Mian Javed Hussein, IFS (Retd.)
Land is a vital natural resource and is the basis of our existence. Due to mounting pressure of increasing human and livestock population, it has been subjected to various pressures and misuse, resulting in degradation of land and loss of biodiversity. Management of land is therefore of paramount importance so that increasing needs of humans and livestock are met on sustainable basis.
During last three or four decades, agro-forestry has been recognised as a distinct land management system which is destined to play an important role in socio-economic transformation of marginal lands into more productive agrarian economy.
In J&K, the natural forests are spread over an area of 20,230 square kms (out of the total available geographical area of over 1,01,387 sq kms, including 59146 sq kms of the cold desert area of Ladakh Region which supports barely 0,06 percent of the forest cover). More than 50% of the forest area (approx. 10774 sq kms) of the State has a forest cover density of 10 to 40 % only whereas only 10% forest land (2135 sq kms) has a very dense crop (with more than 70% density) and moderately dense forests with a density of 40 to 70% are spread over approximately 8394 sq kms.
Forests play a complimentary role to agriculture (including animal husbandry and horticulture) which supports livelihood needs of around 2/3rd of the population. This is the key reason for fast degradation of our forest wealth in the State as the huge population is dependent on the natural forests for its requirements on account of timber, fuel-wood and grazing of livestock. The livestock population of our State is over 9.90 million and the demand for fodder is enormous.
Most of the livestock graze in our forests, which is posing as a major threat to the natural regeneration of our forests due to grazing and trampling of the young recruits (saplings). To reduce pressure on the natural forests, agro-forestry and farm forestry are two key parameters which can provide the best alternatives for an efficient crisis management.
Agro-forestry is not a new concept for our State but is a traditional system followed by our farmers since time immemorial whereby people grow diverse products from their farms___a goal whict agro-forestry always longs for. The only problem with the traditional agro-forestry systems is that only a few trees are mostly grown in the systems and as such diversity among trees is lacking. Besides, the inter-spaces are not fully exploited especially in orchards. Multipurpose trees identified for agro-forestry will help in increasing the diversity of the tree species and the models thus developed will help in exploiting the interspaces to its fullest which in turn will increase the production per unit area.
For promotion of modern techniques, demo-plots (especially on degraded lands) need to be developed so that people are able to judge by themselves the suitability and utility of such models. For best dividends, promotion of homestead agro-forestry models are recommended. A homestead or a home-garden is an operational farm unit in which a number of tree species are raised along with the livestock, poultry and/or fish, mainly for the purpose of satisfying the farmers’ basic needs.