November 16, 2013

Filling the Emissions Gap with Tree Based Ecosystem Approaches

As negotiators representing many of the world’s nations bargain, cajole, and inveigh in order to keep global temperatures from rising more than two degrees Celsius, a variety of tools are being leveraged to mitigate climate change and improve the capacity for people globally to adapt to changing conditions. Recent work by EcoAgriculture Partners, CATIE, Conservation International, the World Agroforestry Center, and the World Resources Institute highlights the importance of tree-based ecosystem approaches as one such tool.

More and more attention has been paid to the role that agriculture plays in both causing and mitigating climate change. Combining trees with farming offers a host of potential benefits to local and global communities. In order to properly understand where and how tree-based ecosystem approaches (TBEAs) work best, EcoAgriculture Partners, with support from PROFOR, undertook a review of TBEA literature, which has now been published as ‘Taking Tree Based Ecosystem Approaches to Scale: Evidence of drivers and impacts on food security, climate change resilience and carbon sequestration.’

A better understanding of the role of trees in farmland is particularly relevant given that the 2013 UNEP Emissions Gap Report highlighted agroforestry – inclusion of trees and other woody plants on farms and in landscapes – as one of the most effective ways to realize the potential of agriculture to mitigate climate change. Among the lessons identified in the Gap Report was the need for greater financial incentives for practices that can reduce greenhouse emissions from agriculture and for coordinated policies and context-specific approaches.

In addition to climate change mitigation, other benefits of TBEAs are extensively reported in the literature. For all of the 111 locations analyzed in the EcoAgriculture Discussion Paper, positive changes due to TBEA implementation were reported for food security, climate change resilience, carbon sequestration, or income. Only 6 of these locations reported a negative impact of TBEA uptake, such as a decrease in yearly income or unequal benefit sharing. The project team explored if, where, and how we can realize the many social, ecological, and economic benefits of TBEAs at an even larger scale. While much of the identified literature did not specify whether tree-based practices were “at scale,” several studies documented widespread scaling up of natural regeneration of trees, fertilizer trees, silvopastoral practices, and trees in homegardens. The most commonly reported motivations for land managers to take up TBEA practices were improving soil quality, income, and subsistence production of food and fodder.

An essential characteristic of TBEAs is their diversity. The literature review found 40 different TBEA practices, using 220 trees species or genera, across 111 sites in 53 different countries. While the literature provided useful information about the drivers and mechanisms of TBEA implementation, insights into how to expand adoption were difficult to discern. Understanding the supporting socio-ecological conditions and governance structures for widespread uptake of multi-benefit TBEAs is the next crucial step and relies on the ability of researchers to build a shared conceptual framework and assessment strategy. To achieve this goal, the review recommends several strategies including increasing spatial analyses and carrying out comparative case studies.

Due in part to the diversity of TBEAs, there is no one size fits all approach to promoting their uptake. Interventions will need to be tailored to the location and include local planning. There are, however, a few general guidelines that governments and other organizations wanting to invest in trees-based approaches should keep in mind. It is important that strongly perceived community needs are addressed and that farmers can benefit from programs that are adaptable across various contexts. Efforts to scale up sustainable land management practices often encounter challenges of unclear land and resource tenure and fluctuating policy and market conditions, so adaptability will be a key ingredient for programs that seek to promote TBEA adoption.

The review provides preliminary guidance for national governments, development agencies, and other organizations wanting to invest in tree-based approaches while identifying the necessary steps for crafting an analytical framework for researchers. It is an opportune moment to align investments in capacity building, measurement, and impact analysis that will support robust understanding and action for scaling up TBEAs.

The set of practices that the term TBEA encompasses are capable of providing multiple benefits in terms of climate mitigation and adaptation, food security, and income. In order to properly realize the potential of these practices, the trend towards greater investment should continue alongside efforts to better understand and document the conditions for successfully scaling TBEAs and their impacts.

Read the full Tree-Based Ecosystem Approaches Report.

Photo credit: Enggar Paramita (ICRAF)
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