"Agroforestry has now come of age as an integrative science and practice. It is at the heart of the solution to so many of the challenges we face."
Dennis Garrity, Director General, World Agroforestry Centre
One of the clearest messages to come out of the 2nd World Congress of Agroforestry was that agroforestry has truly come of age. Over the last 30 years, it has been transformed from a vaguely defined concept to a robust, science-based discipline, and a land use which can address many of the world's most pressing problems.
In his opening speech, Dennis Garrity, the Director General of the World Agroforestry Centre, conceded that the congress theme - Agroforestry - the future of global land use - might seem far-fetched to some people. But he pointed out we now have plenty of evidence to show that agroforestry can deliver a wide range of benefits. It can enhance food security and improve rural livelihoods; increase soil fertility; absorb atmospheric carbon, a major greenhouse gas; and provide farmers with the technologies to restore degraded land. The number of trees in forests may be decreasing, but the number on farms is steadily increasing.
Such was the strength of the case made for agroforestry, and for increasing its practice worldwide, that Achim Steiner, Executive Director of UNEP, was moved to remark: "There are so many reasons why agroforestry should be practised everywhere. When something is so obvious, why isn't it catching on like wildfire?"
One reason, highlighted by several speakers, relates to the failure of agroforesters to communicate their findings in a compelling and intelligible way to policy makers, politicians and the public. "Agroforestry has a public relations problem, and we're often considered boring," suggested Roger Leakey of James Cook University, Australia. "It's time we learned how to talk more persuasively to communicators." Encouragingly, over 100 journalists attended a press briefing at the beginning of the Congress, and during the course of the week articles about agroforestry appeared in Time magazine, New Scientist and other international and national media.
The final day of the Congress was a time for reflection, with PK Nair chairing a symposium on the theme, ‘The way forward - energizing the next wave of agroforestry science.' Meine van Noordwijk of the World Agroforestry Centre provided an overview of the highlights of the Congress, stressing the importance of linking science to policy. His colleague Frank Place provided insights into the discussions on the Agroforestry Policy Initiative, which the World Agroforestry Centre will be coordinating over the coming years. Finally, Dennis Garrity stressed the need to continue producing high-quality scientific research which has an impact on climate change decision-making, food security and much more.