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20 Tree-based farming systems for poverty alleviation in semi-arid tropics - an Indian experience - C. Doreswamy[27]


This paper deals with two case studies of successful implementation of a tree-based farming system for poverty alleviation in the semi-arid tropics of southern Karnataka. Dryland agriculture is like a gamble because of irregular and scanty rainfall coupled with frequent droughts, which is a common phenomenon in semi-arid regions. The implications of this are many-drastic reduction in livelihood opportunities for the local populace, poverty and consequently seasonal and permanent migration. It is against this background that BAIF has successfully integrated the tree component in the agriculture through people participation that has changed the socio-economic status of the families, including increase in overall agriculture production, year-round local self-employment, sufficient fuelwood for cooking, fodder for livestock, biomass for composting, and security of drinking water. Livestock interventions such as goat, sheep and improved cattle rearing are integrated. Selfhelp groups promoted in the villages have helped in capacity building of the community and access to credit. Moreover this model has been replicated in several locations by other development organizations.

FROM POVERTY TO PROSPERITY-The Manjunathapura experience

A unique experiment of catchment treatment using vegetative cover has been carried out at Manjunathapura village in Tumkur District. In a microcatchment of 113 ha, tree-based farming systems have been promoted with active involvement of 70 families. Manjunathapura is only one among the 50 villages spread over ten districts wherein a continuous process of socio-economic transformation has been initiated through the promotion of Tree-based Farming Systems (TBFS).

Project period: 1991-1999
Implemented by: BAIF Development Research Foundation (Karnataka)
Project location: 10 districts in the state of Karnataka

The project objectives

· Increase the income of the project participants.

· Reduce the dependency of the project participants on existing forest resources.

· Decrease the dependency of the project participants on casual labour or out-migration.

· Demonstrate the feasibility of intensive afforestation and agroforestry models for possible adoption by other agencies in rural development programmes.

Background of project

The Government of Karnataka had allotted C and D class revenue wastelands to selected families belonging to the socio-economically backward section of the society. The initial appraisals conducted as part of the project revealed that these families have not been able to make optimum use of the land for agricultural production due to poor soil productivity, lack of technology and resources. Hence it was jointly decided by the government, the sponsor and BAIF that the project will focus on developing such degraded land so that it can achieve poverty alleviation of these backward families.

Area description: southern transition zone
Rainfall: 550-600 mm
Peak temperature: 32 to 35°C
Slope: 2 to 3% (65 ha)
4 to 5% (35 ha)
5% & above: (13 ha)
Soil: red-sandy with pebbles
Soil pH: 6.5 to 7.5
Soil depth: 20 to 100 cm
Socio-economic conditions: Economically very poor, belonging to very backward communities

Manjunathapura-an introduction

Manjunathapura is a relatively recent settlement. In 1963 five families came to settle on this governmentowned land. Gradually more and more families from different villages and different castes joined them in search of a better life. In the early 1980s the government, however, decided it wanted the people to leave the land. The village, which had increased seven-fold by that time, fought back and demanded land rights. They formed a society and in 1981 they received 318 acres in the name of that society (the ‘SC and ST Joint Farming Society’). The individual families had only usufruct rights over the land they cultivated. The issues that existed were multi-faceted.

Socio-economic issues

Project activities and output

The tree-based farming model developed at Manjunathapura:

Need for in situ rainwater harvesting and conservation

The project realized very early that in situ rainwater harvesting is the only viable option for greening vast stretches of wastelands. A very innovative approach of dug-out farm ponds in individual fields was adopted to ensure maximum percolation of rainwater. A pond measuring 30’ x 30’ x 10’ was dug at an appropriate location, which also created sufficient labour employment for the people. A pond of this size can harvest approximately 250 000 litres of water at a single filling. Water harvested in these ponds was used for protective watering of the plantations established. The ponds also helped increase the soil moisture regime in the area. At several locations the farmers have also reported increased water levels in their open wells and bore-wells as a result of farm ponds in the upper catchment.

Participatory implementation

To ensure ownership of the project by the participants several strategies were adopted from the beginning of the project. Some of these are:

People’s nurseries

The project in principle had decided in the beginning that all forestry seedlings required for the project are to be raised by the project participants themselves. Accordingly, arrangements were made to set up nurseries which were managed either by individuals or by groups. This process ensured that the project participants were empowered to select and raise the species of their own choice. The decentralized locations of these nurseries also helped to ensure timely plantations to avoid transportation of seedlings from a long distance. This has contributed sufficient income in lean seasons particularly for women.

