To mark the first annual International Day of Forests, researchers at the World Agroforestry Centre (ICRAF) say that trees on farms and outside of forests are important to the survival of major rainforests like those in the Amazon and Congo Basin. Trees provide valuable environmental services regardless of where they grow, and researchers are now embracing the many ways they help stabilize and improve the productivity of farms of all sizes.
Tony Simons, Director General of the World Agroforestry Centre, pointed out the tension between the need for more arable land to meet the world’s growing demand for food, and maintaining the diversity of the world’s forests. A large part of the solution, he says, can be found through a diverse set of agroforestry practices—planting trees inside and on the edges of cropland.
“By 2050 there will be 2.4 billion more people to feed. Their survival will largely depend on the poorest of farmers, most of whom own and farm less than two acres of land in the developing world.” said Simons. “These farmers are critical to helping us recover the trees we lose in the forests. And through agroforestry, they reap more income from tree products and they diversify their diets, providing better nutrition for their families.”
“As deforestation continues around the world, we lose more than US$7000 of forest products per second,” he continued. “Farmers are key to recovering these biodiversity assets.”
Research demonstrates how the practice of agroforestry creates productive, profitable and sustainable land-use systems. Some examples of benefits include:
- Stabilizing staple crop yields: In Malawi and Zambia, intercropping maize with the nitrogen-fixing tree Gliricidia has helped farmers increase their maize yields three- to four-fold and sustainably maintain these higher production levels.
- Increasing food and nutritional security: In Southeast Asia, planting vegetables under trees increased the productivity of the vegetable plants by up to 40 percent.
- Increasing milk production: In Kenya, a farmer with one cow and 500 fodder trees (which cost less than US$8 to establish) can increase net income by US$60 to US$115 per year.
- Generating income through carbon trade: In Andhra Pradesh, India, the carbon market could raise US$55 000 per year for households within the Reducing Emission from All Land Uses (REALU) program, an initiative that aims to sequester carbon through planting trees.
- Diversifying and supporting primary incomes: In Indonesia, where seven million farmers earn a living from growing and selling rubber, farmers are increasing profits by growing rubber intercropped with fruit and timber trees.
“Almost half of the world’s farmland now has more than ten percent tree cover,” Simons noted. “As the practice of agroforestry spreads, smallholder farmers—who will be expected to feed most of the nine billion people in the world by 2050—will do so more sustainably.”