Harnessing the unachieved potential of agro-forestry in curbing climate change in India

A study suggests that the expansion of land area under agro-forestry systems, which integrate trees with crops, is a promising strategy to offset greenhouse gas emissions and India to the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change’s commitment, and can help in achieving the contribution determined at the national level. The study recommends that agroforestry be included as a mitigation strategy in India’s Nationally Determined Contribution (NDC) to the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC). Promoting the area under agro-forestry can also contribute to the National Action Plan on Climate Change 2011 and the National Mission for Green India under the National Forest Policy 2018.

In 2019, India ranked third in greenhouse gas emissions after China and the United States. Energy, agriculture, industry and municipal waste have historically been the largest contributors to India’s emissions. Under the Paris Agreement, India pledged to reduce the intensity of its greenhouse gas emissions by 33 to 35 percent by 2030 from 2005 levels. To achieve this, India aims to increase the share of non-fossil fuel based electricity and create an additional carbon sink through afforestation. Agroforestry systems, which integrate trees into agricultural landscapes, have been recognized by scientists for their role in mitigating climate change by acting as a carbon sink: Trees sequester atmospheric carbon into their biomass.

Agroforestry practices can also increase soil organic carbon, which is a component of soil organic matter and the largest carbon stock in terrestrial ecosystems. In addition, these systems provide additional benefits such as improving soil health, advancing food security, supporting livelihoods, reducing biodiversity loss and land degradation rates, etc. As a result, experts agree that agro-forestry can be a win-win solution. Recognizing the potential of agroforestry in meeting various developmental and environmental goals, India launched a National Agroforestry Policy in 2014. By increasing the area under agro-forestry, the policy aims to meet the growing demand for timber, food, fuel, fodder, fertilizers and fiber, generate employment and generate income.

Humid zones and agrosilvopastoral systems store most of the carbon

Another 2019 study reported that out of 52 percent of the land under agriculture in India, 46 percent has high potential for agro-forestry. The study found that 60 percent coastal, 40 percent wet, 56 percent sub-humid, 31 percent semi-arid and 2.8 percent of the land in arid regions is highly suitable for agroforestry. Agro-forestry practices in the wetlands of India had higher total biomass carbon stock (97.9 mg carbon per hectare or Mg C/ha) and soil organic carbon stock (51.8 mg C/ha) than all other regions. The lowest biomass carbon stock was in the sub-humid regions (32.5 mg C/ha), whereas the semi-arid regions had the lowest soil organic carbon stock (26.8 mg C/ha). Medium elevations (800–1900 m above sea level) had higher soil organic carbon stocks (51.2 mg C/ha) than those under agroforestry at high (46.7 mg C/ha) and low altitudes (32.7 mg C/ha).Among the three different types of agroforestry practices, the researchers found that agrosilvopastoral systems (which integrate crops, trees and livestock) had the highest biomass compared to agricultural (crops and trees) and silvopastoral (trees and livestock) systems. There was carbon stock and soil organic carbon. “Variation in biomass carbon stock and soil organic carbon is due to climatic factors, choice of tree species, tree density, silvicultural management practices and soil type”, explained by a scientist specializing in agro-forestry at the Indian Council of Agricultural Research.

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