New policies needed to promote agro-forestry
February 06, 2013
Millions of people could escape poverty, hunger and environmental degradation if countries put more effort into promoting agro-forestry, an integrated approach combining trees with crop or livestock production, stated Food and Agriculture Organisation (FAO).
The agro-forestry sector is a significant source both of local commodities, such as fuel wood, timber, fruit and fodder, for livestock as well as global ones, such as coconut, coffee, tea, rubber and gum. Almost half the world’s agricultural land has at least 10 percent tree cover, making agro-forestry critical to the livelihoods of millions.
In a new guide published by the FAO aimed at decision-makers, key policy advisors, NGOs and governmental institutions, FAO shows how agro-forestry can be integrated into national strategies and how policies can be adjusted to specific conditions. The policy guide provides examples of best practices and success stories, as well as lessons learned from challenges and failures.
The guide observed that new opportunities provided by agro-forestry were emerging, for example, within the miombo woodlands of central, eastern and southern Africa, which covered three million square kilometres over 11 countries and contribute significantly to the livelihoods of some 100 million low-income people.
Among these new opportunities is the potential to curb greenhouse gas emissions by slowing forest conversion to farmland and to sequester carbon in trees on farms, as a result of the financial incentives offered by carbon trade and the REDD+ initiative. Similarly, the expansion of natural regeneration of over five million hectares of dry degraded land in Niger will contribute to mitigating climate change and increase rural income, it added.
The guide provides 10 major tracks for policy action, including: raising awareness of agro-forestry systems to farmers and the global community; reforming unfavourable regulations in forestry, agricultural and rural codes; and clarifying land-use policy regulations.
The latter does not necessarily mean formal land titling. Research has found that some customary forms of tenure provide the security to plant trees, while reducing the formalities and costs of administration. Farmers introducing trees on farms should be rewarded for the ecosystem services they provide to society through financial or other incentives in the form of grants, tax exemptions, cost sharing programmes, micro-credits or delivery in kind, especially extension services and infrastructure development, according to the guide, says the guide.
Long-term credit is also crucial, as benefits to farmers planting trees reach them only after some years. The value of carbon sequestered and other environmental services provided by the trees could even be applied to paying the interest. In Costa Rica, a national forestry financing fund assigned in 1996 by law to subsidise forestry activities was extended in 2001 and 2005 to agroforestry systems combining crops, trees and cattle. Over the last eight years, more than 10,000 contracts have been signed for agro-forestry, which resulted in planting of more than 3.5 million trees on farms.