5 June 2020 : ‘Biodiversity’ involves 8 million plant and animal species, the ecosystems that house them, and the genetic diversity among them. 5th June, World Environment Day observed by the UN since 1972, provides a global platform to focus efforts on pressing environmental issues. Bushfires to locust infestations and the global disease pandemic of COVID-19, shows now more than ever, our intricate interdependence on the environment.
In keeping with this year’s theme, ‘biodiversity’ and the UN’s campaign, ‘Time for Nature’ the CGIAR Research Program on Climate Change, Agriculture and Food Security (CCAFS) CCAFS-South Asia, with IRRI, World Agroforestry (ICRAF) and private sector partners, have launched a campaign to plant at least 10,000 trees in 2020. (See Call to Action video here)
Drawing focus on the need for building biodiverse food systems Dr. Paresh Bhaskar, Science Officer at CCAFS said, “CCAFS is very enthused about this initiative on World Environment Day. Each one of us has a role to play to raise awareness on the critical interlinkages between climate change and agriculture. The welfare of our planet, our current and future generations depends on our forest cover.”
Biodiverse, mixed farming helps to ensure that a sustainable transformation takes place in how we produce our food. Speaking on the role of agroforestry systems, Dr. Sheetal Sharma, Nutrient Management Scientist at IRRI said, “IRRI, as part of the CCAFS program is working on developing sustainable agroforestry systems for farmers to help them adapt to climate change, thereby ensuring environmental health and sustainability”.
Agroforestry plays an important role in India, where trees and forests are critical in ensuring sustained agricultural production, including animal husbandry and fisheries. India’s total forest and tree cover stands at 807,276 square kilometres, that’s nearly 24.5% of the country’s total geographical area. Forestry inevitably has an indispensable role in improving India’s food and nutrition security.
The importance of site-specific agroforestry systems to enhance conservation of biodiversity and sustainable land management was emphasized by Dr.Javed Rizvi, Director-South Asia Regional Program, at World Agroforestry (ICRAF). “Agroforestry is a unique strategy to deal with both the adaptation and mitigation to climate change, and is the single-most powerful means to naturally sequester carbon and support availability of clean air for the 7.8 billion population of our world” he said.
In rice production landscapes for instance, models of agroforestry i.e. growing crops and trees on the same land, can play an important role in rejuvenating less fertile soils by transforming microclimate linkages between soil, plants and microbes, and boosting climatic resilience and sustainability. Site-specific, rice-based agroforestry systems are practised in India successfully. For instance in rain-fed areas of Madhya Pradesh, Acacia Nilotica trees, which are nitrogen-fixing trees (Also locally known as Babul trees) when planted with rice fields of smallholder farmers result in higher cash returns in the short-term (10-year) harvest cycles of trees; while also encouraging optimal engagement of farm labour, as compared to rice monocultures. Likewise, Dalbergia Sissoo (Locally known as Shisham or ‘Sissoo’) is a multipurpose nitrogen-fixing tree species and a valuable source for timber, medicine and fodder. Sissoo-rice based agroforestry systems can be ideal for upgrading degraded lands, given its extensive root systems and ability to fix atmospheric nitrogen. Transitioning from conventional monocultures to agroforestry systems can help build better and more sustainable rice and rice-based agricultural systems, while enhancing farmer’s welfare.