Only recently, World Agroforestry Centre's West and Central Africa Regional Director, Dr Zacharie Tchoundjeu won the National Geographic Society/Buffett Award and in the same stride, Prof Tony Simons, Director General of the World Agroforestry Centre was invited by National Geographic magazine to explain the role of agroforestry in 21st Century agriculture.
In his article published on National Geographic News online, he explained that if world leaders fail to achieve real conclusions from RIO+20, the unthinkable situation that we may not have enough food to feed ourselves may come true saying, “We need to grow as much food in the next 40 years as we have done in the past 8,000 years.”
The critical factors affecting food security as reported in the United Nations Africa Human Development Report are soil degradation and the projected global population explosion which is expected to reach 9 billion by 2050. Faced with these crises and the miserable condition of over 70 percent of total agricultural lands in Africa, it would seem that the simple logic would be to clear forests and woodlands in order to plant food crops. However, according to Prof Tony Simons, trees play a fundamental role in almost all the Earth’s ecosystems and provide a range of benefits to rural and urban people. He notes that landscapes without trees can quickly erode and thus suggests agroforestry as one viable answer for stopping degradation and increasing food production.
Agroforestry is the practice of integrating the right trees into a given agricultural landscape. He says, “Adding trees to cropland can be highly profitable, producing valuable fruit, rubber, coffee, oil, cocoa, medicinal and energy products.” However, Prof Simons is careful to caution that trees on farms must reach a critical mass in order to deliver the sort of land health and livelihood benefits that will make a real difference.
The article in the National Geographic explains that agroforestry has found its way into the global social conscience because many “land use managers and international development organizations are promoting it for its ability to bring both livelihood and environmental benefits, especially in some of the poorest and most degraded areas of the world.”
He also outlines agroforestry’s ability to solve a number of environmental and social challenges such as access to services and climate change. Many who depend on forests for survival have no choice but to enter even protected forests. Agroforestry helps to solve this dilemma by bringing useful trees onto farmland so that farmers are not forced to enter into forests and reserves.
The ability of agroforestry to contribute to climate change mitigation was underscored by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change report which states, “transformation of degraded agricultural lands to agroforestry has far greater potential to sequester carbon than any other managed land use change.”
Using as an example, Senegal’s plantation of Casuarina spp. along its coast lines, Prof Simons explains how efforts to reform forest policy has also helped to popularize agroforestry. Yet the need to overcome policy constraints in other countries is still holding farmers back from taking full advantage of growing trees on their farms.