Course:CONS370/2019/Assessing and contrasting approaches to agroforestry by Indigenous and Tribal Peoples vs. the Forest Department in Kerala, India

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Diverse agroforestry systems that integrate the benefits of timber production, agriculture, and livestock have traditionally dominated land-use patterns in India's state of Kerala[1][2].  This diversity of use has been imperative in developing small-scale socio-economic systems, while also increasing the ecological diversity of forested land[3]. Due to a robust colonial influence and rapidly growing demands for food, agroforestry practices implemented by Kerala’s Tribal peoples were largely suppressed by government and forest managers throughout the twentieth century[4]. However, new recognition of Indigenous knowledge has led to a resurgence of Tribal peoples’ forest usage[5].  This knowledge contends that by practising agroforestry, it is still possible to meet the food, fodder, and fuel requirements of a growing population[4].  Evolving from an era where Tribal peoples’ knowledge was regarded as inferior, land tenure, forest rights, and other factors affecting agroforestry are subject to change and in support of Kerala’s Indigenous and Tribal peoples[1]. This case study documents Indigenous and Tribal peoples’ agroforestry practices and practices advocated by the Forest Department of Kerala, today and in the past. It will serve to illuminate the need for respect and reciprocity between the two parties, and the importance of integrating traditional knowledge into policy and governance.  


Figure 1: Political Map of India highlighting Kerala in red. Image courtesy of Wikimedia Commons.

Kerala is in the Western Ghats of India and is a diverse and unique environment ecologically, socially, and culturally. Kerala is on the southwestern portion of peninsular India [6] . It experiences a high quantity of rain and is a tropical environment, making it a more viable habitat for many plant species[6]. Kerala is included in the Western Ghats-Sri Lanka classification as one of twenty-five internationally recognized biodiversity hotspots[7]. The state covers only 1.18% of the total land area of India, but its plant biodiversity and forested area both far exceed this figure as it holds 2.57% of India’s total forested area[8][9]. The responsibility of maintaining and supporting the species held within such a small portion of land is very high in Kerala because of its large quantity of species per area. Kerala is recognized as an important player in the spice industry as a wide variety of spices, including black pepper, cardamom, turmeric, nutmeg and many more are grown there [10]. Forest management is not only made more complex by the state's high biodiversity and variance across landscapes, it is also complicated by the state’s demographics. Kerala is the most densely populated state in India per area-squared, which is significant considering that India is one of the most heavily populated regions in the world[6].

Figure 2: Nutmeg mace, an important spice commonly cultivated in Kerala homegardens. Image courtesy of Wikimedia Commons

Kerala was previously distinguished by three regions known as Travancore, Cochin, and Malabar until 1956. Before 1956, forested land was managed by the three separate regions but is now all considered Kerala state and contains 14 districts [11]. Before British colonization, Kerala was relatively undisturbed and free from major human modification. Tribal peoples lived on this land and derived sustenance from its resources. For the most part the isolation due to the peaks of the Western Ghats and the 44 rivers that run through the area prevented any major commercialization of resources from outsiders[10]. Dutch and Portuguese colonizers commercialized a few specific goods, but it was not until the British invasion that the structure of India was altered significantly[10]. Post-colonization, the forests of the Western Ghats were cleared and burned and planted to produce crops that were highly valuable, such as coffee[10]. As British influence grew, so did the demand for forest products from Kerala. British rule reinforced development of transport, primarily trains, and this required a large amount of timber[10]. As spices were exported more frequently, Kerala’s reputation as a spice supplier became more accepted and a global demand followed. In 1882, the Forest Department was decentralized and in 1921 forest administration was given to provinces.

Throughout the history of forest use and rights in Kerala, homegardens have remained prevalent for local and Tribal peoples [10]. Homegardens are agroforestry systems that combine trees and plants for sustenance, resources, and sale and which are placed on the owner's property[1]. Homegardens provide a food source and a home base for the family, incorporating different needs into one multi-faceted, sustainable structure[8]. These structures are extremely dynamic and incorporate traditional knowledge to establish layers of tree and shrub individuals, creating ecological feedback systems[3]. Rural groups have been living on homegardens for thousands of years in tropical areas because they are efficient, convenient, and sustainable. There is a level of independence derived from the traditional homegarden and the ability to meets one's needs much more directly[8]. While these agroforestry systems seem personalized and small-scale, they are a potential solution to the food scarcity and environmental problems that India faces. Homegardens have shifted in recent times to fit into the present-day socio-economic scenario of India post-colonialization[1]. There is a new adoption of the 'modern' homegarden that incorporates income into the homegarden model[3]. These homegardens can satisfy the needs of Tribal groups while simultaneously providing them the stability of income and opportunity to gain financial capital if desired.

