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close this book Development in practice - Rural energy and development
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View the document Improving end-use efficiency with biomass stoves
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View the document Agro-forestry and farm forestry
View the document Participatory to forest management
View the document Improving access to kerosene and gas
View the document Subsidies versus price liberalization
View the document Distortionary effects of high taxes on cooking fuels

Agro-forestry and farm forestry


Agro-forestry entails planting trees, shrubs (and sometimes grasses, such as vetiver grasses), on farmlands in alternating patterns with more traditional crops. In addition to enhancing agricultural production by providing shade and complementary use of soils, agro-forestry plays an important role in alleviating fuelwood shortages and resource custody. Such intercropping reflects old and once well-known practices that have been neglected in recent years because of persistent poverty. population pressures. and failure to address tenurial or property rights. However, interest has been rekindled. Small farmers often practice agro-forestry and term forestry independently in response to economic needs and ecological problems. The spread of farm forestry in Kenya is an often-cited example of relatively autonomous development of effective practices. but many others can be found in China. India, Pakistan, the Philippines, and elsewhere.

In the Philippines. the island of Cebu lost most of its forests in the early part of this century The resulting fuelwood scarcity and rising prices caused farmers to begin planting trees to supply fuelwood to urban markets, which has helped ameliorate at least some of the environmental damage caused by the earlier deforestation (see box 6 2) In India. the first social forestry programs were aimed at establishing community wood lots, but few communities would engage in tree planting for urban markets. However, private farmers did respond to the incentives and began planting trees on their marginal lands. Recent programs in West Bengal have granted landless laborers tenure to manage trees on public wastelands.

Agro-forestry and term forestry can be encouraged through farmer education and extension programs and supported through agricultural and forestry research. Such efforts are both environmentally desirable and economically beneficial for the following reasons:

• Farmers outnumber foresters by several thousand to one. so involving fanners in planting trees and shrubs can dramatically accelerate afforestation.

• By their nature, agro-forestry and farm forestry investments are more closely related to farmers' needs, as they supply fodder, building materials, green mulch, fruit. and other by-products that are sometimes more valuable than the firewood itself (technically also a by-product)



Cebu, the island province in the south central Philippines, is one of the worst cases of environmental degradation in Southeast Asia. With virtually no forest cover, but with steep terrain, population densities of 520 people per square kilometer, and widespread cultivation of annual crops like corn throughout its rugged interior, environmentalists consider Cebu to be on the brink of ecological collapse.

Despite increased use of kerosene and LPG, most of the island's 2.7 million inhabitants continue to depend on wood, particularly households and businesses in the metropolis of Cebu City. This heavy dependence on wood-fuel is often cited as a major cause of the province's environmental woes. As a result, many government and NGO officials believe that wood-fuel use should be discouraged in urban areas and that commercial trade in wood-fuel should be more tightly regulated, if not altogether banned.

A recent study found, however. that commercial markets for fuelwood and charcoal in Cebu City may actually be inducing more intensive tree planting and management activities among rural farmers and landowners. Most commercially traded wood-fuels originate from intensively managed agricultural lands and consist mainly of fast-growing, multipurpose tree species like Gliricidia and Leucaena. The growing, harvesting, and trading of wood-fuels is a substantial source of income and employment. Wood-fuels meet significant urban energy demands and represent a renewable and locally produced energy source that annually saves the economy millions of dollars in foreign exchange.

Rather than promoting the cultivation of tree species that require extensive inputs. which require more labor, capital, and time to harvest, rural development programs should also recognize the benefits of the low-input alternatives that Cebuano farmers have practiced for nearly a century. They should view commercial wood-fuel markets as an opportunity to promote more widespread tree planting and management practices throughout rural areas of the province rather than as a problem to be controlled by restrictive legislation.

Source: Bensel (1994).


• Agro-forestry and farm forestry practices reduce run-off, coil erosion, and surface evaporation and improve micro-climates and soil water retention. Farmers can use the foliage of the trees they grow to provide nitrogen-rich manure or mulch for their fields and to improve soil structure Such attributes contribute to sustainable farming systems by raising the productivity of farm soils (Gregerson. Draper, and Elz 1989)

Field studies of agro-forestry practices in developing countries over the past twenty-five years have consistently found that agro-forestry has favorable effects on farm yields and incomes, just as similar studies have found in the high-income countries for the last century (Doolette and Magrath 1990: Gregersen. Draper, and Elz 1989) This is encouraging. because it demonstrates that biofuels can be supplied in ways that will not only help make agricultural practices sustainable but will also improve agricultural productivity and incomes

A recent study of twenty-ode agro-forestry projects in six Central American countries (Current. Lutz. and Scherr 1995) found that agro-forestry practicies were profitable under a inroad range of conditions (table 6 1 summarizes the results) These findings echo those of several other studies An earlier survey of field results (Doolette and Magath 1990) of more than a dozen studies in Brazil, Colombia, India. Indonesia. Malawi. Niger, the Philippines, the Republic of Korea. and Sudan did not find a single case in which the returns were less than 15 percent.

Table 6.1 Returns to Agro-Forestry Practices in Six Central American Countries

Agro-forestry system

Number of system studied

Benefit-cost ratio at 20% discounta

Payback period (years)

Trees with crops




Alley cropping




Contour planting




Perennials with trees




Home garden











9. a.

a. The high discount rate is used to give a measure of the financial returns to the farmers not of the opportunity cost of capital.

b. A system in which new forest plantations are established together with food and cash crops which continue to be intercropped until shaded out by the maturing plantation.

Source: Lutz Current and Scherr (1995)