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Agroforestry's biggest problem: policy

Policy has become the greatest obstacle many farmers face in practising agroforestry (© Charlie Pye-Smith/ICRAF)
Policy has become the greatest obstacle many farmers face in practising agroforestry
© Charlie Pye-Smith/ICRAF

Farmers face many challenges in the long process of nourishing effective agroforestry systems. One is that agroforestry has often been invisible to national and local governments because it is split between several policy sectors, which regard the field and the forest as separate domains. In some countries, such policies significantly inhibit the growing of trees in fields or crops in wooded areas.

This introduces much risk and few incentives for farmers. For many, policy has become the greatest obstacle they face in practising agroforestry. Now, with climate change drawing attention back to the creative use of trees, efforts are growing to create better policies. ICRAF, the World Agroforestry Centre, created the Agroforestry Policy Initiative last year to participate in and learn from these efforts, and its first year has been especially educational.

A more understanding policy environment can make widespread agroforestry a reality when governments help smallholders access planting material, knowledge, markets and credit. Most importantly, it can give communities control over their trees, allowing time-tested systems of agroforestry to flourish.

The making of a sector

With the launch of the Agroforestry Policy Initiative last year, ICRAF has taken a direct hand in the drive for policy reform. The initiative is taking a necessarily broad approach to address national and local policies across multiple sectors - forestry, agriculture, environment, commerce and land - because no single policy space exists to bring together the components of agroforestry. ICRAF hopes to change this, promoting consistency in governments' efforts to remove barriers and create incentives. The initiative revolves around creating awareness for change and the provision of science-based support to governments and other decision-makers.

"In the first year," says ICRAF Impact Assessment Advisor Frank Place, "our early efforts were in awareness creation, both of the initiative and the underlying rationale - that is, the deficiency in policies towards agroforestry." The team has also been active in building the partnerships it will need to reach its goals, which extend to FAO and the World Bank-managed Program on Forests (PROFOR).

Partners in policy

Trees are vital for carbon sequestration (© ICRAF)
Trees are vital for carbon sequestration

"We have also been busy," says Place, "convening a policy group in Malawi to review its policies from an agroforestry perspective; discussions of a new Agroforestry Strategy in Brazil; and just recently a roundtable discussion in India to discuss the rationale and interest in developing a national agroforestry policy for the country." These countries approached ICRAF to ask for its expertise, and Place expects that many future activities will be demand driven. This may be particularly true with governments seeking to contribute to the UN's REDD+ programme on reducing emissions from deforestation.

Now the initiative has begun to contribute to a broader effort by FAO to develop an agroforestry policy guideline for policymakers. This will be the latest in a line of influential guidelines published by the UN organisation, including a 1980s forestry policy guideline which held considerable sway in subsequent forestry policy reforms. ICRAF has joined research centres CATIE in Costa Rica and CIRAD in France to contribute their experiences to this latest guideline.

"We are very supportive of FAO's work in this area, and especially of their ability to move this knowledge to action at the national level," says Place. "Many products will be needed to achieve policy reforms; ICRAF will take the lead in generating some, but we also hope to catalyse other institutes to increase efforts in this area."

The journey from knowledge to action has proved to be one of variable difficulty. "Generally speaking, ICRAF has observed several positive changes at the local level, e.g. bylaws, as these often require fewer steps to change. At the national level, there have been varied experiences."

From visibility to change

"The process of making agroforestry more visible in policy is not necessarily a difficult task," says Place, and changes to laws and local bylaws can be simple, "but changing tenure regimes, or regulations where revenues are concerned, is of course more difficult." In the often crucial matter of devolving responsibility to communities themselves, governments may have a hard time letting go.

ICRAF is working to accelerate the use and impact of their research (© ICRAF)
ICRAF is working to accelerate the use and impact of their research

It's not unprecedented, though. In 2009, Indonesia's Ministry of Forestry declared the village of Lubuk Beringin in Sumatra as the first Hutan Desa (village forest) in Indonesia, giving residents the right to manage a watershed protection forest and enabling local communities to receive payments for protecting environmental services. The pilot project was based on ICRAF research and was, in turn, part of the inspiration for the Agroforestry Policy Initiative.

"The case of tenure reforms in Indonesia is perhaps at one extreme because that involved the Ministry making policy change that would reduce its own control over land," Place observes. "So this policy change has come slowly, first with pilot tests." Yet change has come, and as the Agroforestry Policy Initiative joins more governments in imagining a new agroforestry policy, the conditions under which farmers solve problems with trees will continue to change.

By T. Paul Cox

Date published: September 2011


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