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close this bookAgro-forestry in the African Humid Tropics (UNU, 1982, 162 pages)
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View the documentWorking group on systems management

Working group on systems management

Managing agro-forestry production means organizing three basic elements-labour, land, and capital. Each presents constraints as well as resources for management. In addressing the issue of how to combine these inputs, one should not lose sight of the time requirements-both for crop- tree decisions and for longer-term development interests.

Labour in agro-forestry systems is mainly provided by small farmers, and this is the most critical input in systems management. Labour is limited, and the farmers have priorities. They will usually prefer to give their efforts to activities with guaranteed food or other outputs. Agro-forestry requires additional labour input, especially in the establishment of trees; however, in some circumstances direct labour savings are possible. Farmers are frequently employed off the farm, and this fact should not be overlooked by agro-forestry planners. Agro-forestry systems that call for combinations that cut across the traditional division of labour of a particular culture or community, for example between men and women, are likely to be poorly accepted.

Agro-forestry may mean a re-organization of the sequence of labour inputs that conflicts with other activities. In short, labour cannot be defined simply as the number of workdays required. If farmers must forgo or make short-term production sacrifices, incentives are necessary.

In the African humid tropics, land is less of a constraint than is labour. Agro-forestry should mean both trees in the fields and crops in the forest. In other words, agro-forestry as a system has production goals and conservation goals, depending on needs and resources. In management decisions regarding land, the great majority of the constraints derive from ownership or tenure. A tenant or other user may wish to plant trees but be prohibited by the owner because tree planting may confer rights of use. Although land tenure in many countries is changing rapidly, it may be distinct from that which is officially described. Tenure seems, therefore, to have more important implications for agro-forestry than does land availability.

Institutional Framework

  • Although an institutional framework for agro-forestry at national level is desirable, it may never be possible. What is possible is joint efforts of all land-use sectors. Coordination of services to farmer participants in agro-forestry programmes means a common understanding of the system by all the agencies involved. Such an understanding is lacking today and, because it enables systems management, it must be a priority;
  • Institutional coordination must start with the policy-makers and extend to the field workers. Government may wish to designate a lead agency or focal points for agro-forestry to get programmes off the ground.


  • A considerable effort should be made at the international level to clarify agro-forestry policy proposals; at present, few, if any, agro-forestry policies per se exist. Clarification will substantially aid countries to develop their own policies;
  • Policies must not be seen as just another means for foresters to achieve their tree-planting goals. To overcome this suspicion, foresters should meet with members of all land-use sectors and discuss their common interests at the planning and execution stages. Better representation of agriculturalists at agro-forestry meetings, either national or international, is a first step;
  • Policy development and review must be based on clear objectives understood by all. The existing objectives are, in many countries, still only semidefined and need to be made clear-cut. Basic information on the merits of agro-forestry and its development potential in broad socio-economic terms must be put forward to policy-makers. Professionals involved in agro-forestry today must be more affirmative in taking their case to government decision-makers;
  • Those interested in agro-forestry policy should consider as a first exercise a careful study of both agricultural and forestry policies to determine whether these will impede or promote agro-forestry.

Legal Instruments

  • A careful review of the law and its relationship with agro-forestry is fertile ground for endeavour. Policy is implemented through legal instruments and the lack of agro-forestry policy implies a lack of legal instruments. Indeed, many of the constraints to agro-forestry management have their origins in the laws. In this respect, the laws that put constraints on the use and ownership of forest trees should be reconsidered. Legal constraints to agro-forestry may lie outside forestry and agricultural laws; they may be found in laws on credit availability, land tenure, land reform, business enterprises, and tribal and family customs. These laws should not be overlooked in a holistic approach to agro-forestry managements;
  • The implications of changes in the laws should be examined carefully; how they would affect everyone from government staff to smallholder farmers should be anticipated as much as possible;
  • Legislation should seek to promote the permanent associations of agriculture, forestry, and animal sciences for the general good of society. Many of the details of agro-forestry management could be dealt with in complementary regulations that are more flexible, easier to interpret, and simpler to modify than legislation.