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Agroforestry as an avenue for enhanced livelihoods, lower ungulate-crop raiding and PES in central I

~ by Satvik Parashar Since the last few decades, biodiversity conservation measures in India have largely been dependent on the creation of state-controlled protected areas (PAs). Despite the popularity, PAs in India face many conservation challenges that include fragmentation, insufficient size, limited connectivity, development pressure, close proximity to human population etc. Additionally, there can be resentment among some local populations in these areas as they are seldom part of the decision making processes that directly affect them. Inclusive strategies such as ecotourism and biodiversity-friendly agriculture are proving to be more sustainable steps in conservation. A recent paper focuses on the effectiveness of voluntary conservation initiatives on private agricultural lands such as agroforestry. For the involvement of landowners in agroforestry, the influence of factors such as 1) Program Design, 2) Land Characteristics, Demographic and socio-economic characteristics of landowners, 3) Socio-psychological variables of landowners has been studied in this paper.

Figure 1 :Program Factors and Landowner Characteristics that shape Landowner Preferences 

​Pench National Park and Tiger Reserve (PTR) in Madhya Pradesh, India was chosen as the study area. 602 farmer surveys were conducted to the west of the national highway in 500 km² of the park buffer area (figure 2).

Figure 2 Study Area Map

For the implementation of the agroforestry program, landowners’ perspective was taken into account with respect to three factors: “1) Land: the percentage of land to be allocated to agroforestry, 2) Years:  The number of years of program involvement, 3) Payment: the amount of payment provided per acre of land per year.” Analysing the program design, most landowners preferred to adopt some form of agroforestry, rather than continuing with existing farming techniques with no intervention. Major motivations for them was the provision of fuel, fodder and additional income source. Most respondents did not have concerns about costs associated with land management and labour while adopting agroforestry. The most prominent concern was the lack of knowledge and irrigation to support the system.  Only 12% of the respondents chose neither of the agroforestry programs and preferred the status quo (their current agriculture practice). Their disagreement was due to insufficient incentive for agroforestry, non-suitability of their land for conservation efforts and increased probability of conflicts with wildlife. In general, landowners preferred enrollment for a shorter percentage of land and a limited contract duration. Everyone chose to adopt the least restrictive program in the beginning, and if the results were favourable, then they would enrol more land for a longer duration in the future. For the payment, the likelihood of enrolment increased as the monetary incentive was raised. The average reservation payment i.e. the minimum annual payment that one would accept to implement agroforestry, was found to be Rs 66,000/acre/year.

Photo credits: Dr. Mahi Puri

As far as socio-economic and demographic factors were concerned, people most likely to enrol a high percentage of their land for agroforestry were the ones with high school education and experience of crop raids by herbivores. The second group to enrol a significant percentage of land were the ones with high agriculture earnings, small families and close proximity of their agricultural land to the forest. Longer programs with less land enrolment were preferred by households with small earnings. For the socio-psychological factors, respondents who believed that they would benefit from agroforestry in terms of fuelwood, fodder etc. were most likely to choose the alternative practice. Other factors that motivated households to choose agroforestry was the suitability of landholding size for the practice, support from family and the ones with inadequate access to irrigation (as payment from agroforestry would help them build irrigation infrastructure). Their other fear was interference, control and illegal acquisition of their land by the forest department, indicating that how lack of trust in government impedes voluntary participation in conservation efforts. Instead of mere financial incentives, “Self-efficacy, reinforced by the availability of resources, training, and social capital, was found to be effective in increasing voluntary adoption of agroforestry.” Sustainable conservation strategies involve holistic community participation, be it land use, capacity building and any decision-making process that may affect the livelihood of local people. “Well-designed payments for ecosystem services (PES) may voluntarily engage landowners in land-use practices such as agroforestry that secure biodiversity and ecosystem services.” The cultivated agroecosystems provides an economic value of approximately Rs. 71,000 per acre per year as ecosystem service. This is close to the reservation payment of Rs. 66,000 per acre per year that was found in this study, validating the practical feasibility of PES in reference to this study. The study, however, highlights that PES should vary based on the household’s financial and resource constraints, meaning its effectiveness will depend on the flexibility of program design and capacity building. Sustainable conservation approaches, which focuses on private landowner willingness to become conservation stewards will help in determining landscapes with high potential for conservation in conjunction with local support. There is a need for the adoption of a new conservation approach in India, similar to the one adopted in this study, which recognizes the role of farmers in conservation and help in creating resilient landscapes that support biodiversity, while also preserving rural livelihoods. Original Paper: Puri, M., Pienaar, E.F., Karanth, K.K., Loiselle, B.A. (2021). Food for thought—examining farmers’ willingness to engage in conservation stewardship around a protected area in central India. Ecology and Society. 26(2):46.

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