World Food & Markets

Smallholders successfully combining food and forestry


India’s bold plan to achieve 33% tree cover through agroforestry

By Kate Langford

Shri Pranab Mukherjee, the Honorable President of India, opened the World Congress on Agroforestry on 10 February 2014. There is a sanskrit verse that includes the words ‘ten sons are equal to one tree’. If India is to achieve its ambitious goal of 33 per cent tree cover through agroforestry, then a great many sons (and daughters too) need to be involved.

The Congress on Agroforestry opened in Delhi, India with President the Honorable Shri Pranab Mukherjee saying to the 1,000 delegates gathered: “The cylinders can no longer remain idle; it is time to fire”.

Shri Mukherjee announced a landmark National Agroforestry Policy for India which is aimed at not just increasing tree cover, but providing multiple livelihood and environmental benefits. The policy is expected to benefit the country’s farmers through incentives for agroforestry, insurance schemes and greater access to markets for agroforestry products.

According to President Mukherjee, the policy will enable farmers to reap the benefits of agroforestry, including sustainable crop production, improved livelihoods, stable ecosystems and resilient cropping and farming systems.

He particularly pointed out the role of agroforestry in climate change mitigation, saying “2014 should be a defining moment for tree-based systems to address climate change.” Certain agroforestry systems have been proven to sequester as much carbon in below-ground biomass as primary forests, and far greater than cropping and grassland systems.

Agroforestry is not new to India, having been practiced for generations. But the full potential of agroforestry has not been realized for many reasons. Among these are adverse policies, legal constraints, inadequate investments, weak markets and a dearth of institutional finance.

In India, as in many other countries, the mandate for agroforestry has fallen through the cracks in various ministries, departments, agencies and state governments.

The new policy brings together all the sons and daughters (i.e. ministries, institutions, programs, agencies and farmers) needed for an agroforestry revolution. It will see the establishment of a new Mission or Board dedicated to agroforestry. Regulatory mechanisms relating to agroforestry produce will be overhauled, sound databases and information systems developed and considerable new investment made in research, extension and capacity building. Greater industry involvement is also a major target.

The policy comes at a time when trees outside forests are becoming increasingly important for India. An estimated 65 per cent of the country’s timber and almost half of its fuel wood comes from trees grown on farms.

With India’s ever expanding population and increasing competition for land and water resources, agroforestry is viewed as having enormous potential to supply nutritious foods, fodder, firewood and timber.

Hopefully this new policy will provide the necessary incentives and remove obstacles so that agroforestry can be adopted with enthusiasm and confidence by farmers across the country.


My advice to nations considering agroforestry

By Robert Finlayson

Rita Sharma had some good pointers on developing an agroforestry policy.

Trees take a long time to grow. And so do agroforestry policies. If you happen to be a nation considering growing your own policy, you could take a leaf out of India’s book.

The second most populous nation on Earth has just announced its first-ever national agroforestry policy.

Until now, India has had only bits and pieces of agroforestry-related guidelines in branch offices of the various ministries and departments that make up the 1.2-billion-people nation’s large bureaucracy. There was no central document that coherently focused the nation’s energies on putting trees on farms for their multiple benefits to people and the environment. And without such a document there were no specific people in government charged with the task of implementing the policy written on it.

And yet, farmers and scientists have known for a long time that it was a good idea to incorporate food, fuel, medicinal and timber trees with annual crops like wheat, maize or potatoes. Farmers in India plant poplar trees as windbreaks—and timber suppliers—along the edges of their small pieces of land, typically around 1 hectare; or grow wheat amongst mango trees; or combine coconut trees and fish farms. These farm systems also store carbon dioxide, which helps reduce greenhouse-gas emissions, and provide homes and food for animals and insects. And they make a farm more adaptable to extreme weather and fluctuations in markets. If there is a drought, for example, and the annual crop fails, the trees will still be likely to produce fruit and nuts, which can be eaten by the household or sold for cash.

Even so, according to Rita Sharma, India’s agroforestry policy’s announcement came “12 years after Dennis Garrity made the claim for agroforestry”. Sharma is the secretary of the National Advisory Council that helped develop the policy and Garrity was then the head of the International Centre for Research in Agroforestry, which later changed its brand name to the World Agroforestry Centre. Sharma was speaking at the opening day of the World Congress on Agroforestry in New Delhi, on 10 February 2014.

