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Geography-Agro n Social Forestry: A Modern Look at a Traditional Practice !!!

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


Agroforestry is the cultivation of trees and shrubs as crops or for animal rearing with a view towards the environment, their utility or other social benefits. It can include either farmland or forest farming, where cultivation takes place within managed forests.

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.

Policy on Agroforestry

B. Chavan, in their paper “National Agroforestry Policy in India: a low hanging fruit” 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 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. 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 n 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 n 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 n social forestry thus needs active research and best practice norms to mark its efficacy.


January 29, 2021