A step closer to realising the potential of agroforestry

Agroforestry could be key to bringing millions of people out of poverty and hunger, and reversing environmental degradation, according to a new report by the Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) of the United Nations.

Almost half the world's agricultural land has at least 10 per cent tree cover so agroforestry is already critical to the livelihoods of millions. The sector is a significant source of both local and global commodities, including coconut, coffee, tea, rubber and gum.

However, the report says countries need to put more effort into promoting agroforestry to realise its full potential. According to Eduardo Mansur, Director of FAO's Forest Assessment, Management and Conservation Division, “the sector is largely hampered by adverse policies, legal constraints and lack of coordination between the sectors to which it contributes, namely, agriculture, forestry, rural development, environment and trade”.

Advancing agroforestry on the policy agenda intends to help turn this around and provides a guide as to how agroforestry can be integrated into national strategies and how policies can be adjusted to specific conditions.

Ravi Prabhu, Deputy Director General – Research with the World Agroforestry Centre says there are millions of success stories which demonstrate how agroforestry can improve the livelihoods of smallholder farmers. “The benefits can range from increasing yields through improved soil fertility associated with leguminous trees to providing nutritious fruits, fuelwood, timber or fodder.”

“But,” says Prabhu, “all too often we hear of policy and legislative constraints that prevent farmers from reaping the rewards”.

There are 10 major policy recommendations in the FAO report, including raising awareness of agroforestry, reforming unfavourable regulations in forestry, agricultural and rural codes, and clarifying land-use policy regulations.

The authors believe farmers need to be rewarded for the ecosystem services they provide by growing trees on their farms. This could take the form of financial rewards or through other incentives such as grants, tax exemptions, cost sharing programmes, microcredits or the delivery of extension services or infrastructure development.

An example from Costa Rica is cited where subsidies for agroforestry have seen more than 3.5 million trees planted in just eight years.

In the miombo woodlands which cover 3 million square kilometres across 11 African countries, new opportunities are opening up through financial incentives in carbon trading and REDD+ which it is hoped will slow forest conversion to farmland and sequester carbon in trees on farms.

The guide was developed in cooperation with the World Agroforestry Centre (ICRAF), the Tropical Agricultural Research and Higher Education Centre (CATIE) and the Agricultural Research Centre for International Development (CIRAD). It is aimed at decision-makers, key policy advisors, NGOs and governmental institutions.

Read the full story from FAO: New policies needed to promote agroforestry

Download the report: Advancing agroforestry on the policy agenda