India Interior

Rejuvenating land through agro-forestry

Nitin Jugran Bahuguna | Updated on January 11, 2020

Telangana cotton farmers take up mango plantation to diversify crops, check soil erosion

Farmer Bashaveni Ramadevi, 45, of Ghanapur village in Telangana’s Karimnagar district, has 18 acres of land on which she grows cotton, maize and paddy. But due to the huge hillocks surrounding her land, she constantly faces the vexing problem of soil erosion.

So, when she heard of an innovative new project encouraging cotton farmers in the district to start a mango plantation on their land as a means to check erosion, she was eager to be involved. “I have been growing cotton for years now and if there is good rainfall, I even get good paddy yields. But with more dry spells in the village as well as instances of soil erosion, my crops have been badly affected,” she remarks.

With excitement, Ramadevi joined the initiative in July last year and was given intensive training that included planting of mango saplings using the agro-forestry model of alley cropping and correct usage of fertilisers and pesticides.

“Agricultural crops are risky, given the uncertain weather in recent years. I have learnt that not much water is required in mango plantation and they can survive in drought conditions,” she says.

“With support from the project, I planted 520 mango saplings on five acres. I have been told that within a few years I will get a regular income from this as well as see reduced instances of soil erosion and crop damage.”

Changing weather patterns have been a source of concern for farmers in Karimnagar district. Sandhya Rani, 40, of Bommanpally village, has been growing cotton and maize on her five-acre land for the past 20 years with high investment and low returns. “These crops require more water but due to uncertain weather in the past few years, my yields have declined and I did not earn enough money to run my household,” she says, frankly.

Helpful during drought

Sandhya and her husband Laxmi Narayan, 57, were among the first farmers to join the project when it was launched here two years ago and were given 400 mango saplings free of cost which they planted in 22 rows.

“In between the mango saplings, we planted rows of maize. Diversifying our crops is very useful in the short term in case we face a drought situation,” remarks Laxmi Narayan. “Our land is flat and sloping and surrounded by hillocks, so we face soil erosion. But I have noticed that the flow of rainwater has reduced after we planted mango saplings and maize in rows as advised by the project staff.”

The project, entitled: ‘Sustainable Management of Tree in Cotton Production in Wetland Forest Ecosystem’ has been launched jointly by Grama Nava Nirman Samithi (GNNS), Krishi Vigyan Kendra (KVK), a farm science centre of the Indian Council of Agricultural Research (ICAR), based in Jammikunta, and the Centre for People’s Forestry (CPF), a local NGO. The technical support and training to farmers is being given by the Central Research Institute for Dryland Agriculture (CRIDA) and Worldwide Fund for Nature – India (WWF – India).

Interested farmers told the project team that due to low water level in their irrigation source (open wells or bore wells) they could only irrigate the main crops and would not be able to provide water for bund plantation. “Also, due to non-availability of labour as well as high labour costs, the farmers wanted maintenance support under the MGNREGA scheme for undertaking agro-forestry plantation,” says Sathish, Programme Officer, KVK. The local partners have coordinated with the Employment Guarantee Scheme (EGS) department to avail their pitting/digging services.

“In Bommanpally village we are working with 40 farmers in an area of 79 acres,” says Sathish. “At the start of the project, we were working with 500 farmers from 16 villages. Today, nearly 1,000 farmers from 26 villages are involved in agro-forestry.”

Bommanpally was chosen as the pilot village as it contains three major tanks with a large catchment area of 600 acres. In 2016, a severe attack of pink bollworm on cotton crops in this village adversely affected cotton farmers which is why many of them evinced interest in choosing agroforestry as a means to diversify their crops and minimise risks, explains Vamshi Krishna, Senior Manager of WWF – India’s Sustainable Agriculture Programme.

Tank-based irrigation systems are common in southern India through which water-intensive crops like paddy are grown in command areas. But these areas which are rain-fed are in general used for cotton cultivation. The erosion of top soil due to intensive cultivation practices results in increased siltation load and pollution in the downstream tanks, says Vamshi.

Technical support

Agro-forestry in catchment areas checks soil erosion, reduces silt and improves tree cover in these areas. “CRIDA at Hyderabad has been roped in to provide technical support for promotion of different agro-forestry models. Mango, teak, bamboo and subabul (a fast-growing tree) have been shortlisted by experts as suitable in the project areas, taking into consideration the soil type, rainfall and market opportunities,” he adds.

The project has benefited through the convergence of various schemes being run by the government agencies such as MNREGA, District Rural Development Agency (DRDA) and the concerned Forest Range Officer (FRO) for sanction of mango and teak plantation. Training for farmers in water stewardship, better cotton initiatives (BCI) and agro-forestry activities have been conducted by KVK scientists with technical support from WWF-India and CRIDA.

Farmers are optimistic that with mango plantations, their circumstances will brighten in three or four years. Bikshapathi Pettem, 50, of Manikyapur village, who received 243 mango saplings which he planted on three acres, says, “While most crops dry up during drought, mango saplings can sustain for 15-20 days without water. Trees can be rejuvenated.”

Under the EGS, farmers like Sandhya are given a monthly maintenance allowance of ₹5 per sapling. “We will get this amount for three years to ensure the survival of the mango plant,” she says. Other costs that are met by the project include transportation of saplings, loading and unloading charges, digging and pitting and fertiliser application.

The writer is a freelancer based in New Delhi

Published on January 11, 2020

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