March 27, 2013

The Ways and Means of Expanding Agroforestry

Rachel Friedman, University of Queensland

When looking at the mosaic of land uses, agroforestry systems are one of the most important means of harmonizing environmental protection and agricultural growth. Though most commonly known for its use in “forest farming”, other means of agroforestry such as serving as windbreaks for farm land, riparian forest buffers and inter-cropping can provide both environmental and income benefits to the land and farmers, respectively. Yet for all its potential, agroforestry systems are highly underutilized. Challenges, ranging from unfavorable policy incentives to inadequate knowledge dissemination and poor coordination among the various stakeholders involved in the process, lead to a method that still has a long way to go to fulfill its promise. To increase awareness and adoption of agroforestry at the policy level, the Food and Agriculture Organization of the UN (FAO) has recently released a guide aimed at key decision makers, NGOs, and governmental institutions showing how agroforestry can be successfully integrated into national strategies and how policies can be adapted to fit vastly differing conditions.

Farmland in Costa Rica near Cartago. Photo by Professor Megan on Flickr.

In providing their recommendations, the FAO created a set of ten policy guidelines that span from raising awareness of the benefits of agroforestry to the individual farmer to reforming unfavorable regulations and legal restrictions on land rights that hinder the adoption of agroforestry methods. In developing these guidelines, the FAO looked at best practices and lessons learned from global case studies to create “a set of principles rather than prescribed methods” for developing agroforestry. This flexibility is meant to allow any or all of these guidelines to be implemented at both the early stages of policy formation or to amend existing policies in order to promote the greater usage and acceptance of agroforestry.

One best practice identified that augmented existing policy was in Costa Rica, where National Forestry Financing Fund (FONAFIFO) instituted a payment for environmental service (PES) program. In 2002 FONAFIFO extended its forestry subsidizes for the development of agroforestry, adding silvopastoral systems in 2005. As of 2007, FONAFIFO pays small and medium-scale producers $1.30 USD per tree to provide farmers with financial incentives for reforestation. Over the last eight years since its extension, 10,000 contracts have been signed between FONAFIFO and individual farmers leading to the planting of 3.5 million trees on farmland.

Through a number of case studies, FAO has learned that agroforestry is best encouraged when the spectrum of stakeholders- both primary and peripheral- take interest and responsibility in an area. The FAO has identified four conditions crucial to ensure agroforestry acceptance and maintenance:

  • agroforestry should be beneficial to farmers and other land users;
  • there must be secure land tenure;
  • inter-sectoral coordination is essential; and
  • good governance of natural resources is crucial.

Not surprisingly, these four conditions also mirror similar conditions for successful integrated landscape management projects to be sustainable over the long-term. As such, agroforestry is quite compatible with the principles of landscape management and their adoption as solutions to landscapes issues seem to be a natural choice; when applicable to the situation. If anything, the key tenets of both agroforestry and landscape management should remind us that we can only maximize the socioeconomic and ecological benefits of any situation by ensuring that multiple stakeholders are actively engaged and participate in all stages of a project from inception to completion.

Access the full Agroforestry Guidelines on the FAO website.

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