AGROFORESTRY – A FAILED PHENOMENON ?
Mazhar M. Chinoy
Agroforestry - the notion of growing woody plants, trees and shrubs side by side withagricultural crops and livestock on the same land has been in practice for thousands of years. Inancient times, the availability of crops for food, and wood for fuel and building, was critical tothe survival of man. Today, the reasons for the resurrection of this concept are no different. Sharprural development and sustained pressure on land in many areas of the world to produce food for the masses, fuel to create energy and materials to build, heal or earn livelihood, have acceleratedin agroforestryThe concept is more so significant for Pakistan where only 25,000 sq kms - a mere 3% of theland is covered by forests - and when this small percentage churns out nearly 26 million tonnesof fuel wood every year, the specter of deforestation assumes scary proportions for the future.Thus, the criticality to build and develop forests is needed to serve the trident aims of adding tothe meager environmentally-impacted forest-to-land ratio of the country as well as to ensurecontinued supply of fuel wood to energy-deficient Pakistan, and to fill out the small farmers’income by this complement to cropsDuring the early 80s, the first move was made to set agroforestry on its way in Pakistan when aFarm and Energy project was initiated. With natural forests on the wane and wood anincreasingly precious commodity, there were obvious socio-economic benefits to the farmers to plant fast-growing trees like Eucalyptus and Poplar, motivating them to share land space withtheir regular crops.The benefits of agroforestry are impeccable. These trees would provide commercially valuable products like wood, paper, fruits and woody floral products. Moreover, the tree and shrubs wouldadd on to environmental health, natural beauty and importantly, increased land prices for thefarmersAside from that, tree leaves and branches provide shade, reducing evaporation and water lossesfrom the soil and transpiration from plants. The soil temperature is regulated in both excessiveheat and cold, and when leaves and twigs fall from trees, they add organic matter to the soil,enriching it and reducing the use of chemical fertilizers, in turn saving the farmer on input cost.Trees also cushion against the wind, reducing wind erosion, blowing dust and pesticide drift.Subterranean networks of tree roots hold soil in place, reducing water erosion.Ingredients for a very successful venture indeed, and at the onset, the program was greatlysuccessful in maintaining farmer interest But twenty years after the first program was launchedin Pakistan, there have been setbacksFarmer interest in agroforestry has gone astray. Limited options available in fast-growing woodytree species has dampened farmer enthusiasm through the years. The forest department has beenencouraging plantation of trees like Eucalyptus primarily because they are quick to grow and being salt-absorbent are excellent in helping the farmer control salinity in saline soils. However,the tree works the wrong way in case of non-saline soils where it over-absorbs regular water andfertilizer, depriving adjacent crops of these precious nutrients.