Agroforestry: An invisible giant holds the key to landscape restoration

This article was written by a social reporter. It has not been edited by the Forum organisers or partners, and represents the opinion of the individual author only.
Agroforestry in Lubuk Beringin village, Indonesia. Photo: Tri Saputro/CIFOR
Agroforestry in Lubuk Beringin village, Indonesia. Photo: Tri Saputro/CIFOR

While it is well known that the UNFCCC (United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change) and the United Nations SDGs (Sustainable Development Goals) are both seeking for the best ways to sustainably manage landscapes, policy changes and development initiatives have struggled to make coherent links between forestry and landscapes.

Enter agroforestry. This practice integrates agriculture and forest landscapes together, and was the focus of a panel on 5 December at the Global Landscapes Forum.

The event was hosted by the World Agroforestry Center (ICRAF), and included a wide range of experts from a variety of fields, from Sarwono Kusumaatmadja, Chairman for Indonesia’s advisory council for Climate Change, to Dennis Garrity, a Senior fellow at ICRAF.

The panel discussed the opportunity for agroforestry to help answer to critical questions facing landscape degradation and climate change adaptation. Despite this, international organizations have yet to recognize the potential of this practice, and the interconnectedness of agroforestry to achieving any sustainable development agenda.

There is already evidence that agroforestry works on the ground. Lalisa Duguma, a scientist at ICRAF, discussed her work on a project in Tanzania that saw significant social, environmental, and livelihood benefits through the implementation of agroforestry practices across institutional and disciplinary boundaries.

“Why was it successful? It was a multi-stakeholder engagement. ICRAF facilitated a framework that involved all actors, from the local to the national, into the decision making,” said Duguma.

Duguma further emphasized that local knowledge is highly valuable in the process. “We used the local knowledge and practice because it empowers the local community. Furthermore they feel valued for it. We want the community to take control.”

This emphasis on the social element of development is a key area that policy makers and development agencies must take into account in all future interventions.

“Agroforestry is central to the Bonn Challenge,” said Stewart Maginnis from the International Union for the Conservation of Nature (IUCN).We already have the tools and science, thanks to ICRAF. There is good tree technology. But what is fundamental is the involvement of stakeholders, especially women.”

The role of women has been identified as crucial time and again in all development initiatives, but nonetheless, it is critical to not lose focus of achieving sustainable objectives with the gender question in mind.

Joanna Durbin, Director of the Climate, Community and Biodiversity Alliance, gave further examples of the social benefits that agroforestry brings to smallholders. “One forest user group in Nepal is entirely run by women, and they manage the forest for the community. It is the women that take responsibility and they are being rewarded.”

Perhaps the most surprising aspect of agroforestry is the extent to which we take it for granted. Garrity proceded to tell the panel of the ‘best practices’ already being used in Malawi, under the radar. Here, local smallholders engaged in a range of agroforestry activities all over the country that, “were not part of the big agricultural development program, and not monitored,” said Garrity.

This is an example of what the entirety of the panel was aiming to demonstrate: the capabilities and knowledge of locals is a fundamental part of any landscape restoration initiative, and must be factored into sustainable landscape initiatives moving forward.