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close this bookTechnology scenarios in the Asia-Pacific forestry sector. (1997)
close this folderAGROFORESTRY3
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View the documentPerformance of Agroforestry Projects
View the documentOutlook
View the documentSummary


3 Most information reviewed in the “Agroforestry” section is based on the recently published second edition of Asia-Pacific Agroforestry Profiles (APAN and FAO/RAP, 1996).

In short, agroforestry is the use of trees in farming systems. Over the last two decades, it has received increasing attention from policy makers, foresters, researchers and representatives of, in its broadest sense, development projects and NGOs, mainly as a development strategy for rural areas affected by deforestation and land degradation. Thus, agroforestry has been promoted as a means to sustainable upland management and to reduce negative externalities (land and watershed rehabilitation, eradication of grasslands, biodiversity conservation, stabilization of shifting cultivation), to increase soil fertility and agricultural production (soil and water conservation, sloping lands technologies, crop diversification, fodder production, shelter belts), and to satisfy subsistence needs and generate income (fuelwood blocks, small-scale plantations for industrial purposes)4.

4 While various approaches of agroforestry may have existed for centuries, efforts to mainstream agroforestry are fairly recent. “Conventional wisdom” is yet to develop about many aspects - indeed, there is even some controversy about much that is presented in this section. The views of the author have nevertheless been produced as originally prepared - they should serve to stimulate dialogue and should not be interpreted as reflecting the views of FORSPA, FAO or the FAO Regional Office in Bangkok (Editor).

While it is acknowledged that agroforestry systems have existed and evolved for centuries, foresters originally viewed agroforestry as a new system for using cheap rural labour for establishing plantations (e.g., see Bryant, 1994). The aim of most early agroforestry systems such as taungya, was to eventually increase the area under forest and not to increase agricultural production. With the failure of most taungya-based approaches the definition of agroforestry has been substantially widened. Today, the spectrum reaches from diverse systems such as home gardens, to trees in agricultural fields, alley cropping, plantations of commercial crops (e.g., coffee, tea, coconut, rubber), orchards, woodlots and even shifting cultivation. Depending on the mixture of production systems researchers furthermore distinguish between agrosilvicultural, silvipastoral and agrosilvopastoral systems. With few exception, the increase in diversity does not mean that new technologies have been developed or adopted. Rather, more systems are described today as agroforestry.

For the purpose of the following discussion, a difference is made between traditional agroforestry systems which have slowly developed over time in response to opportunities, constraints and needs, and systems that have been promoted by outside agencies within the framework of development interventions. This is not to say that there is a clear distinction between the systems. All systems should rather be viewed as being somewhere on a continuum between these two extremes. Many of the former, such as trees in fields in Thailand, improved fallow systems in shifting cultivation areas in India and the Philippines, the diverse rubber gardens and damar forests in Sumatra, or the home gardens throughout the Region have only been recently recognized as “agroforestry systems”, even though they can make up to more than 14 percent of the total land area as is the case in Sri Lanka. The latter including alley cropping, fuelwood blocks and taungya have been developed more recently.

Traditional systems have gone through many rounds of adaptations. They are still evolving and on the increase where land use pressure is low. Many technologies are developed locally and crop mixtures are adjusted in response to demand and supply. Labour input is not necessarily low but demand is rather flexible. While these systems have many environmental benefits, the farmers' primary objective is not conservation but rather stable and diversified production. Lately, as reported for Pakistan, an overriding common motive is also to generate cash (Hatch and Naughton, 1994).

The prime purpose of the second group of agroforestry systems on the other hand was, and in many cases still is, land rehabilitation and environmental conservation. For example, the Integrated Social Forestry Programme in the Philippines aims to “transform farmers into agents of forest conservation”. While there are some local success stories, adoption rates on the whole have been low or unsustainable. There are many reasons for the disappointing results, as will be discussed below.