Trees play a crucial role in almost all terrestrial ecosystems and provide a range of important products and services to rural and urban people. As natural vegetation is cleared for agriculture and other types of development, the benefits that trees provide are best sustained by integrating them into agriculturally productive landscapes — the practice known as agroforestry and one that goes back many centuries, even millennia.
Agroforestry involves a wide range of trees that are protected, regenerated, planted or managed in agricultural landscapes as they interact with annual crops, livestock, wildlife and humans. Trees essentially provide two things: products and services.
Tree products are things such as: fruit, nuts, oils, beverages, gums, resins, latex, flavours, leaves for food and nutrition, fodder for livestock, timber, fuel wood and biomass for energy production, and medicines that treat disease.
Besides producing products, trees also provide services such as: being a host to edible insects, bee habitats for pollination, carbon capture, shelter from wind and sun, modifying micro-climates, nitrogen fixation, increased soil carbon, erosion control, refugia for biodiversity, and better regulation of water, including groundwater recharge.
Most trees have multiple uses, including cultural ones, and typically provide a range of benefits. They have also been used as land boundary markers and to confer land use rights even if not full ownership of land. Trees are fundamental for land regeneration to improve soil health.
There is nothing better than a tree to simultaneously:
- Sequester carbon from the atmosphere
- Bring up water and nutrients from depth
- Provide a framework for above- and below-ground biodiversity to flourish
- Build up soil organic matter and thus soil carbon
- Innovate new farm diversification enterprises
- Make agricultural landscapes more resilient
- Record climate history
ICRAF contributes to the development of solutions designed to tackle many of the challenges addressed in the global development agenda. Notable achievements and impacts over the past 10 years include:
- Support for the development of national agroforestry policies
- Development of tree varieties
- Strengthening of rural advisory service provisions
- Standardizing and employing land health assessment methods
- Multiple scale geo-spatial analyses
- Formulation of systems science paradigms
- Providing negotiation support tools
- Stimulating environmental service rewards
- Devising climate adaptation approaches
- Developing bio-energy options
- Formulating rainbow water concepts
- Increasing decision support