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India lost 5.3 million farmland trees in 5 Yrs due to agriculture

Over five million large farmland trees were cut down in India from 2018 to 2022 to make way for agriculture, with significant losses in Telangana and Maharashtra. About 11% of India’s large trees, previously mapped in 2010-2011, had disappeared by 2018.

By Ground report
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India lost 5.3 million farmland trees in 5 Yrs due to agriculture

Neem Tree (Azadirachta Indica). Photo credit: Uncle Bash007/Wikimedia Commons

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Over five million large farmland trees, crucial for agroforestry and grown individually on farms for their socio-ecological benefits, were cut down in India between 2018 and 2022 for agriculture. Researchers based in Denmark found that about 11 percent of India’s large trees, mapped in 2010-2011, had disappeared by 2018.

Millions of trees lost to agriculture

A study in Nature Sustainability highlights alarming deforestation, particularly in Telangana and Maharashtra, where some areas lost nearly half their trees. Smaller hotspots of tree loss were observed around Indore in eastern Madhya Pradesh, with central India experiencing the highest deforestation rates.

Agriculture is crucial for farmers and the general population, providing essential sustenance. Recent changes in farming practices are adversely affecting the environment and farmers. A significant issue is the disappearance of shade trees like Neem from the fields. Despite their vital role, these trees are not adequately monitored. There is a lack of information on their locations, management, and impact from climate change and diseases.

In five years, 5.3 million shade trees like Neem, Jamun, Mahua, and Jackfruit have disappeared from Indian fields due to human greed.

The study found an average of 0.6 trees per hectare in India. The highest density was in Rajasthan and Chhattisgarh, with up to 22 trees per hectare. The study spanned ten years, excluding trees from commercial plantations.

5.6 million trees disappeared between 2018-2019 and 2020-2022, shown per square kilometre | Nature Sustainability
5.6 million trees disappeared between 2018-2019 and 2020-2022, shown per square kilometre. Photo credit: Nature Sustainability

The authors conducted detailed interviews with local villagers across states like Telangana, Andhra Pradesh, Kerala, Maharashtra, Uttar Pradesh, Haryana, and Kashmir to corroborate their findings. The unanimous response indicated that giant trees were felled to expand paddy fields and boost crop yields.

Significant tree loss in India

The results show that around 11% of the large Chhatnar trees mapped in 2010/11 were gone by 2018. The loss of mature trees ranged from 5 to 10% in most areas, but central India, especially Telangana and Maharashtra, saw extensive damage.

During this period, many hotspots recorded a 50 percent tree loss in fields. In these hotspots, an average of 22 trees per square kilometer were reported missing. Small areas like the region around Indore in eastern Madhya Pradesh also experienced considerable loss.

Between 2018 and 2022, around 53 lakh trees went missing from Indian fields, averaging a loss of 2.7 trees per square kilometer. In some areas, up to 50 trees disappeared from every square kilometer.

The lost trees had crown sizes of around 67 square meters or more. The trees included multipurpose species like neem, mahua, jamun, jackfruit, khejri (shami), acacia, shisham, karoi, and coconut. These trees promote soil fertility, provide shade, and offer farmers valuable products like fruits, wood, firewood, fodder, and medicines, generating additional income.

Farming changes led to deforestation

The researchers investigated why the trees disappeared and found that the primary cause was the change in farming methods. As irrigation resources increased, most trees were cut down to create space in paddy fields, as farmers saw them as a threat to their crops. Trees like neem, with dense shade, were believed to adversely affect crop yields.

According to local communities, climate change was not the main cause of tree loss. The primary reason was changes in farming practices. Villagers agreed that native trees had become rare in the fields and that fungus and climate had no significant impact on the tree population.

This finding is concerning because agroforestry is considered a major solution to climate change. It supports the environment, promotes biodiversity, and plays a crucial role in climate adaptation and mitigation strategies.

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