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Agroforestry Offers Solutions to World Hunger

  • Kim Lewis

Using Evergreen Agriculture, Rhoda Mang’yana grows maize near Faidherbia trees to improve crop yields and soil fertility on her farm. (Credit: Jim Richardson)

Using Evergreen Agriculture, Rhoda Mang’yana grows maize near Faidherbia trees to improve crop yields and soil fertility on her farm. (Credit: Jim Richardson)

The Food and Agriculture Organization, FAO, recently released new guidelines to promote agroforestry. It says this often neglected sector of agriculture, that combines forestry with agriculture, is crucial to the livelihoods and food security of millions of people.

The FAO says agroforestry is a significant source of local commodities, such as timber and fruit, and fodder for livestock. With proper development, it says, agroforestry could help solve poverty, hunger and land degradation.

Gerard Buttoud, professor of forest policy and governance at Tuscia University in Viterbo, Italy, and a key consultant to the FAO on developing the guidelines, explained how agroforestry is a good system for improving production at the local level.

“Because it looks to optimizing the agricultural production and the environmental benefits through the combination of annual crops and perennial plants," he said. "It maximizes the production on the long run because it produces food under the trees. The trees are used as a means to sustain the land and thus to sustain the production on the long run. Also, agroforestry is a very good system to both mitigate and adapt to climate change because as a complex system it minimizes the risk.”

Buttoud said it is important to have a framework in which to promote agroforestry properly.

“There are many barriers to the development of agroforestry. Such as for instance, the fact that there is a general emphasis on industrial agriculture," he said. "Basically when we speak about agricultural policy, we think about mono-specific policy, market oriented, using a lot of fertilizers and so on. This is not the way that agroforestry may be defined. Then there is an ignorance of the advantages of agroforestry because over the last although some had fought during the last 30 years, the success stories are not well known. Then there is an unclear status of land and tree resources, because sometimes, especially in developing countries, the status of the land is not clarified.”

Buttoud explained these success stories take different forms and the benefits of agroforestry depend on the land of a particular area.

“You have two big categories of agroforestry systems," he explained. "The first is a natural one. It is what we call the parklands. For instance, all of the area in the southern part of the Sahara, in Africa, from west to east, is conserved by this agroforestry system we call parklands. It’s a natural forest that’s been cleared progressively but used for agriculture also. So there is a selection of the tree spaces, and a selection of the crops which are carried out, also in association with grazing, and these parklands are remarkably stable, even in the process of desertification, for instance. It is one of the barriers of desertification.”

Buttoud also provided insight into another use of agroforestry.

“Opposite to this you have artificial plantations. Introduction of trees into farms, which were developed especially in the regions which were more close to the tropics, I would say, where the water is available. It consists of plantations on lines so that the trees may be able to maintain the soil and also produce food and other services. So you have many different categories of agroforestry and the success stories are all over the world, I would say,” he explained.

Buttoud gave an example of a success story in Africa.

“For instance, the Arabic gum in Sudan for the first category of parklands was developed through strong demand from the market to have this kind of product," he said. "This resulted into a development of agroforestry which was really productive even in terms of money in this part of Africa. Then if you look at the situation in some countries such as Kenya, Ghana, Cameroon, there are a lot of agroforestry systems which were developed recently which introduced trees into the farm.”

For the farmer, Buttoud said the benefit comes from maintaining the soil so it can continuously produce crops for a long period of time.