Industry players and Assam forest department officials on Friday agreed that a partnership between the two bodies would help in harnessing the potential of agroforestry for the larger benefit of Assam and its communities.

Agroforestry as a sector has the potential to enhance livelihoods in rural communities by providing a variety of food, fodder, and tree products, which can increase food and nutrition security, generate income, and alleviate poverty in Assam. 

Realizing the importance and role of agroforestry in promoting sustainable development of the most vulnerable communities of the state, Assam Chief Minister Himanta Biswa Sarma brought in a cabinet memorandum and notified the creation of the Assam Agroforestry Development Board in December 2021.

The workshop was a joint initiative between Assam Project on Forest and Biodiversity Conservation (APFBC) Society and Assam Agroforestry Development Board to understand needs and challenges faced by the forest-fringe communities and industry players in implementing and scaling up agroforestry practices in the state.

Chandra Mohan Patowary, minister for Environment and Forest, Friday presided over the state’s first-of-its-kind multi-stakeholder consultation workshop on Agroforestry in Guwahati, as part of the government’s priority of building sustainable livelihoods for forest-fringe communities, achieving the national goal of 33 per cent tree cover, mitigating climate change, and delivering on the SDGs.

“Agroforestry can provide a wide range of environmental goods and services that are in keeping with the goal of long-term conservation planning of the state. Enabling local level replication of the successful models would provide opportunities to integrate productivity and profitability with environmental stewardship and enhance the well-being of our local communities,” Patowary said. 

“Convergence between the forestry and agriculture sectors would help the objectives mentioned in India’s National Agroforestry Policy to effectively translate into action,” he added.

The consultation workshop brought together key stakeholders of the agroforestry sector, such as the government, big industry players, forest-fringe villagers, and financial institutions, and facilitated the exchange of knowledge and best practices. 

Women representatives from local forest management participated in good numbers, which is essential for the success of agroforestry projects. 

A part of the workshop was aimed at facilitating more women to pursue financial independence through the adoption of agroforestry practices, where the scope to display and put into operation traditional and local knowledge, gathered both tangibly and intangibly over the years, could be used for economic and social prosperity in their households. 

Ravi Shankar Prasad,  Addl Chief Secretary, Department of Environment & Forests, Government of Assam, K. S. P. V. Pavan Kumar,  Addl. Principal Chief Conservator of Forest, & Project Director of the Assam Project on the APFBC Society, and other senior officials from key government departments participated in the event.

Major industry players from ITC, Orient Paper Mills, and Greenply, among others, representatives of Joint Forest Management Committees (JFMCs), financial institutions like NABARD and Dr Chandrashekhar M. Biradar, Country Director (India) and Chief of Party – TOFI, The Centre for International Forestry Research (CIFOR), and several NGOs also took part in the workshop and identified solutions, as well as successful agroforestry models that could be replicated in Assam.

“The workshop was great an initiative. Investments in forestry-agroforestry are growing with the recognition of the need of the hour, nourishment, carbon neutral/-ve, wellbeing, climate-friendly, environmentally sustainable, and economically profitable. Scaling up Agroforestry practices in Assam can return 8-13 times more profit than conventional agriculture with peace of mind and contentment of actions,” Dr Chandrashekhar M. Biradar, Country Director (India) and Chief of Party – TOFI, The Centre for International Forestry Research (CIFOR), said. 

“The workshop was a great exchange platform. As end-users, industries play a critical role in the promotion of agroforestry products, value chain and technology development, and establishing market linkages. By coming together, we can solve the challenges and increase productivity and profitability in the sector,” J. K. Jain, Vice President, Greenply Industries, said. 

“We are happy that we could participate in the multistakeholder consultation workshop. This workshop set a platform for us to play a central role in food production and value chains. Agroforestry will have a positive impact on our empowerment, participation and rights to economic and natural resources,” Madhusmita Rabha, representing Nagaon Joint Forest Management Committee (Kamrup West Division), said. 

Madhusmita and her community make bamboo-based jewellery.

“One of the major focus areas of the government is to stimulate growth in the rural economy as agriculture is the mainstay of the state. Therefore, investment in the agriculture and allied sectors, including agroforestry, would help Assam achieve its ‘vision’ of doubling the farm income and pave the way for rural empowerment shortly,” Dr Sonali Ghosh, CEO of Assam Agroforestry Development Board, said, adding that work on implementing agroforestry models in the state would commence soon.

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