Pineapple-based agroforestry, traditionally practised by the ethnic ‘Hmar’ community in southern Assam, can be a sustainable alternative to jhum cultivation for Northeast India, revealed a new study. It will provide twin solutions for climate change and biodiversity loss, it said.
Jhum cultivation, also called swidden agriculture, the dominant agricultural practice in the region, has become unsustainable. This is primarily due to the reduced fallow cycle resulting in depletion of soil fertility, severe soil erosion, and low agronomic productivity, a release said.
“Hence, Northeast India and many south Asian countries are shifting to agroforestry and high-value cropping systems from traditional jhum practices over the past decades, which are considered sustainable and profitable alternatives,” the release added.
Researchers are looking for agroforestry options that would also offer better carbon storage potential and tree diversity to couple this with solutions for challenges of climate change and biodiversity loss.
Pineapple agroforestry systems (PAFS) are dominant forms of land use in the Indian Eastern Himalayas and other parts of Asia and are mostly grown in association with multipurpose trees. The ethnic “Hmar” tribe in southern Assam have been cultivating pineapple for centuries. “At present, they practice the indigenous PAFS for both home consumption and boosting economic benefits. They have applied traditional knowledge to evolve a unique agroforestry system,” it said.
The recent study carried out by the Department of Ecology and Environmental Science, Assam University, Silchar, with support from the Climate Change Program Division of the Department of Science & Technology, GoI, assessed the tree diversity and ecosystem carbon storage through traditional agroforestry system practised by the local communities. It showed that the system they practice maintains a steady ecosystem carbon stock while reducing land-use related carbon emissions and providing communities with additional co-benefits.
The study by a research team led by Arun Jyoti Nath, Associate Professor in the Department of Ecology and Environmental Science, Assam University, Silchar, was conducted in the ethnic villages in the Cachar district, Assam, part of the Himalayan foothills and the Indo-Burma centre of a global biodiversity hotspot. They aimed to explore changes in tree diversity and transition of dominant tree species from swidden agriculture through different aged PAFS. The changes in the carbon biomass and ecosystem carbon storage in tree and pineapple components from swidden agriculture through different aged PAFS were also noted.
“It was found that farmers apply traditional knowledge for tree selection through prior knowledge and long-term farming experience. Additionally, fruit trees such as Areca catechu and Musa species are planted on farm boundaries as live fences. The live fence reduces soil erosion and acts as a windbreak and shelterbelt,” the release said.
A combination of economically essential trees like Albiziaprocera, Parkiatimoriana, Aquilariamalaccensis, and fruit trees like papaya, lemon, guava, litchi, and mango with pineapple caters both domestic consumption and retail all year round.
The upper canopy trees regulate light, enhance biomass inputs, and increase farm diversity, resulting in soil fertility and improved plant nutrition. The tree-related management practices promote the conservation of the farmers’ favoured indigenous fruit trees. In the older pineapple agroforestry farms, farmers introduce rubber trees.
The above article has been published from a wire agency with minimal modifications to the headline and text.