Tenure Arrangements

India was entrenched in colonialism for almost two hundred years, under British rule until 1947[12].  During its authority, Britain imposed a land revenue or tax, in which colonial officials became de facto landlords of agricultural land, and a certain percentage of income made from crops was remitted to the United Kingdom[12].  Following India’s independence in 1947, Kerala underwent a period of land reform in which land was re-distributed to local landlords, and tenants would cultivate it while paying rent[13]. Despite this attempt at a fair system, feudalistic inequality still persisted within Kerala as 8.1% of landowners owned nearly 50% of all land[14].  Furthermore, tenants had little job or rental security, as tenure agreements could be terminated by landowners at any point[14].  Eventually, tenants protested these arrangements by placing red flags on their fields and claiming rights to land without paying rent[14].  Pressure for reform began to mount on the state government until January 1, 1970, when an amendment to the Kerala Land Reforms Act (1963) was passed, redistributing nearly 2.4 million tenanted plots to approximately 1.5 million tenants[15].

Figure 3: A rubber plantation in Kerala. Image Courtesy of Wikimedia Commons

Although this Act was a step forward socially, it contained components that would prove to be detrimental to traditional homegarden owners.   Specifically, it limited families of five to hold a maximum of eight hectares of land for harvest[1].   Certain economically viable crops such as coffee, rubber, tea, and cardamom plantations were exempt from this Act, putting pressure on the conversion of traditional agroforestry systems to produce these monocrops[1].  The Kerala Private Forests Act passed in 1971 also augmented this pressure.  This act effectively transferred all private forests to public ownership, which led to open access land degradation[1].  Coffee, rubber, tea, and cardamom plantations were once again exempt from this act, serving as further encouragement to transition towards a cash crop economy.

These tenure arrangements were not favourable for homegarden owners in Kerala.  Traditional fruit and vegetable crops, which were once sustained by these systems have been replaced in favour of monocrop plantations[4].  Values cemented in these traditional crops, once hailed for their intrinsic worth and medicinal qualities, have been replaced by economic greed[4]. Further benefits such as biodiversity conservation, microclimate regulation, and pollution mitigation have also been lost by these arrangements[1]. It is important to note that substituting multiple value agroforestry systems with high yield cash cropping has never been desired by traditional farmers.  Rather, it is these inequitable tenure arrangements that are leaving families with no choice.

The tenure arrangements of present-day Kerala unfortunately follow this trend of conversion to large-scale plantations. As a result, longstanding Tribal groups such as the Adivasis have been dispossessed of their property[16]. Land is now seen as a speculative commodity, in which illegal activities are encouraging this unprecedented commercialization[16]. For example, one of the largest rubber and tea plantations in the state has recently been found to encroach on vast amounts of government property, while having not paid the rent on its lease in over twenty years[17]. Although many landless Tribal peoples continue to occupy parts of these plantations in hopes that their livelihoods may be rightfully restored, this may never occur if Kerala continues to value economic incentives over social equity.

Administrative Arrangements

In 1947, India became independent from England leading to changes in forestry laws, policy, and management. In 1952 the Forest Policy was created and alterations were made from the previous Indian Policy of 1952 [check your dates] [18]. Forests were categorized as state forests, meaning that, as in Canada, states (provinces) had legal authority over forests. Meeting agricultural needs and the government's income from development were the responsibility of the province. Another change in forestry was that 5-year plans were used to outline short-term goals that were primarily focused on agriculture and production[18]. The push for production resulted in the increased prominence of plantations in the 1970’s and became the favoured use for forests. Administrative leaders were in favour of industry, as opposed to local peoples which is shown by their biased lenience towards what?[18].

