Main challenges for agroforestry

Although the advantages of agroforestry are gaining attention internationally and a growing body of scientific literature provides evidence for them, it faces many challenges and obstacles. Addressing them is what constitutes the basis for FAO's actions. In its paper Advancing Agroforestry on the Policy Agenda: A guide for decision-makers, FAO has recognized the following challenges and obstacles:

Leshoz Saba, Russian Federation ©FAO/Vasily Maksimov

Delayed return on investment: Despite the fact that trees become profitable as they produce positive net present values over time, the breakeven point for some agroforestry systems may occur only after a number of years.

Under-developed markets: Markets for tree products are both less efficient and less developed than for crop and livestock commodities and value chains related to agroforestry systems receive little support.

Emphasis on commercial agriculture: Agricultural policies often offer incentives for agriculture that promote certain agricultural models, such as monoculture systems, and tax exemptions are usually aimed at industrial agricultural production. Agricultural price supports or favourable credit terms which are granted for certain agricultural activities but hardly ever for trees, are also discouraging agroforestry adoption.

Limited awareness of the advantages of agroforestry: Overdependence on conventional agricultural methods and inadequate knowledge of sustainable approaches restrict the interested of policy-makers in agroforestry development. This in turn influences negatively the amount of resources dedicated for research, dissemination, market information and propagation of quality germplasm, which are all crucial for wide adoption of agroforestry practices.

Bac Kan, Viet Nam ©FAO/Joan Manuel Baliellas

Unclear status of land and tree resources: Unsecured or ambiguous land tenure, common in developing countries, results in confusion about land delineation and rights, which may discourage people from introducing or continuing agroforestry practices. In many places, lack of long-term rights to land inhibits long-term investments such as agroforestry. In other cases, forest regulations preclude tree growing on farms by restricting the harvesting, cutting or selling of tree products.

Adverse regulations: Frequently agricultural policies penalize practices needed to implement agroforestry, while supporting a large-volume, large-scale approach to agricultural, food and fuel products. The tax regime may also be less advantageous for forests compared with agricultural lands. Even when a programme or policy aims to promote agroforestry, bureaucratic processes involved may be complicated or not elaborated in a manner specific to agroforestry and its potential users.

Lack of coordination between sectors: As an intervention affecting multiple sectors – including agriculture, forestry, livestock, rural development, environment, energy, health, water and commerce – agroforestry is often subject to policy conflicts and omissions, creating gaps or adverse incentives that work against its development. Moreover, the various organizational cultures and objectives within the different departments may not allow room for agroforestry.

Taking stock of these challenges, FAO acts together with member States to improve the enabling environment necessary to upscale agroforestry. See the field projects section for concrete examples.

last updated:  Friday, July 24, 2015