Sharma had some sage advice for other countries that might be thinking of making their own policy. The first question, she said, was “where should the focus be?” There were many different types of agroforestry systems, including ones run by larger enterprises, she said.

But 80% of India’s farmers are smallholders with 2 hectares or less and 60% of the cultivated area relies on infrequent and low rainfall. This land is on the margins of agricultural productivity, is stressed by lack of water and has low biodiversity. So, for Sharma and the others developing the policy, the choice was obvious: any policy had to prioritize the needs smallholders while also providing incentives for bigger system managers.

The second issue was existing legislation, in particular, the National Food Security Act 2013. This Act allows for highly subsidized food grain to be provided to two-thirds of the population: 820 million people are guaranteed that they can buy grain for 2–3 rupees (about US 6 cents) a kilogram. The Government has to supply 65 million tonne a year to meet its commitment. Clearly, any new policy couldn’t encourage taking land out of grain production. Hence, the policy focused on trees being complementary to crops, not substitutes.

The third dimension was one of semantics: is agroforestry really agriculture? Or is it forestry? Or both? While this might seem like something of a minor point, in bureaucracies, such terms define who is responsible for what.

‘In the past’, said Sharma, ‘the forestry people made mention of agroforestry but it wasn’t prioritized. And the same went for the agriculture people’.

The question for the Government was, ‘just which ministry would be responsible for trees on farms?’ Which one would implement the policy? The answer was a mix, like agroforestry itself, in the form of an equal partnership between agriculture and the environment.

“A common board will be set up—an agroforestry commission—so all the stakeholders can have their input,” said Sharma. “It will have funds of about USD 30–40 million, which will leverage funds from other programs.”

Which leads to the final piece of advice for interested nations: the agroforestry policy is a unique instrument in that it doesn’t have a stand-alone architecture of its own—except for the mission—but has many horizontal links with other programs, such as Sustainable Agriculture and the Green India mission. These already spend money on things that are common to agroforestry, such as tree nurseries and farmer training: around USD 1 billion a year. Now these can also support the spread of agroforestry.

“If we went and asked the finance minster for this amount we wouldn’t have got it,” said Sharma. “But this new mechanism will coordinate expenditure to provide technical support, build access to markets, prepare quality planting material and develop financial products and services. For example, banks currently give farmers loans to plant crops, but not trees. The policy will address this.”

This unique way of implementing the policy, and the partnerships it encourages, sets it apart and is its strength, according to Sharma, but is also its weakness: ‘It will need a lot of managerial skill because we are used to vertical silos not horizontal ways of working.

“But the policy is one small step. We have an obligation to ensure its success. We hope in the fullness of time it will culminate in a giant leap for the smallholder farmers of India,”




Beyond the project cycle, smallholders can sustain better farming practices

By Daisy Ouya

New findings from a village in India fly in the face of the oft-held fear that project interventions on smallholder farms are doomed to whittle away after the project ends.

Presenting at a session at the World Congress on Agroforestry 2014, Bangor University researcher James Brockington said in the village of Channapur in Karnataka, the number of smallholder farmers practicing the Wadi system of agroforestry had not reduced, but grown from 31 households when the project ended in 2005, to 38 households 5 years on.

Wadi agroforestry has remained and spread in Channapur, India. Photo James Brockington

The 2010 assessment of the spread of the wadi agroforestry system, introduced between 2001 and 2005 in an action-research project funded by DFID in conjunction with BAIF, also indicates that farmers are able to adopt—and adapt—complex agroforestry practices to suit their conditions. This debunks another misconception that smallholders can only embrace simple technologies; Wadi is a complex, multi-component, multi-product agroforestry practice.

Wadi means ‘small orchard’ in Gujirati, and involves intercropping fruit trees and crops inside a boundary of multipurpose trees. The system normally has a farm pond, and is enclosed by a dry fence.

The system was co-developed with tribal communities in south Gujarat, and this might be one of the reasons Wadi has remained and spread in the area.