The forest land was public, so the government encouraged citizens and the private sector to fell public forest and convert it into agriculture [surely one had to first apply for a lease?] [11]. While the Forest Department did not specifically prevent the public use of forests for homegardens, acts such as the Coffee Act of 1942, the Rubber Act of 1947, and the Tea Act of 1953 are all examples of provisions for large-scale farming and use of forest land[11].  Cumulatively these and other acts and policies encouraged monocultures as opposed to smaller-scale agroforestry[1] Even the Kerala Land Reforms Act of 1963 which was meant to redistribute land to landless farmers ended up favouring commercial scale farmers[10]. The Kerala Land Utilization Order of 1967 prohibited non-agricultural repurposing of forest land which represented a push for conservation to mitigate forest degradation . Unfortunately, these policies prevented the felling of trees even on Tribal and local peoples' land and farmers of homegardens were not allowed to fell trees on their own land. The Kerala Promotion of Tree Growth in Non-forest Areas Act of 2005 retracted previous rulings and allowed farmers to cut trees without reporting to the Forestry Department[10]. The Act was amended again in 2007 to restrict the felling in specific areas[10]. There is a lack of consistency between forest administration and local and Tribal people with limited power.

Forest management was concerned with forest resources and later conservation efforts, but rarely the livelihoods of people who use forest resources and land directly. The changes in policy have reportedly made farmers, including homegarden farmers, nervous and untrusting of the regulatory system and its relentless changes[11]. Joint forest management and community forestry efforts are slowly rebuilding relationships between administration and local and Tribal peoples[10]. In these management systems, the community works directly with the state government, ensuring that the direct and prevalent needs of people are constantly considered[10].

Affected Stakeholders

Affected stakeholders are those who are dependent on their local forestry systems, and have longstanding geographic, ancestral, or subsistence ties to a specific area. In this case study, affected stakeholders include Tribal homegarden owners, and displaced Tribal peoples in Kerala. The livelihoods of both these stakeholder groups are currently under threat from decreasing food security caused by an expanding population[4]. Homegarden owners, who have been dependent on their low-input sustainable crop yielding systems for centuries, are under persistent governmental pressure to convert to single crop production systems. Displaced Tribal Peoples such as the Adivasis have been directly displaced from their homes as a by-product of Kerala's shift to large-scale plantation agriculture. Table 1 outlines the relevant objectives, degree of power and interest, and scale of influence for each affected stakeholder group.

Table 1: Affected Stakeholder Groups in Kerala's Shift Towards a Cash Crop Economy.
Affected Stakeholder Relevant Objectives Degree of Power and Interest Scale of Influence
Homegarden Owners
  • To maintain a low external input, biodiverse food production system serving multiple values and functions. These functions can include domestic fruit consumption and sale, production of organic manures, livestock fodder, and timber for firewood and fuel[1]
  • To provide food and nutritional security to their families. The year-round consumption of a variety of vitamin rich crops in homegardens has been effective in alleviating deficiencies in iodine, vitamin A, and iron[4]. Furthermore, as this system of agroforestry requires no external input or artificial fertilizer, the crops yielded are of exceptional quality[4].
  • To continue to uphold inter-generational traditions on ancestral land. Many perennials found on traditional homegardens were planted decades prior, and signify intergenerational family ties[19]
Low Power and Low Interest Local
Displaced Tribal Peoples
  • To receive their rightful property back from large-scale monocrop plantations. Out of the 75,000 Adivasi families in Kerala, over 45,000 are landless with no secure property rights[20]
  • To receive sufficient government protection in order to pursue their traditional livelihoods. For example, the Scheduled Tribe and Other Traditional Forest Dwellers Act (2006) recognized land rights of Tribal peoples and protects their right to free, prior, and informed consent in the case of possible resettlement[21]. Still, in the face of ongoing globalization and commodification, these land rights need to continue to be protected by de facto law.
Low Power and Low Interest Local

Interested Outside Stakeholders

Each of the interested stakeholders in Table 2 has variable interest based on the implementation and significance of homegardens in the economy of Kerala and the global forest/spice economy. As prevalence of homegardens grows, so will the interest in each outside stakeholder. If homegardens were to become a significant component of the cash crop economy, there would be a shift towards smaller-scale agricultural interactions and the supply and demand would be more personalized and less easily dismissed (unlike the larger, monoculture that is currently more prominent).

