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International Centre for Research in Agroforestry (ICRAF)
  • Date submitted: 1 Nov 2011
  • Stakeholder type: Major Group
  • Submission Document: Download
  • Additional Document:

Submission to the Secretariat of the United Nations Conference on Sustainable Development

The importance of trees for their contribution to sustainable development is well understood by the international community. However, most attention has been paid to trees in forests, and much less to trees in agricultural settings and pastoral lands. It has been calculated that at least half of the world?s farmland has at least 10% tree cover. This amounts to over one billion hectares of land where 558 million people live. On over a quarter of the world?s agricultural land, tree cover is over 20%. These trees on farms represent a huge and largely untapped resource both for production and better management of the environment. There is great potential to enhance tree cover in agricultural landscapes through better management but this requires supportive policy, appropriate institutional development and improved tree germplasm and technology options for farmers. More and better managed tree cover on farms could lead to higher and more stable farm incomes, greater food security, more resilient production systems and enhanced environmental services.

Agroforestry is the practice of incorporating trees within agricultural landscapes. The trees are perennial crops that can provide food for people, fodder and shade for livestock, timber and renewable wood energy. They can also contribute to biodiversity conservation, store carbon, maintain and improve soil fertility, regulate water flows, and reduce land degradation and improve water use efficiency. Agroforestry is at the heart of the three Rio UNCED conventions and is vitally important for food security.

Agroforestry and climate change

Climate change adaptation and mitigation come together in agroforestry. Most agricultural land has been obtained by clearing forests and rangelands, resulting in increased carbon emissions from land use change. In turn, many agricultural livelihoods are facing challenges as a result of climate change. Agroforestry, by increasing tree cover on farmland and pastures, helps to mitigate climate change by sequestering carbon, and assists the sustainable management of land thus helping people to adapt to the effects of climate change. Despite its proven efficiency to improve livelihoods with mitigation and adaptation co-benefits, agroforestry has frequently fallen between the gaps of the climate negotiations in relation to agriculture and forestry. A whole landscape carbon accounting approach that recognizes adaptation and livelihood benefits will bring agroforestry into the centre of ways to sustainably manage natural resources for the future. The micro- and mesoclimatic effects of trees are absent from most discussions of adaptation options in agriculture, although tree cover has large effects on maximum and minimum temperatures, windspeed and humidity, relative to global climate change predictions.

Agroforestry and biodiversity

Trees on agricultural land can provide a wide range of niches and corridors that support biodiversity and enhance habitat connectivity. For example, trees on pastures and coffee farms surrounding protected forest in Central America facilitate the migration of important bird species that are essential for maintaining the integrity of wildlife reserves. Hotspots of abundance and activity of soil organisms have also been found close to trees on agricultural land, indicating that they promote below-ground biodiversity that underpins soil health. Using trees in agricultural systems can both enhance biodiversity conservation and improve the stability and resilience of crop yields.

Agroforestry and desertification

Trees are a key component of dryland systems that are susceptible to desertification. Tree roots hold the soil and reduce erosion caused by wind and water. They facilitate the infiltration and penetration of water into the soil and mediate the loss of water through run-off and evaporation. Trees provide sustainable sources of fodder for livestock and can reduce grazing pressure. Trees can improve soil fertility through nitrogen fixation and tightening nutrient and water cycling , thereby increasing the productivity of the land. Trees provide shade and windbreaks that can increase crop and livestock productivity as well as improving animal welfare. Trees have often been seen as free goods provided by nature and they have been lost across many dryland landscapes, but in some places farmers, realizing the multiple benefits they bring, are managing their natural regeneration. For example, in Niger, farmers have nurtured tree cover over almost 5 million hectares of Sahelian farmland. Because of their role in improving food security, improving livelihoods and sustainably managing land, trees play an important role in efforts to restore desertified land.

Agroforestry, food security and ecosystem services

Trees on farms help to improve food security. Fruits and leaves contribute to human nutrition and fodder feeds livestock. Appropriate trees, if well managed in crop fields can also improve the fertility of the soils and increase crop yields. Timber and fuelwood are harvests that can be used or sold, fuelwood still being the most important source of cooking fuel in many rural communities. Trees on farms also contribute to a broad range of ecosystem services that landscapes provide. Trees regulate run-off, helping to conserve water in the soil. Trees and their roots reduce soil erosion, especially when managed as part of agricultural systems that utilize various systems of conservation tillage. Trees on farms produce numerous products including food, medicines, fencing, timber and fuel.

Decisions on agroforestry for the Conference

Some text that The United Nations Conference on Sustainable Development could adopt is as follows:

1) Agree that agroforestry lies at the heart of the three Rio Conventions and food security, and contributes to the Green Economy.

2) Agree that agroforestry is an important form of farming and that international and national policies are needed to promote its broader adoption. Recognize that agricultural policies need to embrace agroforestry, rather than agroforestry being discussed exclusively in the context of forests. That said, it is often forest legislation that constrains the use of trees by farmers, so integrated approaches amongst sectors is required.

3) Agree that trees on farms contribute to climate change mitigation and adaptation, and recommend that the UNFCCC work towards a whole landscape accounting approach with mitigation, adaptation and livelihood benefits.

4) Agree that agroforestry can contribute to biodiversity conservation and utilization, and recommend that plans to achieve the Aichi targets should include agroforestry.

5) Agree that agroforestry is vital to the achievement of the targets of the Ten Year Strategic Plan of the UNCCD and recommend that agroforestry should be included in plans to achieve those targets.

6) Agree that agroforestry is an important contributor to improving food security and also to improved livelihoods through the provision of a wide range of ecosystem services. Recommend that agroforestry should be included in Green Economy practices in order to create productive mutli-functional landscapes that include mosaics of farmland, agroforests, woodlots, pasture and forest that work synergistically to produce food and provide other ecosytem services.

7) Finally, recognize that through the incorporation of trees on farms, agroforestry creates green jobs that contribute to a Green Economy.

World Agroforestry Centre

1 November 2011
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