Formation of self-help groups (SHGs)

SHGs were formed as project implementation mechanisms. They played a crucial role in the planning and distribution of inputs, execution of community activities such as establishing farm ponds, mobilization of savings and credit, important decision-making regarding control of grazing, etc. These groups also served as sharing platforms. The groups also promoted social bondage among the participants and encouraged voluntary participation such as common harvesting and other activities, which are highly labour oriented.

Groups also served as a platform for ensuring cooperation among participants in sharing assets such as bullocks and bullock-carts for carrying water and community assets. The groups managed the project-based inputs such as drums, bullock-carts, sprayers and donkeys (for watering).

Participants’ contribution

The project inputs were so designed that the participants make substantial contribution towards the execution of the project activities. In addition to continuing their traditional agricultural inputs into the agroforestry block, there was substantial labour contribution for pitting, planting, watering and aftercare of plantations. Wherever the community water resources could be identified, mechanisms were established to share this precious input among all the participants.

Individual ownership at community/village level

The earlier experience elsewhere of community management of trees which has a direct effect on poverty alleviation has not been very encouraging. With this background, BAIF emphasized on family-level management of trees at a community level. Individual ownership beyond doubt has proved to promote a sense of ownership and involvement of the families thereby ensuring better care and protection.

Results and impacts

The successful incorporation of tree component into the farming systems in this programme has resulted in visibly improved protection to the area. Some of the visible results of the interventions are as follows:

Lessons learned

During the course of the project implementation, given the pilot nature of the project, several lessons have been learnt which can guide in designing and implementing similar projects in future. Some of the very important lessons learnt are as follows:

Why tree-based farming systems?

The dryland agriculture situation is becoming more and more burdensome because of the rising cost of inputs and uncertain monsoons. Precious land resources remain vacant for most part of the year as most of the farmers can take only one crop of about 3-4 months duration. This situation results in forced migration for small and marginal farmers during off-seasons leading to related social problems such as isolation of families and depravation. Tree-based farming system (agroforestry) can to a great extent come to the rescue of small marginal farmers and help them to design a system of production which is spread throughout the year with least external inputs. The benefits of this system can be broadly listed as:

Hence this model of tree-based farming has been designed to cover all aspects of farming to meet the farmers’ specific needs.

VEGETATING WATERSHEDS-The Mylanahalli experience

The constant search for new and better alternatives to address the issues of poverty through natural resource management has resulted in the introduction of many innovative technologies and approaches. The treebased approach to watershed development is one of them. Intensive vegetation across the watershed, combined with a network of farm ponds in strategic locations, has been able to bring about tremendous transformation in the socio-economic life of the local community.

In conventional models of watershed development, construction of check-dams on the drainage line is the major focus. This approach is costlier and energy intensive. Moreover, it does not benefit farmers in the upland from where water flows down carrying fertile soil. This has led to many equity issues in watershed development. It is against this background that BAIF experimented with this novel approach to watershed development.

This model integrates the traditional concept of locating dug-out structures at strategic locations with issues concerned with on-farm biodiversity and sustainable use of natural resources. This work was initially carried out in 1000 ha of watershed area in Mylanahalli and three surrounding villages in the state of Karnataka, India.

Project area description:
Area covered: 1000 ha
Average rainfall: 550 to 700 mm
Soil type: red-sandy with high porosity
Main crops: coconut, finger millet

Salient features of the model:

  • intensive vegetative cover to control soil erosion;

  • focus on catchment area treatment against that on the drainage line treatment in the conventional model;

  • excavation of dug-out farm ponds at the rate of one farm pond for every 2 ha;

  • dryland horticulture to increase returns from land and provide insurance against crop failures;

  • productive utilization of farm pond mounds with plantations of herbal, vegetable and fruit species;

  • integration of other activities such as livestock development, fishery, bee keeping, in situ organic composting and drudgery reduction activities, etc.;

  • productive livehedge fencing that

    - prevents stray cattle grazing

    - acts as windbreak

    - adds to biomass production, and

    - promotes biodiversity

  • use of ferrocement for check-dam construction;

  • community’s participation in planning and execution.