Another important contributor to the growth and resilience of wadi, said Brockington, was the training, free planting materials and small cash incentives for preparatory groundwork provided to willing farmers during the project. Technical support offered over the 3-year implementation period was also critical, particularly in 2003 when a drought threatened to wipe out gains made over the past year.

“Farmers in Channapur reported higher fruit and timber yields, as well as better harvests of crops, as a result of soil and water conservation practices,” said Brockington. “And crop yields rose even before the benefits from the sale of tree products came through.”

Channapur is in Dharwad District, a semi-arid zone with annual rainfall of less than 850 mm. It is categorised as a ‘less favoured’ area of India, defined by fragile natural resource base and/or limited access to markets and infrastructure.

At the beginning of the project in 2002, only the relatively wealthier households adopted the wadi system (making up 60% of the adopters), with the poorest households recording a mere 3% uptake. At the assessment in 2010, the system was being used by both richer and poorer farmers, and over 90% of the initial adopters continued to practice it.

These preliminary findings are highly encouraging, said Brockington, and point to the need for projects to conduct ex-post analyses some years after project interventions terminate. Furthermore, there is a need to measure impact in terms of farmers’ incomes and livelihoods, rather than simply uptake; this needs well-targeted and robust data at the start of projects.

Another speaker at the same session, Sudhir P. Ahlawatof the Indian Council of Agricultural Research, presented data on the use of bamboo intercropped with chickpea and sesame in semi-arid area of central India. “Bamboo sales compensate any monetary losses of intercrop, through the harvesting of culms. From the sale of bamboo culms, you can get an income of between 12,000 to 35,000 Rupees every year, without any more investment on your part,” said Ahlawat.

Bamboo has another benefit of repairing the soil. “Soil pH, organic carbon and available phosphorous all increased with bamboo.”

Ahlawat recommended that long-term intercrops with bamboo are spaced wider (over 10 x 10 meters apart), to avoid competition for nutrients with crops. Also, “planting of bamboo lines in an east-west direction will reduce the shade effect.”

In his presentation, Prasad V. Jasti said the benefit: cost ratio of certain tree-based interventions in arid and semi-arid areas can be up to 5.5. “The agroforestry systems also provide stability during years of severe drought,” he added.

Jasti recommended a review of the restrictive regulations around the sale of farm-grown timber, which might discourage farmers from growing trees.

In his presentation, Arun Misra discussed the success of participatory pasture development with trees. By securing a year-round supply of fodder, the system has led farmers to increasingly choose to rear better-quality milking animals instead of keeping large numbers of less productive stock.

“The appropriate combination and management of trees, shrubs, crops, grasses and livestock units will make agriculture a profitable proposal in the face of climate change challenges,” stated Misra in his talk.

Murari M. Roy of the Central Arid Zone Research Institute in Jodhpur, said for dry areas, “agroforestry with livestock integration offers a great scope in combating ill effects of climate change.”

Matilda Palm of the Chalmers University of Technology, discussed the opportunities for restoring degraded and vulnerable lands with agroforestry systems, based on a comparative study from Sri Lanka and Vietnam.

Like any good deal, when an agroforestry system works for farmers and they have appropriate support, it can spread far and wide, usually driven by farmer-to-farmer sharing of knowledge. In India, an estimated 500,000 farmers are currently practicing the Wadi agroforestry system.


Building family livelihoods from charcoal in PNG

University of Adelaide researchers have helped create a new industry for Papua New Guinea (PNG) farmers based on producing charcoal from locally grown firewood crops.

A six-year project funded by the Australian Centre for International Agricultural Research and working with PNG researchers and landholders, has seen the development of successful small businesses surrounding the production and selling of charcoal from new quick-growing tree crops.

Led by Dr Ian Nuberg, Senior Lecturer in the School of Agriculture, Food and Wine at the University’s Waite Campus, the project started with an extensive survey of PNG’s fuelwood economy.

“Not surprisingly the rural populations of PNG are high fuelwood users, but even in urban areas where they have access to electricity, most households use fuelwood at some time during the year,” says Dr Nuberg. “We could see it was a unique and very much underdeveloped market, with a lot of opportunity for the development of new businesses.”