Table 2: Interested Stakeholder Groups in Kerala's Shift Towards a Cash Crop Economy.
Interested Outside Stakeholder Relevant Objectives Degree of Power and Interest Scale of Influence
Kerala Forest and Wildlife Department
  • To support and foster a sustainable ecosystem through management of resources and land[22].
  • Educate communities on conservation and encourage implementation of conservation in forest areas[22].
  • Support local and Tribal peoples values and cultural and social practices[22].
High Power and High Interest State-wide
Kerala State Council for Science, Technology & Environment
  • Provide support and vision to various research facilities having to do with science, technology and the environment [23].
  • The development, sponsoring, and funding of eight institutions, including the Kerala Forest Research Institute (KFRI) and Jawaharlal Nehru Tropical Botanic Garden and Research Institute (JNTBGRI) [23].
  • The related objectives therefore align with the interest to attain information on homegardens and forest practices to be more sustainable in the future[23]. If homegardens were proven to benefit the development of Kerala, interest would be higher.
  • This is a non-biased group so their interest extends toward research capabilities and innovation of science, technology and the environment.
High Power and Low-Medium Interest State-wide
Kerala Forest Research Institute (KFRI)
  • In this specific division of KSCSTE, research regarding forests in Kerala is the main objective[24]. The Institute was created to provide information on effective forest management.
  • The institute is interested in the sustainable use of forest resources and strives to illuminate effective ways to implement conservation into forest practices[24].
  • Homegardens are one of several forest management regimes reported by KFRI[25].
  • KFRI acknowledges the economic opportunity in homegardens, as well as the environmental and human livelihood benefits of encouraging homegardening.
Medium-Low Power and High Interest State-Wide
  • Palakkad, a city and administrative division in Kerala, is one of the primary distributers of bamboo to other states in India. Palakkad has been known to extract bamboo from homegardens so extensively that supplies becomes limited [25].
  • Smaller-scale gardens and homegardens are not currently a major source of Bambusa bambos (bamboo) in Kerala[25].
  • Kerala Bamboo Corporation a corporation in Palakkad that is responsible for extraction in some cases and allocation of resources to traditional people[26] .
Medium Power and High Interest Local
  • Ecotourism areas, such as Periyar Tiger Reserve, may experience degradation from tourism that affects the biodiversity and conservation of the area, which can be mitigated through biodiversity protected in homegardens [25].
  • People can have an 'authentic experience' and the presence of homegardens contributes to the overall experience and natural beauty of the Park.
  • Local people are able to live and work in the parks are supported and preserve some of the biodiversity that tourists are attracted to.
Medium Power and Low Interest Local
International Tropical Timber Organization (ITTO)
  • Promotes sustainable forestry on an international scale[3].
  • Supports forest management and development of tropical forests[3].
High Power and Low Interest Global
Kerala Spice Market
  • Spices are exported from Kerala throughout the world[27].
  • With an increased global interest in Ayurvedic products, the demand for spices and medicine from Kerala is expected to increase[27].
  • Land and farming capabilities are required for increased production and larger manufacturers may be interested in homegarden land.
Medium Power and Medium Interest Local


Government Intentions to Re-integrate Agroforestry


The Government of India implemented the National Agricultural Policy (NAP) which included promotion of biodiversity based on ecological farming in its objectives[1]. This was the first time any recognition of traditional agroforestry practices had been considered at the National Level[1]. Unfortunately, the NAP was largely based on obtaining higher crop yields over the following two decades, so action on this objective did not occur. Regardless, this was a major step forward in including traditionally oppressed stakeholder groups on the national agenda.

Figure 4: The president of India, Shri Pranab Mukherjee, addressing the assembly at the World Congress of Agroforestry in 2014. Image courtesy of Wikimedia Commons


The Kerala Promotion of Tree Growth in Non-Forest Areas Act (KPTGNFA) was passed in Kerala. This effectively gave landowners rights to harvest trees previously banned such as sandalwood, teak, and rosewood[1]. This was the first time in nearly two decades in which land-owners were encouraged to plant trees on their own land for the purpose of sustainable harvest[1].


