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close this bookAgroforestry in the Pacific Islands: Systems for Sustainability (UNU, 1993, 297 pages)
close this folder2 Pacific Island agroforestry: Functional and utilitarian diversity
View the documentIntegration and sustainability
View the documentDiversity of function
View the documentBases for innovation and sustainability
View the documentAgroforestry and national development goals
View the documentExisting models and the need for appropriate innovation

Agroforestry and national development goals

Despite the relevance of agroforestry to modern development initiatives, few if any national development plans have formally included it in their lists of priorities or strategies, perhaps because trees and tree planting as components of agricultural systems "fall into the gaps" between the institutionalized sectoral responsibilities of "agriculture" and "forestry" (Chambers 1983).

An analysis of commonly stated national development objectives as well as of agricultural and forestry sector objectives from the most recent national development plans for Fiji (1985), Kiribati (1983), Papua New Guinea (1983), Tonga (1981), Vanuatu (1982), and Western Samoa (1984) shows considerable overlap, with the major objectives of national development being to

  1. improve productivity and the economic well-being of the country and its people;
  2. maximize national self-sufficiency and self-reliance;
  3. enhance the quality of life for all people, with particular em phasis on women, in both urban and rural areas - i.e., to distribute the benefits of development more equitably and to maximize the realization of the national human resource potential;
  4. preserve the culture and traditions of the nation;
  5. transfer or promote appropriate technologies; and
  6. conserve natural resources and protect the environment.

Sevele (1981) has argued that the wide-ranging development objectives "can be reduced to a few basic ones." These include:

  1. improved quality of life or standard of living;
  2. more equitable distribution of development benefits;
  3. increased employment opportunities;
  4. improved social and cultural facilities and services;
  5. protection of the environment;
  6. promotion of economic independence; and
  7. fostering regional cooperation.

Similar themes are seen in the more narrowly focused agricultural and forestry development objectives, with common objectives being:

  1. agricultural diversification;
  2. promotion of appropriate agricultural technologies and farming systems, both modern and traditional;
  3. strengthening of agricultural infrastructure, including extension,
  4. credit, transport, storage, processing, and marketing; improvement of the nutritional status of the people;
  5. increased selfsufficiency in timber and fuel wood; and
  6. promotion of social forestry or village-level agroforestry.

Almost all of these objectives could be furthered, either directly or indirectly, through the promotion of polycultural agroforestry systems. On the national level, in terms of encouraging import substitution, improving the balance of payments, and maximizing national selfsufficiency, agroforestry could have a significant effect in reversing dependency on imports and on ever-increasing foreign exchange problems. An expansion of agroforestry would also increase returns on underutilized natural and cultural resources and increase long-term productivity in both urban and rural areas.

Because almost all households can benefit from agroforestry, its systematic promotion on a national level could bring about more equitable and balanced development. It could also lead to improved use of scarce capital and aid and could minimize public expenditure through the maximization of self-help on the part of the communities involved.

For individual families, the economic importance seems to be great indeed, especially for unskilled workers and poor urban immigrants, who would benefit from the fruit, medicines, firewood, and other products provided by trees and associated plants and animals. For example, in Suva, Fiji, many residents of government housing would not have been able to pay their rents if it were not for the estimated $812 (Fijian) per week per family (approximately US$9.514) they saved by growing their own cassava, taro, tree crops, other foods, medicines, and firewood on idle urban land and in home gardens (Thaman 1984a). The value of coconuts, toddy, firewood, medicines, and the wide range of products of the coconut palm would likewise be of critical economic importance, particularly in densely-settled-atoll urban areas such as Tarawa in Kiribati or Majuro in the Marshall Islands.

The money saved can be used for other purchases - for example, of fish, meat, eggs, or dairy products - to supplement proteindeficient urban diets. The significance of subsistence provision in urban areas was recognized at least 20 years ago in the British Solo mon Islands Protectorate by the Committee on Food Supplies (1974), which noted in its report that ". . . non-cash or so-called 'subsistence incomes' are more important in towns, and cash incomes more important in rural areas than has been generally understood."

Agroforestry development could contribute to tourism development by ensuring that workers in the tourism industry maximize their real incomes and maintain subsistence production as insurance against downturns in the fragile international tourism economy. Moreover, coastal reforestation and coastal agroforestry would enhance the beauty and stability of beaches, which are so important to Pacific Island tourism.

The social benefits of agroforestry are manifold and must be seen as contributing significantly to the quality of life and the protection of cultural values. For instance, social ties are maintained through the distribution of produce and provision of food for feasts; trees are provided for the recreational activities of children; and urban dwellers and their children, who often have limited knowledge of or appreciation of plants, are linked with their past through an understanding of the traditional uses of trees.

There is considerable scope for involving traditional or existing leadership, increasing local participation, and increasing the involvement of women in agroforestry development. On Aitutaki in the Cook Islands, for example, successful schemes for replanting the endangered coastal species Cordia subcordata and Thespesia populnea have met with considerable success and have created greater environmental awareness.

Given access to land, agroforestry and tree planting are technically within the means of even the poorest families. They depend on inexpensive and readily available time-tested local technologies, plants, and cultural practices rather than on unfamiliar, often expensive, and ecologically-suspect imported technologies such as hybrid seeds, inorganic fertilizers, pesticides, mechanized equipment, and imported food and fossil fuels. Inexpensive and often locally produced hand tools are the only implements required.

Agroforestry inherently increases agricultural diversification in predominantly monocultural rural areas, as well as helping with most other development objectives such as achieving self-sufficiency in food, livestock, timber, and fuel; promoting appropriate agricultural technology; improving nutrition; and taking pressure off existing forestry resources while bestowing to agricultural landscapes the environmental benefits of trees.