Integrating multipurpose trees for improving soil health

Planting trees on bunds and wastelands generates additional biomass, serving as a source for enriching soil-health. Chetna brought about a positive impact on the livelihoods of tribal farmers in Utnoor by promoting small shifts in the cropping systems integrating trees. Such interventions being low external-input have proved to be environmentally safe and economically viable.

Gonds is a major tribal community in Utnoor region in Adilabad district in Andhra Pradesh. They are primarily dependant on rainfed agriculture for their livelihoods. They have been growing rainfed crops like cotton, redgram, jowar and soyabean.

The soils in this area have low fertility, and low water retention capacities. Infiltration and percolation ratio of the soil is also very poor. Weeds are rich in nutrients as they draw nutrition from different depths. But, farmers just throw them away on bunds or burn them. Thus nutrients are thrown out of the field in real sense. Though there isn’t enough organic manure to apply, farmers have no knowledge about ways of composting the biological resources available. Poor living standards of farmers with low population of livestock and fodder shortage adds to the challenges.

Chetna, an NGO has been working with the tribal communities of Adilabad district in improving their farming livelihoods. Given the situation, a holistic approach at increasing productivity through socio-technical interventions which optimally utilize the locally available resources was planned. Integration of leguminous, agroforestry trees and multi-purpose trees was one such alternative.

Plantation of biomass on field bunds and wastelands becomes significant in enriching soil-health and optimum crop production. Such interventions being low-external-input are also environmentally safe and economically viable. Trees around a small farm serve a variety of purposes. In fact a single species of tree has manifold benefits ranging from food security to better soil health.

Farmers were motivated to plant different types of trees serving various purposes. For instance, Glyricidia / Cassia siamea, Sesbania grandiflora for fixing nitrogen in the soil; Cassia siamea, Neem, Pongamia pinneta for generating additional plant biomass; fruit trees like mango, clustered apple, Jack fruit for edible purposes; Sesbania grandiflora, Subabul,Teak, Muvva and Pongamia for fodder and timber purposes.

Around 373 farmers planted trees for producing additional biomass, later composted as organic manure. The farmers diversified their cropping system from mono cropping to mixed cropping and inter cropping with legumes like black gram, green gram, cowpea etc. The seeds of various crops were made available in time helping farmers to go in for the plantation. Farmers were encouraged to prepare organic manure on their own. One compost pit was planned for every farmer.

Farmers took up different measures to improve soil fertility, for instance, application of enriched farm yard manure; pre-season in-situ green manuring ; composting weeds; composting other farm residues; composting of cotton stalks; in-situ incorporation of inter crops; biomass(sunhemp and diancha) generation on bunds and bund plantation with glyricidia and cassia siamea.


Production of biomass from an acre yielding 8 tons contains approximately 60-72 kg of nitrogen that can be sufficient per acre crop for boosting the yield (See Table). Glyricidia / Cassia siamea (200 per acre) planted on bunds yielded biomass of 30 kgs/plant/ year from fifth year after planting. Neem trees on wastelands gave 300 kgs per tree per year. Pongamea trees on farm yielded biomass of 300 kgs per tree per year.

Table: Production of biomass on farm Biomass source Qty of biomass produced (kgs/yr) Remarks
1 biomass produced at farm level


a glyricidia / cassia siamea(200 per acre) plante on bunds and around compost pits 6000 30 kgs / plant /year-from 5th year after planting( three loppings)
b sunhemp sown on bunds 728 1.3 kgs/ area of bunds per acre is 280sqm (100mx40m) and 2m wide bunds
C neem trees on wastelands on farm(min -3) 900 300 kgs per tree per year(2 loppings)
d pongamea trees on wastelands on farm(min-3) 900 300 kgs per tree per year(2 loppings)
e weeds    800  
f crop residues 1000  
1 Totalfresh biomass produced at farm level (kgs) 10328  
2 Total manure recovered at farm level (60%)

after composting

3 FYM (at household/village level) 4000  
4 Vermicompost      2000  


Soil fertility improvement with available resources, productivity enhancement in rain-fed areas and promoting food security with low external inputs for sustainable rain-fed agriculture were the major objectives of the programme which has been achieved to a large extent. There have been pitfalls and challenges which were addressed and improvements were made to make the program a success. Presently, 96% of tribal farmers are directly involved in the programme. Local farmers are identified and trained for monitoring and providing further guidance. The programme is integrated and coordinated with all departments and agencies like Integrated Tribal Development Authority (ITDA) for convergence. Social structures and institutional building is inbuilt into programme for sustainability.

Though there were apprehensions from farmers and some of the staff initially about the strategy, a considerable impact was made not only on the field but also in the minds of farmers and the staff. The staff and farmers witnessed how a small change in cropping system can have a positive impact on livelihood improvement. Farmers in Utnoor no doubt are expected to continue adopting these sustainable practices even during coming years.

M. Ashok Kumar
Chetna Organic
No: 12-13-677/66, plot no:187,
Sree Sai Durga Niwas, Street No 1,
Tarnaka, Hyderabad-17.

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