Project activities and output

To encourage in situ harvesting of rainwater for the promotion of sustainable dryland farming systems the following activities have been undertaken:


It is estimated that in one rainy season up to 6 lakh litres of water percolate from a pond of 30 x 30 x 10 ft size. At present, there are 350 such farm ponds in the project area.


The project has become a milestone in the approaches taken to watershed development. Its success has invited large-scale attention from various interest groups such as farmers, government departments, voluntary development agencies and research institutes. Consequently, some of the recently designed projects by other development agencies have heavily drawn on this model.

Rationale for this novel approach

Ecological issues

Maintenance of good subsoil moisture for a longer time can stimulate and promote living organisms in the soil. The mounds of soil formed around the ponds are planted with diverse plants to meet the farmer’s dayto- day requirements. The mounds formed are utilized for plantations of medicinal herbs such as Aloe vera and Witania somnifer, which can give a return of up to Rs.2000 per pond per year. Many vegetable and fruit plants are planted on the mounds; this helps the harvesting of substantial quantities of fruits and vegetables for the families’ requirements. The water available within a farmer’s land brings about a change in the behavioral aspects of the farmer. He/she tends to stay longer in his/her field with useful livestock. This binding of family members to their land will result in an improved farming system taking shape slowly but surely.

The ponds attract birds of diverse nature. This further stimulates the onset of a series of developments, which collectively can be termed as pond ecology. Ponds located on the relatively lower reaches of the catchment tend to retain water for a longer time even in summer. These ponds can very effectively be used for small-scale fisheries. The effect of 350 farm ponds in an area of about 1000 ha can itself bring about a relative change in the humidity levels reducing the intensity of aridity in the microclimate.

Energy issues

Water from the catchment normally flows down to the valley with considerable speed carrying silt. If this water is to be lifted for watering plants/crops in the upper reaches, either manually, using bullock power, or by pumping, the energy required will be enormous. This gravitational energy can very well be utilized to make water percolate in the upper reaches itself. By providing a very slight gradient in locating the ponds in the same contour we can conduct the water across the watershed horizontally. This can ensure that water stays in the upper reaches for a longer time.

With integration of livestock and vegetation, animal dung and other biomass are available in abundance. This opens new opportunities for optimum utilization of energy through promotion of biogas plants and fuelefficient smokeless chulahs. In addition to promotion of biogas plants at the household level for cooking purposes, such initiatives can also be made to promote electricity generation for purposes such as illumination and water supply. This is very relevant in regions where supply is scarce and erratic.

Economics of fishery in farm ponds

  • Size of the pond: 8 x 8 x 3 m = 192 m3
    (50% of this is taken as effective capacity)

  • Volume required per fish: 1 m3

  • Total No. of fish per pond: Approx. 80

  • consider 15% mortality: Approx. 65 will survive
    (Each fish can weigh approx. 2 kg after 6 to 8 months (common carp variety))

  • Total fish catch: 120 kg (approx.)

  • Market rate: Rs.25 per kg

  • Total value: Rs.3000/

  • Expenditure (approx.) (feed,: Rs.1000 labour, fingerlings, etc)

  • Net profit: Rs.2000/

Distribution of water

The water harvested at the structures in the nalla such as check-dams is normally not very democratically distributed. The people in the upper reaches of the catchment, where water is more required, almost get no share in this water harvested. Very few people located close to the structures derive benefits.

The series of ponds located in the upper reaches of the catchment help to maintain good soil moisture levels throughout the watershed. This also encourages good water percolation for groundwater recharging. The check-dams are fed even during the drier periods with the seepage water in the valleys. This seepage tends to increase year after year as most of the subsoil strata gets saturated with water during the first or second year of execution of these percolation structures. During subsequent years, most of the percolated water tends to seep out. This is very much determined by the nature of the soils and the underground strata.

There is very little individual initiative from farmers for the maintenance of community structures such as check-dams. The individual farmer maintains the ponds located on his land, though treated as community assets. The silt trap is regularly desilted after every rain. The silt accumulated in the pond also provides valuable material for his land, which does not require much effort for transportation.

Critical observations

[27] BAIF Institute for Rural Development, Tiptur, Karnataka, India; E-mail: [email protected]

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