in Rudyard Kipling’s The jungle Book), spread across Madhya Pradesh and Maharashtra, is one such protected area. A recent study examined the willingness of farmers and landowners in the region to engage in conservation by adopting agroforestry.

Lead author of the study, Mahi Puri, said Mongabay-India, on the context of their study. “In central India, landscapes and protected areas are very fragmented and the distance between patches of forest is great,” she said. “It makes the landscape ‘resistant’ to animal movements.”

“Animals then have to cross farms, highways and railroads, which increases animal-human interactions, traffic accidents and more,” she said. “And animals cannot remain isolated in protected areas. This increases the possibilities of long-term inbreeding and possible population collapse. It therefore becomes essential to study buffer zones and connectivity corridors outside protected areas in central India.

The researchers examined the willingness of landowners to enroll in voluntary and incentive agroforestry programs in the administrative buffer zone of Pench National Park and Madhya Pradesh Tiger Reserve.

They found in their study that farmers in the Pench buffer zones needed an average of Rs 66,000 per acre per year to adopt agroforestry on their land. Puri said compensation will vary by region due to differences in crops, agricultural productivity, income from farming and other sources, conflicts with wildlife, the benefits and risks of agroforestry. , etc. “A one-size-fits-all approach cannot be applied across the country,” she added.

Cultivated land around Pench Tiger Reserve. Photo credit: Mahi Puri / Mongabay India

Adopt agroforestry

Agroforestry is an integrated approach of using the interactive benefits of combining trees and shrubs with crops. It involves a multitude of changes such as land use change, increased interaction with wildlife, change in income, etc. Therefore, the diversity of aspirations and interests within the community becomes the focus of the discourse.

It takes years for land use to shift from monoculture to a variety of species. Scientists have found that agroforestry systems improve soil fertility, manage the microclimate, improve water quality, conserve biodiversity, sequester carbon, provide habitat for wildlife, and improve food security. But it’s a complicated system where choosing the right species is important, otherwise they could become invasive.

Puri says planting native trees would be the right way to go. “Native fruit trees like mango, jackfruit, orange, apple and mahua would also increase farmers’ incomes after a few years,” she explained. “Medicinal trees and bamboo are also good options.”

Krithi K Karanth, co-author of the study, says: “It is important to choose the right tree species. The use of native species will help improve the quality of habitat for wildlife, ecosystem services and also benefit farmers. Some young trees will survive and some will not.

“Some tree species grow faster than others. It is also essential to monitor and document environmental changes over the years. This will help to plan better agroforestry systems in the future for different landscapes in India, ”said Krithi K Karanth.

Encourage landowners

Encouraging farmers and landowners is an important step in agroforestry that requires substantial investment. Karanth comments that stable funding is essential. “A minimum of three to five years of investment should be planned to help farmers initially. This is an intensive intervention and public-private partnerships are needed to ensure efficiency and sustainability, ”she added.

Puri suggests that funds from the Planning and Management Authority of the Compensatory Reforestation Fund can be used for this cause. “Payment for ecosystem services is a system in which a monetary value is assigned to the intangible ecosystem services of natural resources,” said Puri. “Payment for ecosystem services is available in different forms in other countries – the conservation reserve program, for example, is a land conservation program in the United States through which farmers receive an annual payment for the maintenance of their land and their respect for biodiversity. We need to create a model that works for Indian farmland because the land size here is different from the United States. “

Commenting on payment for ecosystem services in India, Aritra Kshettry, INSPIRE member of the Ministry of Science and Technology, said: “Payment for ecosystem services is about agencies that pay landowners to adopt policies. more sustainable practices. ”

“While this is an interesting concept, there is currently no policy in India to implement payment for ecosystem services,” Kshettry said. There is a growing demand from some states for such payments, especially states that capture river systems and carbon sinks. This can be attempted on a pilot scale with the intervention of multinational NGOs or within the framework of corporate social responsibility funds, to study and assess the effectiveness and attractiveness of such a program. Kshettry was not associated with this study.

Spotted deer at Pench Tiger Reserve. Photo credit: Nandkishordudhe / Wikimedia Commons

Human-wildlife conflict

A recently released joint report between the United Nations Environment Program and the Global Fund indicates that human-wildlife conflict is one of the greatest threats to wildlife. When converting agricultural land to agroforestry land, there are chances for increased interaction between humans and wildlife. This interaction is not limited to carnivores that attack livestock, but also to wild gaurs, pigs and nilgai that plunder crops.

Commenting on this question, Puri said: “It was interesting that farmers who had wild herbivores plundering their crops in the past wanted to convert a larger percentage of their land into agroforestry systems.”

“This is because the compensation for the farmers for the interaction with the carnivores comes from the Forestry Department,” Puri said. “But the compensation for the interaction with wild herbivores (in Madhya Pradesh) comes from the Ministry of Finance and the amount they receive is not enough to meet their losses due to crop looting.”

The opinions of those who reside around Panna Tiger Reserve and come into contact with wildlife are crucial. Chetan Hinge from Turiya village in Pench, who worked as a local guide and is associated with the Wildlife Protection Society of India, said: “Farmers respect wildlife – they even call the tiger Bagh Devi. [tiger goddess]. “

“They understand the importance of trees and their role in the microclimate and rain,” Hinge said. “If they are paid and incentivized fairly, they would be happy to convert their land use to agroforestry. Awareness has increased.

“When interacting with the farmers, I was surprised to learn that they are very interested in the future ecotourism opportunities in the region, if such a plan is implemented,” Hinge said. “They suggest that they would be happy to set up host families for tourists who come to visit and explore the landscape and learn more about the wildlife.”

The future of agroforestry

India is one of the most agriculturally productive landscapes in the world. The authors agree that the shift to agroforestry will not be easy, but it is necessary.

“India is a priority landscape for wildlife conservation, which means that when India adopts a biodiversity-friendly practice, it will have a big impact globally,” Puri noted. “Regenerative agricultural practices such as agroforestry adapted to different landscapes are a solution that will solve the multiple problems of climatic events. ”

“In the long term, if we work on the demand and supply chain of agricultural products in these areas and certify them as ‘wildlife friendly’ products, they can be sold for better prices in the market and to farmers. would also benefit, ”Puri noted.

Speaking on the future of agroforestry incentives in India, Kshettry said, “Local landowners, farming communities and pastoralists would be the most crucial stakeholders at the local level for such a system. ”

“Governments and environmental NGOs would be vital stakeholders on a larger scale,” Kshettry said. “However, consumers of products from these sustainable production systems that respect biodiversity and ecosystems must also play a key role. On a large scale, state agencies must ensure the sustainability of such initiatives, if they are successful in smaller scale pilot tests.

This article first appeared on Mongabay.


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