Agroforestry of Ladakh

Prof R D Gupta

Among the few cold arid zones of the world, cold arid zone of India is represented by Leh and Kargil districts of Ladakh Province of Jammu and Kashmir, and Lahaul and Spiti, and Kinnaur districts of Himachal Pradesh.

Climate of the old arid zone is characterised by cool summer and extremely chilling winter. Mean annual precipitation is very low ranging from 80 to 300 mm which is mostly in the form of snow. The weather invariably remains dry with as many as 310 clear sky days with relative humidity varying from 20 to 40 percent.

Despite harsh climate, scanty rainfall, long severe winter, thin atmosphere with poor oxygen content, accompanied with steeper to very steep slope and coarse textured soils, agriculture is the main occupation of the people of the cold arid zone. However, due to extreme aridity and low temperature during most part of the year, lack of vegetation causing extensive soil erosion in the region, is a matter of concern for cultivating subsistence of various crops grown by the people.

Because of harsh climate natural forests are also limited. These are sporadically present near banks of the rivers, streams and glacial melt outlets. Although man made forestry is dominant yet the forest area is small which can not improve the climate of the area. The people of the area have now realised the importance of the forests in ameliorating, stabilising and rendering the climate more conducive not only for humans but also for animals and plants. Necessity of forests is felt more so by the people of ladakh, who saw the trail of destruction during mid nights of August 4 and 5, and 5 and 6, 2010 with a cloud bursts at Cholamsar area (Leh) and flash floods, causing a great loss to human beings, houses, bus-stands, offices, vehicles, roads etc.

Although a number of attempts have been made for planting trees under Watershed Development Projects and Desert Development Programme yet it would be much better if priority be given to Agroforestry owing to limited natural resources soil, water, growing season. Moreover, the cold arid areas being remote, remain cut off from the rest of the country for major part of the year, so agroforests in the vicinity will fulfill the needs of the people in respect of fuel, fodder, and timber and also make the climate more healthier and salubrious.

Agroforestry has been an old land use practice since long, especially in the temperate and tropical regions though the term has been coined recently. It generally refers to growing of both agricultural/horticultural/olexicultural crops and perennials woody species to fulfill the basic requirements of food, fodder, fuel and small quantity of timber etc.

Agroforestry systems : In agroforestry systems there are both ecological and economical interactions between different components. In cold arid zone, however, the trees are generally grown along the field bunds and water channels because of high wind and water erosion. Some of the protective higher yielding agroforestry systems, are: silviculture system, Agriculture Silviculture, Silvi-Pastoral system, Agriculture-Silviculture-pastoral System, Horticulture -Pastoral System and Multipurpose Forest Tree Production System.

i) In Ladakh region, poplar and willow are the main timber trees grown under silviculture-agroforestry system. Maharaja Gulab Singh and his General Zoravar Singh, carried the pioneer work of their plantation in almost every village of Ladakh after its annexation with Jammu in 1840. There are about 20 species of local willows and 10 those of poplar growing at different attitudes of Ladakh. Out of them, some worth mentioning are : Populus nigra, P alba, P ciliata, Salix alba, S excelsa, S. angustifolia

ii) In agriculture-silviculture agroforestry system, a leguminous plant alfalfa, is grown in the dense plantation of poplar (P. nigra var italica) locally known as yulat. This system of agroforestry is very popular in Ladakh.

iii) In silviculture-pastoral system, plantations are managed for producing fuel wood as well as rearing of animals. This agroforestry system can be practised in high altitude pastures like Changthang of Ladakh. Caragana Hippophae and willows can be grown in the pastures.

iv) Agriculture – silviculture pastoral agroforesty system is designed for the concurrent production of agricultural crops, forest trees and rearing of domestic animals. Between the spaces of poplar and willows, wheat or barley is grown. Alfalfa can also be grown. Sometimes alongwith poplar and willow trees, Robinia species is also grown, the loppings of which can be used as fodder. Thus, this system of agroforestry provides food, fodder, fuel wood and timber.

v) Horticulture – pastoral-system, consists of growing of horticultural crops and raising of animals. As for instance, in the fields of alfalfa fruit trees like appricot or apple are grown.

In place of alfalfa, foreage grasses/ and or oat plants and mustard are plantated.

vi) In lower agricultural zone of Ladakh, the plantation of poplar and grape is done.

Between the spaces of poplar and grape, ablafla is grown. This agroforestry is designated by the term horticulture silviculture pastoral system.

vii) Raising of fast growing forest tree species particularly on gompa or village lands, has become very essential for cold arid zone for providing timber, fodder, fuel wood and fixing atmospheric nitrogen in soil. For this purpose, planting of Robinia pseudocacia has proved useful in cold and zone of Ladakh and Lahaul Spiti. This is called multipurpose forest tree production system.

Lucerne, a perennial leguminous forage crop is suitable for cultivation in irrigated areas and can be grown during April.


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