As the World Congress on Agroforestry takes place in Delhi this week, new research is showing that agroforestry is one of the most effective and popular tools at the disposal of local initiatives for improving agricultural productivity and conservation outcomes.
Agroforestry is, simply, the practice of growing trees and woody perennials on farmland, yet it can accomplish a wide variety of outcomes, including biological, dietary, and income diversity, shade, and erosion control. A recent review of studies on tree-based approaches found that agroforestry often leads to a wide range of benefits for health, well-being, conservation and agriculture. Although the diversity of potential applications makes monitoring the benefits of agroforestry systems challenging, it also makes it a highly adaptable tool for development and conservation.
According to studies by the Landscapes for People, Food and Nature Initiative, “integrated landscape initiatives” (ILIs) that invested in agroforestry reported a higher number of positive outcomes on average than other initiatives in the region who did not. This success explains (at least partially) the popularity of the approach. In Latin America and the Caribbean, the same study found, nearly sixty percent of ILIs invested directly in agroforestry, and more than fifteen percent reported ongoing investment in agroforestry by other actors in the landscape. In Africa, over fifty percent of initiatives invested directly, while another thirteen percent supported other actors in their landscapes who were using agroforestry. Agroforestry appears to be a popular tool with integrated initiatives because it can address many challenges simultaneously, and because it is highly adaptable to specific ecological and socio-economic contexts.
These findings are among the many new insights into ILIs emerging from the set of studies being conducted by the Landscapes for People, Food and Nature Initiative, which are cumulatively referred to as the Continental Reviews. The Initiative has set out to identify ILIs around the world and answer key comparative questions about how they were started, funded, and operate.
Researchers with EcoAgriculture Partners, the World Agroforestry Centre, CATIE, and Bioversity International, together with local and regional partners, searched for and classified projects or programs as ILIs using an online survey distributed through a network of conservation, hunger, relief, agricultural research and finance organizations. ILIs were defined as projects, programs or actions that 1) aim to simultaneously improve local food production, biodiversity, conservation, and rural livelihoods 2) work on a full-landscape scale and perform support activities at that scale, 3) involve intersectoral coordination of other entities to support activities, and 4) be highly participatory, with an emphasis on social learning. Even using those limited means and relatively strict criteria, the team identified more than 300 ILIs and collected data on 104 landscape initiatives in 21 countries in Latin America and the Caribbean, and 87 landscape initiatives in 33 countries in Africa. In these places, broad coalitions of people are coming together to shift the practice of agriculture and decisions about other land uses to promote sustainability, local food production and access, and healthy and prosperous livelihoods.
Zoom out on a picture of the globe and you will see many types of landscapes: mountains, valleys, plains, forests, deserts, beaches, cities and suburbs. Now zoom in and, chances are, you’ll see agricultural practices undermining local livelihoods, damaging soils, polluting water or contributing to climate change. But there are also many places where people are managing agricultural landscapes better. Determining what is working in those places, and why, is crucial to building a sustainable future.
The Continental Reviews are attempting to do just that. The results of the Africa survey have been published as “Integrated Landscape Initiatives for African Agriculture, Development, and Conservation: A Region-Wide Assessment“ in the journal World Development. You can listen to Abigail Hart explain the study in a recorded webinar on the Landscapes for People, Food and Nature Initiative website. The Latin America and Caribbean study is forthcoming. A review of Asian ILIs is ongoing, and the researchers encourage ILIs in Asia to contact Abigail Hart to be included in the study.