A Kerala forest policy document was released in which the importance of homestead forestry was officially recognized[1]. This was the first policy of its kind in Kerala with tangible objectives for how to re-integrate agroforestry practices[28]. These objectives included:

  • Provision of technical assistance and market support in harvesting of crops[1].
  • Consideration of the interdependence of Tribal peoples and their forests, both socio-economically and culturally[28].
  • Identification of current socio-economic changes that could affect the state of Kerala's future forests[28].


India opened the 2014 World Congress of Agroforestry by pledging to increase the country's tree cover by 33% purely through agroforestry[2]. This conference, held in New Delhi, aimed to make agroforestry a tool to protect ecosystems and ensure sustainable food security and protect property rights of farmers[2]. Its goals were groundbreaking as this was the first time in India's history that a concerted effort had been made to provide traditional landowners with fair market opportunities, and industry support[2]. The fourth annual World Congress of Agroforestry is set to occur in May, 2019, in Montpellier, France and it will be interesting to see how India has acted on these goals.

Relative Successes and Failures

Although both the recent national and state commitments to re-integrate agroforestry into Kerala's agriculture sector are important steps in strengthening the livelihoods of homestead farmers, there is still no official policy in Kerala which recognizes agroforestry as a legitimate option for income generation, environmental protection, and social recognition[1]. The 2009 policy document was just a published draft, albeit an ambitious and progressive draft. Furthermore, Kerala has made very little progress in reconciliation with its landless Adivasis. In 2002, an agreement was reached in which all Tribal families with fewer than one acre of land would be provided with five acres[29]. Although this would have been considered a major success, as many of these Tribal families had been homeless for nearly a century, the agreement fell through[29]. Agitation ensued, which was soon increased by governmental development schemes that led to further loss of cultural values for these Adivasi families[29].

Despite these failures to implement a certified agroforestry scheme and provide tenure rights to landless Tribal peoples, both state and national governmental actions in recent decades have suggested willingness to support these underrepresented individuals. Re-distributing land rights is a difficult process involving a multitude of stakeholders, and the 2002 agreement falling through was not entirely the fault of Kerala's government[30]. Four years later, in 2006, Kerala's government once again made an attempt at an agreement with the landless Adivasis which fell through due to protesting environmentalists[30]. This demonstrates the level of coordination needed among parties, both vertically at the governmental level and horizontally at the stakeholder level, to implement successful land policies in Kerala. These attempts at reconciliation and integration of biodiversity schemes are a welcome change from past suppressive policies, and it may just be a case of needing more time for these plans to materialize.

Critical Issues and Conflicts

The primary issue surrounding re-integration of agroforestry in Kerala is how to make it profitable once again. National and state economies have moved away from subsistence based farming, as there are simply more economic opportunities in a cash crop economy. The state government appears to be committed to preserving biodiversity through homegardens, but faces a trade-off of a loss of global economic benefits for a gain in local social and cultural benefits[5].

A further conflict between homegarden owners and the state government deals with the current restrictions on local harvesting. For example, the Coffee Act, Rubber Act, and Tea Act are still in place from the mid-twentieth century, which provide technical and financial provisions to farmers to grow these specific cash crops[1]. As previously indicated, repealing these acts may not be straightforward due to the multitude of interested stakeholders involved in these processes.

Finally, persistent conflict still exists between Adivasi protests on plantation land and plantation owners. Arrests are common occurrences, but as these Tribal families are landless, they often re-encroach on plantations immediately after release[31]. These are expected to continue and potentially increase following recent laws passed in nearby states granting tenancy to landless individuals[17].

Relative Power Assessment

Low Amount of Power:

Displaced Tribal groups:

  • Displaced Tribal groups, such as Adivasi families, have among the lowest amount of power. Throughout history, land rights of these groups have been revoked and altered, never ensuring consistency or accordance with Tribal peoples' values[20]. In many cases, Adivasi groups are displaced or forced to leave because of restrictions on land use and traditional practices[32]. Having no land rights, these groups are disadvantaged in terms of growing and selling cash crops. Power is extremely limited because landless Tribal groups' possessions and social capital are not respected or considered among many groups[32]. The Scheduled Tribe and Other Traditional Forest Dwellers Act of 2006 provides displaced Tribal peoples land rights and gives them consent to resettle which is a positive step towards getting power back to these marginalized groups[21].

