Since the 1990s, ICRAF-Latin America has collaborated with rural producers’ organizations, NGOs, national agricultural research institutions, universities and others in the scientific community to work towards improving livelihoods and the environment through more productive, diversified, integrated and intensified use of trees in agricultural landscapes. Our multidisciplinary, international team works closely with public and private agricultural research and development entities throughout Latin America.
Our innovative, integrated research-for-development agenda focuses on four areas.
Landscapes and Environmental Services
The complexity of agricultural landscapes is often evident from their varied land uses and their occupation by people with differing characteristics and aspirations. Such landscapes are multifunctional, both by their very nature and as a consequence of the demands placed on them—demands that may come not only from those who live and work in a given landscape but also from people in other regions or even continents. Moreover, beneath the obvious, lie further levels of complexity, often related to antagonism and conflict between different landscape components.
Complexity, while relatively easy to see, is less easy to understand. We seek to reach such an understanding through a research agenda that views landscapes, with their biophysical and socioeconomic dynamics, as outcomes of interrelated processes and contexts acting at multiple, nested scales. These range from farming practices of smallholders at the plot level and intra-and inter-landscape movement of people, goods and environmental flows (such as water, fauna, etc.) through regional and national institutions, policies and laws to international trade and global change.
This approach—the landscape approach—emphasizes not only the understanding of complexity but also a commitment to share what is learned with local actors to enable them to reach decisions that better reflect this complexity. We also seek to identify management options that are locally adapted while reconciling local and global needs.
Markets and products
Research in inclusive value chains is geared to help achieve more effective involvement with markets in the Latin American region, with farmers engaging in equitable and remunerative value chains. It stresses the competiveness of small and medium enterprises (SMEs) and their vital role in generating value for agroforestry products and marketing ecosystem services.
Our research examines rural SME performance and the underlying factors that determine business performance. The overall objective is to identify viable options for increasing the competitiveness of rural SMEs in less time and with fewer resources. In addition, research aims to understand the capacity of rural SMEs to forge stronger links with smallholder providers of agroforestry products and services and with downstream traders and processors.
Our value-chain approach has a focus on asset endowments (human, social, natural, physical and financial capitals), which influence the ability of smallholders to participate in and benefit from access to markets for agroforestry products and enables new insights into the design of market-related interventions and on the potential tradeoffs that exist between market-oriented and subsistence-oriented livelihoods activities.
Specific projects encompass topics from impacts of fair trade and evaluation and assessment of agroforestry value chains to local food systems, benchmarking of competitiveness and business, and development and use of tools for value chain development, market-oriented and subsistence-oriented livelihoods activities.
Livelihoods and production
Research in the area of livelihoods and production focuses on understanding the context in which producer families live and work in order to facilitate their adoption of sustainable land-use practices—including those for major commodity crops such as cocoa and oil palm. We are interested in how farmers can harness the potential of trees in their production and broader livelihood systems in order to increase productivity, profitability and socioecological resilience.
Understanding rural livelihoods is critical to targeting development interventions more effectively. This has various dimensions, including research on how to use tree taxonomic and functional diversity to decrease vulnerability to climatic and economic change, on approaches to tree domestication and on application of tools for analysis of local knowledge.
Our research also considers how productive asset endowments (human, social, natural, physical and financial capitals) influence the ability of smallholders to participate in and benefit from access to markets for agroforestry products. This focus on assets enables new insights into the design of market-related interventions as well as the potential tradeoffs that exist between market-oriented and subsistence-oriented livelihoods activities.
Climate change is an ever-present factor in research for agricultural development in Latin America, either as the central problem in specific research projects or as backdrop and key contextual factor. From retreating glaciers in the Andes—waters that sustain smallholder and industrial agriculture—and intensification of hurricanes in Central America to threatened savannazation of the Amazon and drought in northeastern Brazil, expected effects are critical and far-reaching.
Rather than forming a separate focus within our research space, climate change is a crosscutting element and constant underlying concern of research often framed through approaches described by one or more of the three other research areas.
Since the Latin American tropics contain a large number of ecoregions and agroecoregions, experiences with climate change mitigation and adaptation in Latin America are of global interest and possess potential for global application.
Specific research revolves around such themes as climate change mitigation and adaptation in a landscape context, biofuels and renewable energy, tree functional diversity and its role in reducing vulnerability to climate change, and the contribution of local (agro)ecological knowledge to smallholders’ adaptive capacity.