Agroforestry based Integrated
Watershed Development

Climate change and global warming are emerging as major challenges facing agriculture in India and elsewhere. In future, these challenges will further accelerate and the resource-poor communities in India and other developing countries, least responsible for global warming, will be the worst affected by it unless urgent actions are undertaken to help them adapt and cope with its unavoidable consequences. India has committed its own voluntary pledges in the form of Intended Nationally Determined Contributions (INDCs) for climate change action. India’s INDCs target a 33-35% reduction of emission intensity of its GDP by 2030 from 2005 levels through creation of additional carbon sink of 2.5 to 3 billion tonnes of carbon dioxide equivalent by increasing tree and forest cover and increasing the share of non-fossil fuel energy1 along with other measures. On improving adaptation measures, India’s INDCs state that investments will be enhanced in development programmes in sectors vulnerable to climate change, particularly for agriculture, water resources, Himalayan region, coastal and island regions, health and disaster management and protecting biodiversity and ensuring rural livelihood security.

The semi-arid regions of India such as Bundelkhand in Central India are not only prone to severe droughts and drinking water shortages but are also the hot spots of poverty, malnutrition and poor hygienic living conditions. In these regions, rural communities whose livelihoods depend upon environmental resources - land, water, biodiversity are vulnerable to weather and climate variability. The high inter and intra-seasonal variability in rainfall distribution, rainfall events and extreme temperatures are causing crop damages and losses to farmers. Bundelkhand region spread over 7.08 million ha due to undulating topography, shallow soil depth, low water holding capacity, intense radiation and low relative humidity has limited options available for intensive agriculture. But the region has predominantly an agrarian economy. Over 80% of the population is dependent on agriculture, livestock and outsourcing income by seasonal migration after the Rabi sowing.

In Bundelkhand, long term analysis of the weather data indicates a decline of more than 100 mm in the annual average rainfall in Jhansi district. This reduction has mainly been due to decreased number of low (0-10 mm) and medium rainfall (30-50 mm) events. Dry spells longer than 5–7 days are very common and occur several times (5-6 times) per season, whereas, 10–15 days or longer dry spell also may occur during the monsoon period (Singh et al., 2014). The winter rains are erratic, occasional, meagre and uncertain. In recent years, out of the last twelve years (2004-2015), there was severe drought and deficit rainfall in seven years (2004-07, 2012, 2014-15).

In such a scenario, the last one decade’s experiment on integrated watershed development and agroforestry by ICAR-Central Agroforestry Research Institute (CAFRI), Jhansi provides ample evidence that agroforestry based watershed interventions are helpful for building resilience in rainfed agriculture. Let us examine these interventions.

In the back drop of acute drought during 2004-07, CAFRI, Jhansi selected Garhkundar-Dabar watershed in Tikamgarh district of Madhya Pradesh in 2005 for implementing the agroforestry based watershed development inter-ventions. The villages in the watershed are predominantly populated by other backward castes (OBC), followed by schedule castes (SC) and schedule tribes (ST). Majority of the farmers are small or marginal. Soil conservation and water resource development through construction of check dams, drop structures, gabions, Khadins (water spreaders), field/contour bunding, crop demonstrations and plantation of fruit trees and multi-purpose tree species were the measures taken up on farmers’ fields and community lands. Recognising the importance of ecosystems, community participation, traditional knowledge and promoting economic activities and addressing local needs; a participatory approach was used during the implementation. Social interventions such as women’s self-help group mobilisations, user-groups and associations and their capacity building for both farm and off-farm employment were the initiatives which played a crucial role in the success of the programmes. Agroforestry contributed robustly to livelihoods by providing multiple benefits such as fruit, fodder, fuel, fertilizer and timber, enhancing food security, income generation and insurance against crop failure thus enhancing the resilience of small farmers to climate change.

The runoff water harvested in the watersheds through various structures on ephemeral drains, community and farm ponds, haveli cultivation (traditional rainwater harvesting system) and open wells have been the main source to cultivate seasonal and annual crops. Crop diversification, agroforestry development and socio-economic upliftment activities have resulted in:

reduction of runoff by 46% and soil loss by 43%

increase in cropping intensity by two and half fold

increase in crop production by more than 20-60%

groundwater recharge increased by 70%

water table in open shallow dry wells rose by 2.5 m during post monsoon

watersheds became fodder surplus from fodder deficient

surface water in nallah became available almost throughout the year.

The above case study indicates that agroforestry based watershed intervention programmes which are designed to have co-benefits of adaptation and mitigation are the most appropriate for these semi-arid regions.

The Bundelkhand region can contribute in meeting India’s INDC commitments by increasing tree and forest cover through afforestation and agroforestry, plantation of Tree Borne Oil Seeds (TBOs) such as Karanj, Jatropha, Neem and Mahua and by prioritising watershed development schemes. A vast area (1.44 million ha) belonging to revenue, Panchayats, community or private individuals is available which can be put under alternative land use such as agroforestry for promotion of horticulture, medicinal plants, bamboos, biofuel species, animal husbandry, rearing small ruminants, sericulture, apiculture, lac, gum cultivation along with soil and water conservation measures. The Central Government schemes and programmes such as Green India Mission (GIM), National Afforestation Project of NAEB, Integrated Watershed Development Programme (IWMP), Mini-Mission-III of National Mission on Oilseeds and Oil Palm (NMOOP) and Agroforestry Mission are some of the important ones which if implemented in the right spirit can give rich dividends. The two-recent developments which can help the region in augmenting its financial resources are the initiation of the Agroforestry Mission by the Ministry of Agriculture, Government of India and passing of the Compensatory Afforestation Fund (CAF) Bill by the Parliament on 29th July 2016. The Agroforestry Mission shall be implemented in 190 districts of 27 states that have forest coverage up to 5% of the total geographical area. Banda, Hamirpur, Jhansi and Mahoba districts of Bundelkhand are covered under the Mission. Passing of the Compensatory Afforestation Fund (CAF) has unlocked Rs. 42,000 crore for increasing green cover and wildlife protection in the country. Uttar Pradesh will get Rs. 1,314 crore (TOI, 29.07.2016, New Delhi) out of which sizeable amount can be utilised to mitigate the impact of diversion of forest land and create green cover in this region as well. The outcome will be seen in the form of enhanced crop intensification, yield enhancement, enhanced ground water, reduced siltation, increased economic water productivity, ecosystem services and assured income and livelihoods.

Dr. S.K. Dhyani
Principal Scientist & Former Director, ICAR-CAFRI

Singh, R., Garg, K.K., Wani, S.P., Tewari, R.K. and Dhyani, S.K. 2014. Journal of Hydrology 509: 132-149.


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