The second part of the project focussed on developing agroforestry systems with a focus on quick-growing species that re-grow from the stump once harvested.  The aim was to have small woodlots so farmers could produce wood in just two years.  The wood is also easy to handle as it doesn’t require splitting.

“We found the right species and trials were successful but we came up against some consumer resistance because the wood looked different to what they were used to,” says Dr Nuberg. The solution they found was to turn the wood into charcoal.

“The product was good – it’s cleaner burning and lighter to carry – but there wasn’t an existing market in charcoal,” he says. “When we demonstrated charcoal stoves at regional cultural shows, it attracted great interest from the crowds. The last phase of our project was to identify and help establish business models that would fit in the PNG culture.”

In a country where there is much conflict over land ownership and a highly diverse culture with 800 language groups, it’s a significant challenge to establish collaborative marketing arrangements.

“We came up with two working business models: one suitable for the Highlands based around family groupings and one suitable for the lowlands where there was more opportunity for broader groups collaborating together to create the value-adding chain from growing trees through to selling charcoal in the market,” says Dr Nuberg.

“Around Lae (the second-largest city in PNG) in particular this has been very successful with seven extended-family groups now operating business based on charcoal.  The groups decided to form a cooperative so they are not competing against each other. Member groups focus variously on charcoal production, stove construction, and demonstration and sales in the market place. We are very happy with the result.

“What we’ve done is applied science and the business of agroforestry to help people build real livelihoods from tree products. It’s been very rewarding.”

Find out more: Dr Ian Nuberg Senior Lecturer, The University of Adelaide,

Should we leave extension to the farmers?

By Kate Langford

Farmer to farmer communication might be the most effective way to ensure widespread adoption of agroforestry.

“Often farmers don’t have access to research being disseminated by extension services, so they learn from other successful farmers,” explained Endri Martini of the World Agroforestry Centre (ICRAF) during a session at a session on ‘Bridging Science and Development’ at World Congress on Agroforestry.

When Martini and colleagues asked farmers in Sulawesi, Indonesia what was their most effective source of information on agriculture, they rated other farmers ahead of extension agents.

People from the villages they studied in South Sulawesi and Southeast Sulawesi got roughly half their information about agriculture, health and education from inside the village (such as through village leaders, farmer groups, friends and family) and half from outside the village (e.g. media, government agencies, projects and people from other villages).

Men tended to get more information from outside the village than women because men have more opportunities to visit other areas.

Farmers said they adopted the top 3 favoured agroforestry innovations (planting new species in agroforestry systems, vegetative propagation and gaining access to improved planting material) equally from farmers or farmer groups and agroforestry projects. Only 4 percent said they had adopted these through extension agents.

Recognizing the important role of farmer to farmer communication, the World Agroforestry Centre has begun running farmer field schools as part of its work in Sulawesi. They have identified lead farmers who can disseminate innovation and organized cross-visits between successful and struggling farmers.

“Farmer to farmer communication is particularly crucial in areas that extension agents rarely visit, where language is a barrier and where there is poor infrastructure,” says Martini.

Her presentation struck a chord with participants at a session that included a range of other presentations addressing why it is that science often does not have the envisaged impact on development.

Christian Borgemeister suggested there are 3 factors needed for science to trigger development: transdisciplinary research, capacity development and symmetrical partnerships.

Tatiana Deane de Abreu Sá who works on agroforestry systems in the Brazilian Amazon also emphasized the need for many disciplines to be involved, in addition to effective collaborations with farmers.

In scaling-up Evergreen Agriculture in Africa, GIZ and ICRAF rely on partnerships with a wide range of stakeholders to reduce barriers and spread the science to farmers. In Ethiopia, greasing the wheels for up-scaling the use of Faidherbia albida (a fertilizer tree) from 1 to 2 million farms will require a “multistakeholder and multidisciplinary approach,” say Joerg Lohmann and Alice Muller.

So, should the dissemination of agroforestry innovation be left to farmers?

Martini believes that improving communication between farmers, agroforestry research agencies and local governments holds the key to providing the information which is needed to extend agroforestry across Sulawesi and indeed Indonesia.

As Borgemeister pointed out, “We need more solution-oriented research.” Listening to farmers and their needs is crucial. Innovation doesn’t always start with science.


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