Homegarden owners:

  • Homegarden owners have limited power to promote their cash crop economy without the help of outside forces. Having land tenure rights shifting over time, there is an apprehension towards working with the Kerala Forest Department from homegarden owners [29]. As the cash crop economy grows, there is a higher likelihood that homegarden owners would have more power. With an increased and stable income, homegarden owners can build their businesses and gain more power.

Medium Amount of Power:

Kerala Forest Research Institute (KFRI):

  • KFRI has the power to share information and alter public perception. As a research institute, the scientists and students at KFRI have the opportunity to reveal which forest practices are sustainable, and the state of forests in Kerala[24]. Additionally, KFRI reports information to larger entities, such as the Kerala State Council of Science, Technology, and Environment[23]. KFRI also releases research reports that are open to the public and therefore have a power in manipulating the social perspective of homegardens as a cash crop. For example, in a research report from 2008, KFRI reported that homegardens are valuable economically, as resource suppliers, environmentally, and socially[25]. As the idea on homegardens as a source for cash crops becomes normalized, homegarden owners will regain power.
Figure 5: A market carrying a wide variety of spices and goods in Kerala. Image Courtesy of Wikimedia Commons

Kerala Spice Market:

  • As a tropical, biodiverse area, Kerala has a large capacity to grow a wide range of products[6]. In accordance with Kerala's growing capabilities, homegardens also produce a wide variety of products [3]. The power of the Kerala Spice Market is derived from the rising demand for spices and products from Kerala. Homegardens could be major stakeholders in the spice industry, especially because homegardens will reliably have at least some spices or crops for sale throughout growing seasons.


  • Ecotourism is a relatively new component of India's economy[33]. Despite its newness, ecotourism is a large driver of India's economy and can support or degrade the culture and environment of an area[33]. The members of a community are subject to the management of ecotourism and the demands of travellers as ecotourism can be extremely variable in its effect on local and Tribal peoples. In many cases, travellers want to understand the lifestyle and customs of local peoples. Ecotourism has some power over the role of homegardens in the cash crop economy because they have the power to use their disposable income on locally-sourced cash crops. Travellers may also be interested in the aesthetic value of homegardens which would encourage local government to support this form of agroforestry[33].


  • This district of Kerala is mostly agricultural and therefore has a lot to gain from homegardens pursuing the cash crop economy[34]. There is currently a reduction in the supply of bamboo being exported from Palakkad due to depletion and overuse of homegardens in the past [35]. The amount of bamboo grown in small farms/homegardens is significantly lower than bamboo grown in medium or large farms[36]. Heterogeneity of species in many rural homegardens results in less bamboo per area, a result of traditional knowledge regarding competition and litter production[36]. In terms of bamboo production for revenue, it would be beneficial for Palakkad to support local and Tribal peoples use of homegardens as a cash crop. There is a high potential of economic gain for Palakkad if more areas within homegardens are allocated towards bamboo. Having some administrative power, Palakkad has a certain level of influence over its residents, some of whom may include Tribal and local peoples. Palakkad is one of 14 districts, so it does not have total power over all sections of Kerala.

High Amount of Power:

Kerala State Council for Science, Technology & Environment:

  • The Kerala State Council is primarily interested in research, but also has the power to support rural people of Kerala[23]. For example, the Council has an organization called Rural Innovators Meet (RIM) which has the potential to provide opportunities to rural people with ideas needing funding[37]. The Council's scope is large and can determine which facets it would like to pay attention to, subsequently bringing state-wide attention to whatever it focuses on. As an organized and powerful institution, the Kerala State Council's credibility can influence policy and social change.
Figure 6: Photo of a teak forest in Nilambur forest, Kerala. The forest practices in forests such as this one are the primary concerns of ITTO. Image courtesy of Wikimedia Commons

International Tropical Timber Organization (ITTO):

