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

Performance of Agroforestry Projects

Many extended agroforestry systems were based on supply-driven research, a common problem in forestry research (Nair et al., 1995). Only recently has research shifted from experimental plots to on-farm research after it has become clear that many of the encouraging results could not be replicated by farmers. Technologies developed were extended to very diverse environments with subsequent failures. The importance of participatory research is acknowledged today, though it is still not common.

There have been only very few innovations in agroforestry. Some of the technologies that have emerged over the last few years are adaptations or refinements of existing agroforestry systems. Alley cropping has received substantial attention in the literature. It has been promoted by development projects and government departments for the last two decades, mainly for soil and water conservation purposes. Alley cropping has never been widely adopted because it has not been developed in response to farmers' problems. It substantially decreases soil erosion and increases water infiltration thus reducing runoff. However, benefits in terms of crop yield increases are frequently not attractive enough to farmers. From their perspective, the costs often outweigh the benefits. That is why recently the research focus has shifted to improved fallow technologies. In a strict sense improved fallowing is also not an innovation. It is already practised in various locations. However, it is doubtful that it will be widely adopted, since the general development is directed towards either more intensive cash cropping of annuals, or more extensive management of perennials.

The supply-driven or top-down research approach is also evident in extension (Enters and Hagmann, 1996). Extension workers still see themselves as teachers educating the ignorant instead of acting as facilitators in the change process. Extension messages are contradictory and there is little co-ordination among projects, programmes and government departments. In other cases, an extension service is absent, which is the case in many remote areas. Agroforestry education and training are inadequate and focus on introducing “officially developed” agroforestry technologies. While changes are evident in research, extension and training, their impact in the field will only become evident in the long-term.

The implementation of agroforestry projects is also a top-down process though bottom-up approaches are receiving more attention. Farmers are often told what to do and when to carry out an activity. This includes many of the silvicultural treatments and intermediate as well as the final harvests. This is very discouraging for farmers who prefer to make their own decisions.

Forestry and agroforestry policies have experienced many changes over the last few years. It has been recognized by now that land security has a significant effect on how farmers decide on long-term investments. However, in some countries forestry regulations and heavy taxation are still an impediment to tree planting (e.g. Saxena, 1994, for the situation in India). Even when tenure and tree rights have been changed in the farmers' favour, farmers do not always believe that these revisions are long-lasting. Subsequently they hesitate to get involved in an unknown venture particularly if permits are required for literally every activity and transaction.

Credit facilities are frequently unavailable to farmers, likewise insurance and price support mechanisms. Marketing constraints exist where physical infrastructure is poor, severely curtailing the production of cash crops within agroforestry systems. Another obstacle is a lack of quality seeds and seedlings, or conflicting delivery schedules with the farmers activities.

The above are some explanations for the poor performance of many agroforestry projects. However, merely tackling these individual barriers will not make agroforestry projects more viable. Instead a major change in approach is required. Therefore, introduced agroforestry has to be as responsive to people's needs as the traditional systems, particularly to arising opportunities, and should not be based on outdated perceptions. As described by Malla (1992) in Nepal, forestry policies are still designed to assist rural people in the production of fodder when in many areas, due to labour shortages, the number of livestock has actually decreased. Agricultural crop production has been affected in the same way and farmers have responded by planting trees on their private lands.

The growth of the agricultural population in the countries of the Region is much lower than the growth in the urban areas. In China and Thailand, it is only 0.3 percent and in Indonesia even negative. Thus, in combination with the increasing opportunities for off-farm employment, agricultural land will be left idle or, alternatively, becomes available for less intensive forms of land use. The views that all rural inhabitants are farmers and that their activities are subsistence-based are outdated. These new developments will substantially affect the rural landscape in the next decades. As can be seen already, previously cultivated marginal upland areas are being abandoned in Thailand. Some are turned into commercial small-scale tree farms. Even urban investors are planting high value trees, particularly orchards. If economic growth rates can be maintained in the countries of Southeast Asia then we will definitely see more land use conversion from agricultural to tree-based systems though it is doubtful whether these will be agroforestry systems. Instead it can be expected that on the better soils agricultural production will intensify while trees will occupy poorer sites.

A brief review of the more successful agroforestry projects helps to understand what the most likely developments in agroforestry or small-scale plantations will be.

Subsidies and incentives schemes have frequently boosted adoption rates. However, as soon as such scheme ceased many farmers abandoned their agroforestry plots. Similarly, adoption rates were high where communities received benefits in terms of infrastructural amenities or where farmers attempted to avoid reprisals from government departments (Enters, 1995). A heavy handed top-down approach which sometimes includes the use of threats and force has also lead to an increased use of introduced agroforestry practices (Lee, 1995). Whether such examples should fall into the “successful” category is questionable but they help explain what is happening in the landscape.

Insecure land tenure has helped to explain low adoption rates of soil conservation and agroforestry practices. In fact, many farmers plant trees on land that, in a strictly legal sense, is not theirs, to strengthen their claims (Wiersum, 1994). This strategy is often adapted by projects (e.g., in the Philippines) in which farmers receive limited land security as long as they plant trees on a certain percentage of the land received from a forest department. The long-term sustainability of such approaches is threatened in those cases where there is no market for tree products. Once farmers feel that they have secure ownership they may switch back to agricultural crops.