March 21, 2019

The Potential and Promise of Agroforestry Landscapes

Louise BuckEcoAgriculture PartnersCornell University Eghosa AsemotaEcoAgriculture PartnersCornell University

Today, more than three-fourths of the Earth’s arable lands are severely degraded, effectively threatening the livelihood and well-being of two-fifths of the world’s population.

With such widespread ecosystem degradation, no wonder food insecurity, water scarcity and conflict over dwindling resources are intensifying. More than ever, we need to scale up food production systems that provide environmental benefits as well as abundant healthy food.

What is agroforestry?

Agroforestry, a land use management strategy where trees and shrubs are grown among crops, is one such system. For centuries, various agroforestry systems have been used by forest-dependent and rural communities as a way to boost crop diversity, crop resilience, and agricultural productivity. Nowadays, agroforestry alternatives for notoriously degradation-inducing crops like oil palm are being scrutinized intensively by agriculture researchers, and demonstrating dramatic ecosystem benefits even while exceeding the productivity of conventional monocropping methods.

Despite its proven effectiveness, however, agroforestry remains at the margins of land use systems. As the world scours for efficient practices and strategies to restore degraded lands, increase the sustainability of agro-ecosystems and improve local resilience, now is the opportune moment to explore the potential and promise of agroforestry landscapes. In particular, we need to examine the social, economic and political reasons why agroforestry has failed to scale, and what alternative landscape governance practices could do to address these barriers.

Scaling up environmental, social and economic impact

At EcoAgriculture Partners, we help local people create and sustain landscapes that deliver a whole basket of environmental, social and economic goods that all stakeholders need to sustain healthy lives over the long term. As a regenerative approach consistent with the broader principles of agroecology, agroforestry landscapes are a foundational piece of this approach.

Agroforestry, when implemented at a landscape scale, can foster large-scale environmental, social and economic impact. With their capacity to enhance soil quality, control erosion, improve water availability and fill the different niches within a landscape, agroforestry systems can lead to wide-scale land restoration, the enhanced provision of ecosystem services and the creation of new markets for agroforestry products. So understanding how integrated landscape management can help scale adoption of agroforestry practices across multiple crops, soil types, and terrains in a landscape, by many different types of farmers with different capacities, is a critical question.

At this year’s Fourth World Congress on Agroforestry in Montpellier, France, EcoAg is curating a session to discuss how integrated landscape management can help scale agroforestry systems for maximum ecosystem regeneration. By exposing researchers, policymakers, farmers, donors, government officials and members of the private sector to the types of insights revealed by landscape framing, we hope to come one step closer to creating conducive environments for the widespread uptake of agroforestry practices.


Photo: Debora Castellani/World Agroforestry

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