  • The ITTO is an action-based organization which is interested in sustainable tropical forest management and practices [38]. Their biggest, over-arching objective is to support sustainable forest management through research and funding towards sustainable forest practices[38]. Homegardens are certainly a sustainable forest practice, but unfortunately the contribution of homegardens to the teak and forest products industry is small. ITTO is concerned with larger-scale forestry and efforts to make the currently accepted systems more sustainable, as opposed to promoting new, less accepted forest practices [38]. ITTO has kick-started over 1000 projects and has a lot of power and influence over forest practices internationally. If this organization chose to support the cash crop economy in Kerala for local and Tribal peoples, local and state-wide policy makers would also support this form of sustainable forest management.
  • Review the website of CGIAR, the global promoter of agroforestry;

Kerala Forest and Wildlife Department:

  • The Kerala Forest and Wildlife Department (KFWD) has a high level of power. KFWD is currently the state department with control over the management of forests. In the past, KFWD has made it difficult for local and Tribal people to have full tenure over their land, making the possibility of homegardens less plausible. As adoption of joint forestry and community forestry becomes more commonplace, it is likely that the Department will begin to normalize the concept that traditional knowledge and practices are applicable to the modern-day economy. Some of the Department's goals are to enrich the lives of Tribal people, women, and other minorities or marginalized people, enhance culturally and socially significant forest areas such as sacred groves, and support the values of the State's people [22]. In Kerala, homegardens and the people who own them would be directly benefited by the allocation of power and responsibility from the KFWD. KFWD's mission mentions issues that could potentially be fixed or helped by supporting homegardens and by eradicating any laws that make homegardens less possible for Tribal peoples [22]. The power is being redistributed in some ways, such as through Joint Forest Management[30]. Homegardens are not a primary expressed interest for the KFWD. If the Department's power was used fully, homegardens would be much more easily implemented throughout Kerala.

Recommendations for Improvement

As India continues to develop and advance as a globally connected country, the desire for economically profitable cropping systems will likely not abate. However, an economically profitable agricultural sector and the production of biodiverse, culturally important crops do not need to be mutually exclusive. Recent case studies in Kerala have shown that it is indeed possible to increase cash crop production, while still maintaining high levels of species diversity through the use of external inputs[3]. For systems such as this to become normalized, though, Kerala's state government needs to take the initiative to safeguard agricultural biodiversity.

Current initiatives in support of biodiversity protection include the nationwide Biological Diversity Act (2002) and the formation of the Kerala State Biodiversity Board (KSBB) in 2008[6][27]. Specifically, the KSBB has developed the Kerala Biodiversity Strategy and Action Plan (KBSAP) which focuses on 11 biodiversity issues and suggests strategies to combat each issue[6]. Under the category of agrobiodiversity and domesticated biodiversity, strategies include developing a database for biodiversity, promoting production of indigenous crop varieties, and preventing loss of biodiversity from genetically modified organisms[6]. Similarly, the Biodiversity Act was passed to promote biodiversity conservation, sustainable use, and fair benefit sharing of all resources[27]. These assertions are vague and normative, however, and are not reflected in governmental action. Rather, Kerala's agricultural and forestry sectors continue to diverge into separate entities under government supervision[1].

To successfully re-integrate multiple value homegardens back into Kerala's landscape, passive policy implementation will not suffice. Rather, policies should be incorporated vertically across multiple layers of government, as well as horizontally among all interested and affected stakeholders[1]. Coordinated action needs to occur in which traditional farmers must be supported by direct policy initiatives. For example, the state government of Kerala could repossess the illegal plantation land encroaching on government territory, and re-distribute it among landless Adivasi families[16]. Furthermore, the government could increase its inclusivity and include Tribal peoples in developmental decision making processes. Currently, Tribal groups of Kerala have no autonomy in developmental decision making despite being directly affected by decisions involving land conversion[21].

Ultimately, Kerala's government needs to consider the environmental, social, and cultural values of homegardens. These agroforestry systems are not simply a means to produce income or food, but are a social territory in which many families identify themselves[39]. Their internal nutrient cycling systems and carbon sequestration capabilities could prove to be crucial in mitigating the damages of climate change[40]. With Kerala's rapidly growing population and environmental degradation, the shift towards more sustainable agricultural systems is critical. Although the challenge remains as to how these intrinsic values can be fully restored while maintaining an economically profitable agriculture sector, considering the needs of the state's underrepresented Tribal population is an important step forward.


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