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Trees on common lands – Protecting environment, improving livelihoods

Development interventions when integrated harmoniously with existing eco-systems can lead to tangible improvements in the living conditions and self sustained development of the rural people. Such activities can better equip local communities to improve their livelihoods in a sustainable manner while harnessing the resources in ways that meet both short and long term needs.
Arresting land degradation with tree planting
Arresting land degradation with tree planting

Desertification is a major environmental and socio-economic problem with negative effects on the livelihoods of two billion people, 90% of whom are living in developing countries. It is of utmost importance that local communities understand these threats and work towards broadly acceptable solutions.Restoration actions are increasingly being implemented throughout the world, supported by global policy commitments such as the Convention on Biological Diversity, the Kyoto Protocol, and the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change.

Rehabilitation of degraded abandoned lands is important from regional, national and global dimensions of sustainable rural development. Though numerous land rehabilitation projects have been implemented in the Himalayan region, the impact has, by and large, been poor because of inappropriate technologies, policies and implementation mechanisms. Hence, there is a need to develop some potential interventions which not only combat the process of desertification, but also enhance the sustainable rural livelihoods of inhabitants of Himalayan regions.

Uttarakhand has million acres of cultivable wasteland, which is lying idle and can be brought under orchard crops without curtailing the area under food crops. There is good scope in the Tehri Garhwal district for technology based improvement in the production of field crops, vegetables, fruits and other agriculture and allied livelihood activities.

Table 1. Fruit production and fruit bearing plants at three village clusters.
Species No. of fruit bearing plants Production/species (Kg)
Jamnikhal Manjgaon Hadiya Jamnikhal Manjgaon Hadiya
Apricot 23 19 21 217.35 532 22.75
Pear 27 25 29 52.65 1137.5 57.85
Plum 11 12 9 13.6 1440 11.6

Realising this, three village clusters i.e. Jamnikhal, Manjgaon and Hadiya in Tehri Garhwal were identified to implement the Sustainable Rural Livelihood Security project under National Agriculture Innovation Project (NAIP). The project was implemented by the Garhwal Unit of G.B. Pant Institute of Himalayan Environment and Development, to demonstrate livelihood based approach to combat desertification through establishment of horticulture models and value addition.

Planning the initiative

Meetings and discussions were held with local communities, researchers and scientists to develop and test options and strategies to address land degradation. During the process nearly 300 households in all five villages of three clusters were consulted. Transect walk surveys were conducted in December 2007 with the villagers to identify common waste lands. Based on people’s responses, around 9 hectares of village common lands for horticulture development were identified in all the three village clusters – 2.5 ha in Jamnikhal, 3.5ha in Hadiya and 3ha in Manjgaon.

To execute the activities, 5 groups of 30 farmers were formed in each village.

Developing a model

Wastelands converted to orchards
Wastelands converted to orchards

It was difficult for farmers to estimate the benefits that the project could bring in, as the results were not visible immediately. Initially, the farmers were only interested in earning income from the labour activities in developing the model. They got interested once the trees started bearing fruits.To develop horticulture prototype, land was cleared by uprooting bushes and unwanted thorny plants. Pits were dug and farmyard manure (FYM) was mixed in every pit before planting, to make it conducive for plant growth.

All plants were protected with barbed wire fencing. A total of 3900 seedlings of various horticultural crops i.e. Pear (Prunus persica) – 350, Apricot (Prunus armenica) – 1100, Walnut (Juglans regia) – 800, Apple (Malus sp) – 200 and Peach (Pyrus communis) – 400, and Plum (Prunus domestica) – 600, were planted in three village clusters.

To arrest the mortality of plant seedlings due to water scarcity, two cost effective water harvesting tanks with 12500 litres water storage capacity were constructed in Manjgaon and Jamnikhal village clusters. While Plum trees showed the maximum survival of 88.2%, Walnut (87.3%), Apple (87%), Apricot (83.8%), Peach (79%), and Pear (77.3%) trees had lesser survival rates.

The local people were fully involved in the planting activity. The men participated in land preparation and pit digging whereas the women were involved in weeding, irrigation and plantation work. The community took responsibility of watch and ward on rotation.

A cooperative was formed at the village level. The group members were responsible for harvesting and marketing the fruits. During fruiting season, the selected members of groups used to collect the fruits and sell the harvested fruits in the market. The returns were shared among the group members.

Farmers harvested around 775 kgs of apricot, 1240 kgs of pear and 1640 kgs of plum from the entire land area with the total value of fruit harvest being estimated at Rs. 1,99,620.

To enable farmers get better value for the produce, they were motivated to process the produce. Though villagers were aware of the value of the edibles, they didn’t know how to process them. Around 143 farmers who expressed interest in processing, were trained on the technical methods of processing and preparation of products. Experts from fruit processing institute were invited to demonstrate the process of value addition so that the villagers could easily adopt and improve their livelihoods.

The way forward

The pilot initiative helped in demonstrating the value and potential of these horticulture models in terms of improving livelihoods as well as arresting land degradation. The degraded/wasteland converted into horticulture orchards has helped in stabilizing soil, improving soil fertility and also enhancing carbon sequestration. Increased tree canopy has provided habitats for birds and other micro and macro fauna.

Most importantly, the initiative has empowered the community in self management of resources. Villagers are now well aware of the basics of developing orchards. They have started to adopt and replicate horticulture models in their abandoned lands. Also, other people who are not part of this initiative are showing keen interest to take up horticulture. More than 500 horticulture plant seedlings were distributed to the interested farmers of three village clusters. Farmers were guided to get help from different agencies like National Horticulture Board, Block Development Office etc., who also provide funds for such activities.

It is hoped that the present activities of the project will add to the growing knowledge base about horticulture development and may be helpful to policy planners and developmental agencies working in the area of rural development. Such activities can better equip local communities to improve their livelihoods in a sustainable manner while harnessing the resources in ways that meet both short and long term needs. Project interventions when integrated harmoniously with existing eco-systems can lead to tangible improvements in the living conditions and self sustained development of the rural people.


The authors wish to thank the Director, G.B. Pant Institute of Himalayan Environment and Developemt, Kosi-Katarmal, Almora for providing facilities and National Agriculture Innovation Project (NAIP), Component-3, ICAR, New Delhi for providing financial support.


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Benayas, J.M., Newton, A.C., Diaz, A. and Bullock, J.M., Enhancement of biodiversity and ecosystem services by ecological restoration: a meta-analysis, 2009, Science 325: 1121–1124.

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D. Dhyani, R.K. Maikhuri and L.S. Rawat

Deepak Dhyani
E-mail: drddhyani@gmail.com

R. K. Maikhuri
E-mail: rkmaikhuri@rediffmail.com

L. S. Rawat
Email: rawat_lakhpat@rediffmail.com

G.B. Pant Institute of Himalayan Environment and Development,
Garhwal Unit, P.O. Box 92, Srinagar (Garhwal) 246 174, India.