Policy reform to stop discrimination against farm trees could help poor farmers out of poverty
Seoul, Korea, 25 August 2010. Almost half the agricultural land in the world, about a billion hectares, has more than 10 percent tree cover, but there is still huge potential to increase the number of trees on farmland and improve their productivity. Incorporating trees within farming landscapes, or agroforestry, can increase soil fertility, raise and sustain yields, increase income through the sale of timber and other tree products, and produce fodder and fuelwood.
To encourage the formation of a global partnership to unlock this untapped potential, the World Agroforestry Centre today launched an Agroforestry Policy Initiative at the XXIII World Congress of the International Union of Forest Research Organization in Seoul, Republic of Korea. The Initiative aims to support policy reviews and reforms that will stimulate agroforestry and benefit rural people.
“This Initiative will support national and local policy reforms that will reduce barriers and improve incentives for private investment in agroforestry,” said Dennis Garrity, Director General of the World Agroforestry Centre. “Agroforestry can deliver a wide range of benefits. It can enhance food security, improve rural livelihoods, make better use of scarce rainwater and absorb atmospheric carbon.”
Revising outdated policies and forest regulations will allow farmers in many countries to take full advantage of growing trees on farms, providing them with a lucrative source of income. For example, following reforms to the Code Forestier in Niger, farmers have again been cultivating trees and the country has seen a tremendous increase in tree cover on over 5 million hectares in the past 20 years.
In many rural settings, trees provide subsistence needs and people can earn money from the sale of fruits, nuts, leaves and animal fodder; high value oils, gums and resins; timber and fuelwood for cooking, and medicines from various parts of trees. A study of around 1000 smallholders in Kenya found that 55 percent sold fruits to earn income. This is more than those who sold the country’s major staple crop, maize. In Haryana and surrounding states in northern India, hundreds of thousands of smallholders are growing poplar trees within irrigated wheat and barley fields, and this is generating about US$1 million a day for the growers.
Even in areas where tree cover is low, the impact of trees can be high. In the Sahelien parklands, critically important species such as Faidherbia albida, baobab and karité provide income of up to US$325 per year for households, together with food, fodder and fertilizer. International trade in shea butter provides substantial foreign exchange earnings for West African countries like Burkina Faso.
Agroforestry is also successful on a large scale, such as the Indonesian rubber agroforests that cover 3 million hectares of Sumatra and Borneo, the east African, Indian and Latin American coffee agroforestry systems, and the multistrata cocoa systems across West Africa and in Latin America.
Agroforestry can increase the resilience of farmland to climate variation and is showing tremendous promise for future climate adaptation strategies. “At the global level, agroforestry is increasingly recognized as an important climate change adaptation and mitigation practice by the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change and by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change,” said Frank Place, Impact Assessment Advisor for the World Agroforestry Centre. “It is one of the most effective land use systems in storing carbon above and below ground.”
Agroforestry is both a contemporary and an age-old practice, but there are many missed opportunities to further enrich the lives of smallholder farmers. Underinvestment in agroforestry comes about because of poverty levels and the risks faced by smallholder communities, together with poor information flow, germplasm availability, credit, and markets. These are all factors that policy changes can address.
Improved policies would see better coordination among different ministries such as Agriculture, Environment, Forestry, Water and Lands. This would promote clear tenure rights to land, forests, and trees, thus improving farmer access to agroforestry information and germplasm, and creating integrated competitive markets free from exploitation and abuse by monopolies, unreasonable taxation and access barriers.
In a complementary move, the UN Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) convened a workshop in Rome in 2010 that initiated the development of agroforestry guidelines for national policies and decision making. The regional approach that was agreed on under the leadership of FAO will be supported by an international task force including key development and research institutions, such as the World Agroforestry Centre, Centro Agronómico Tropical de Investigación y Enseñanza (CATIE) and La recherche agronomique pour le développement (CIRAD). “Countries would work together and policies would evolve, aiming at ownership by the beneficiaries,” said Michelle Gauthier, of FAO’s Forest Conservation Service. “Dialogue between scientific research and policy development would make agroforestry an effective contributor to national economies and poverty alleviation.”
“For agroforestry to thrive, what is needed is an intensification of the trend to devolve land and forest tenures to local people; to complete the transition from exclusion to ownership,” noted August Temu, Director for Partnerships at the World Agroforestry Centre. “It is also vital to develop smarter and harmonized forestry and agriculture policies that do not inadvertently affect tree management on farms, to recognize the environmental services generated by agroforestry, and reward farmers who nurture the trees that provide these services.”
The right incentives and opportunities for long-term investment in agricultural improvements – such as trees on farms that can improve and sustain agricultural production – have been absent in many developing countries. Turning this around will directly support efforts to eradicate poverty and hunger, and ensure environmental sustainability.