A local woman in Kab Sarmi, Papua, Indonesia, processing damar from trees.
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Paving the way for greater uptake of agroforestry farming systems

International practitioners call for greater access to finance, marketing and advisory services, alongside improved technical skills and supportive government policy to reach new markets.

10. Jun 2020

A newly released policy brief commissioned by a network of international agroforestry practitioners sheds light on the main barriers to the propagation of agroforestry in emerging markets – a land use management system which offers significant environmental, economic and social benefits, particularly to smallholders.

In drafting the brief, NIRAS experts point to the need for more efficient and profitable value chains and diverse market systems to attract farmers to agroforestry. Products need better connections to markets – facilitated by increased marketing and access to finance – and policies should be developed that promote an expansion of sustainable agricultural methods and agroforestry farming techniques through adequate extension services and technical assistance.

A more sustainable win-win approach

Agroforestry involves the integration of trees or shrubs with crops or pastureland. Farmers who practice agroforestry see much greater diversified agricultural output and income streams from a variety of sources, which also mitigates the impact of climate change as their livelihoods are not dependent on a single crop. A single agroforestry farm can, for example, produce mango, coffee, macadamia nuts, timber, honey, beans and fodder for dairy cattle. At the same time, agroforestry systems protect and conserve biodiversity, soil, water, wildlife habitats and other natural resources.

Despite the promising opportunities it unlocks, agroforestry is not as widely practiced as it could be particularly in the development aid context. Founded by the Swedish NGO, Vi-skogen, the Agro Forestry Network is on a mission to change that by bringing together agroforestry experts from different organisations and institutions in Sweden and abroad and sharing knowledge and good practice.

The network commissioned NIRAS as a member to draft a policy brief outlining agroforestry value chains, market systems, and the current market barriers as well as recommendations on how these could be resolved using successful case studies.

The method of planting trees and crops together is an efficient and effective way to fight poverty as yields increase, mitigate climate change as trees store CO2, and fight desertification and restore degraded land.

Agroforestry Network

Applying a flexible market systems approach

Due to their natural complexity, agroforestry market system connections are not as clear or developed as in singular, staple crop value chains. Thus there is a need for greater support of the establishment of farmer organisations or cooperatives and their ability to negotiate prices and access funding, training and input services as a collective across value chains. An inclusive market systems approach focuses on connecting farmers to local and regional markets for top quality/niche products. Once the producers can ensure a steady stream of a certain volume of products to, for example supermarkets or farmers markets, prices can increase.

The global demand for climate friendly agroforestry products already exists in high income markets and can be promoted further with specialty labelling and traceability efforts that build trustworthiness and brand value. Local civil society organisations can reinforce the market by calling for greater conservation and climate resilience measures through agroforestry, and more attention could also be given to commodity traders, who have a huge power and influence over the entire value chain.

Mr. Deus Nuwagaba from NUCAFE drying coffee beans in Uganda

Greater awareness and government support

Because agroforestry involves diversified farming systems that require long-term investment, farmers need incentives to implement new practices. Government can play its part by promoting agroforestry through taxes and subsidies and moving away from the monoculture production systems. Clear institutional mandates need to be developed and strong coordination between the stakeholders in the market system need to be established.

Only when the environmental, social and economic benefits of agroforestry are understood both by producers and the end market, and all stakeholders play their role in supporting the market will this sustainable farming system take off.

For more details on the Agroforestry Network and the policy brief, click here.