Agroforestry and our role

About agroforestry

Trees play a crucial role in almost all terrestrial ecosystems and provide a range of 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 trees into agriculturally productive landscapes — a practice known as agroforestry.

Farmers have practised agroforestry for years. Agroforestry focuses on the wide range of working trees grown on farms and in rural landscapes. Among these are fertilizer trees for land regeneration, soil health and food security; fruit trees for nutrition; fodder trees that improve smallholder livestock production; timber and fuelwood trees for shelter and energy; medicinal trees to combat disease; and trees that produce gums, resins or latex products. Many of these trees are multipurpose, providing a range of benefits.

Agroforestry provides many livelihood and environmental benefits, including:

  • Enriching the asset base of poor households with farm-grown trees.
  • Enhancing soil fertility and livestock productivity on farms.
  • Linking poor households to markets for high-value fruits, oils, cash crops and medicines.
  • Balancing improved productivity with the sustainable management of natural resources.
  • Maintaining or enhancing the supply of environmental services in agricultural landscapes for water, soil health, carbon sequestration and biodiversity.

The World Agroforestry Centre’s role

The world population has now surpassed 6.5 billion. Demand for food increases as populations grow. Meanwhile, over one billion people continue to endure lives of extreme poverty. Agroforestry is uniquely suited to address the need to grow more food and biomass for fuel while sustainably managing agricultural landscapes for the critical ecosystem services they provide. It can serve as a means of curbing greenhouse gas emissions by slowing forest conversion to farmland and sequestering more carbon in trees on farms.

With over three decades of work with smallholder farmers in Africa, Asia and Latin America, and strategic alliances with advanced laboratories, national research institutions, universities and non-governmental organizations, the World Agroforestry Centre is uniquely positioned to address global challenges.

To improve the livelihoods of poor smallholders and improve the sustainability and productivity of agricultural landscapes, we are:

  • Broadening the range and diversity of trees that can be integrated into farming systems, especially as many produce higher income per unit of area than annual crops, require less labour and are more resilient to drought.
  • Maximizing the productivity of agroforestry systems through improved tree germplasm, integrated soil fertility and the enhanced supply of high-quality tree fodder resources.
  • Improving the income of poor households by facilitating their access to markets. This is also important in stabilizing land-use change in some areas, as well as increasing farmers’ investment in agroforestry trees and systems.
  • Working in agricultural landscapes that experience the greatest environmental stress to balance improved productivity with the sustainable management of natural resources. For example, stabilizing forest margins in Southeast Asia by converting slash-and-burn systems, and rehabilitating degraded agricultural land throughout Africa.
  • Managing trees in agricultural landscapes to ensure the health of river and groundwater systems.
  • Examining reward systems or other types of institutional and policy innovations (such as for carbon or water) to sustain biodiversity at the interface between smallholder agricultural landscapes and conservation areas.