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Performance of Agroforestry Projects

3 Most information reviewed in the "Agroforestry" section is based on the recently published second edition of Asia-Pacific Agroforestry Profiles (APAN and FAO/RAP, 1996).

In short, agroforestry is the use of trees in farming systems. Over the last two decades, it has received increasing attention from policy makers, foresters, researchers and representatives of, in its broadest sense, development projects and NGOs, mainly as a development strategy for rural areas affected by deforestation and land degradation. Thus, agroforestry has been promoted as a means to sustainable upland management and to reduce negative externalities (land and watershed rehabilitation, eradication of grasslands, biodiversity conservation, stabilization of shifting cultivation), to increase soil fertility and agricultural production (soil and water conservation, sloping lands technologies, crop diversification, fodder production, shelter belts), and to satisfy subsistence needs and generate income (fuelwood blocks, small-scale plantations for industrial purposes)4.

4 While various approaches of agroforestry may have existed for centuries, efforts to mainstream agroforestry are fairly recent. "Conventional wisdom" is yet to develop about many aspects - indeed, there is even some controversy about much that is presented in this section. The views of the author have nevertheless been produced as originally prepared - they should serve to stimulate dialogue and should not be interpreted as reflecting the views of FORSPA, FAO or the FAO Regional Office in Bangkok (Editor).

While it is acknowledged that agroforestry systems have existed and evolved for centuries, foresters originally viewed agroforestry as a new system for using cheap rural labour for establishing plantations (e.g., see Bryant, 1994). The aim of most early agroforestry systems such as taungya, was to eventually increase the area under forest and not to increase agricultural production. With the failure of most taungya-based approaches the definition of agroforestry has been substantially widened. Today, the spectrum reaches from diverse systems such as home gardens, to trees in agricultural fields, alley cropping, plantations of commercial crops (e.g., coffee, tea, coconut, rubber), orchards, woodlots and even shifting cultivation. Depending on the mixture of production systems researchers furthermore distinguish between agrosilvicultural, silvipastoral and agrosilvopastoral systems. With few exception, the increase in diversity does not mean that new technologies have been developed or adopted. Rather, more systems are described today as agroforestry.

For the purpose of the following discussion, a difference is made between traditional agroforestry systems which have slowly developed over time in response to opportunities, constraints and needs, and systems that have been promoted by outside agencies within the framework of development interventions. This is not to say that there is a clear distinction between the systems. All systems should rather be viewed as being somewhere on a continuum between these two extremes. Many of the former, such as trees in fields in Thailand, improved fallow systems in shifting cultivation areas in India and the Philippines, the diverse rubber gardens and damar forests in Sumatra, or the home gardens throughout the Region have only been recently recognized as "agroforestry systems", even though they can make up to more than 14 percent of the total land area as is the case in Sri Lanka. The latter including alley cropping, fuelwood blocks and taungya have been developed more recently.

Traditional systems have gone through many rounds of adaptations. They are still evolving and on the increase where land use pressure is low. Many technologies are developed locally and crop mixtures are adjusted in response to demand and supply. Labour input is not necessarily low but demand is rather flexible. While these systems have many environmental benefits, the farmers' primary objective is not conservation but rather stable and diversified production. Lately, as reported for Pakistan, an overriding common motive is also to generate cash (Hatch and Naughton, 1994).

The prime purpose of the second group of agroforestry systems on the other hand was, and in many cases still is, land rehabilitation and environmental conservation. For example, the Integrated Social Forestry Programme in the Philippines aims to "transform farmers into agents of forest conservation". While there are some local success stories, adoption rates on the whole have been low or unsustainable. There are many reasons for the disappointing results, as will be discussed below.

Performance of Agroforestry Projects

Many extended agroforestry systems were based on supply-driven research, a common problem in forestry research (Nair et al., 1995). Only recently has research shifted from experimental plots to on-farm research after it has become clear that many of the encouraging results could not be replicated by farmers. Technologies developed were extended to very diverse environments with subsequent failures. The importance of participatory research is acknowledged today, though it is still not common.

There have been only very few innovations in agroforestry. Some of the technologies that have emerged over the last few years are adaptations or refinements of existing agroforestry systems. Alley cropping has received substantial attention in the literature. It has been promoted by development projects and government departments for the last two decades, mainly for soil and water conservation purposes. Alley cropping has never been widely adopted because it has not been developed in response to farmers' problems. It substantially decreases soil erosion and increases water infiltration thus reducing runoff. However, benefits in terms of crop yield increases are frequently not attractive enough to farmers. From their perspective, the costs often outweigh the benefits. That is why recently the research focus has shifted to improved fallow technologies. In a strict sense improved fallowing is also not an innovation. It is already practised in various locations. However, it is doubtful that it will be widely adopted, since the general development is directed towards either more intensive cash cropping of annuals, or more extensive management of perennials.

The supply-driven or top-down research approach is also evident in extension (Enters and Hagmann, 1996). Extension workers still see themselves as teachers educating the ignorant instead of acting as facilitators in the change process. Extension messages are contradictory and there is little co-ordination among projects, programmes and government departments. In other cases, an extension service is absent, which is the case in many remote areas. Agroforestry education and training are inadequate and focus on introducing "officially developed" agroforestry technologies. While changes are evident in research, extension and training, their impact in the field will only become evident in the long-term.

The implementation of agroforestry projects is also a top-down process though bottom-up approaches are receiving more attention. Farmers are often told what to do and when to carry out an activity. This includes many of the silvicultural treatments and intermediate as well as the final harvests. This is very discouraging for farmers who prefer to make their own decisions.

Forestry and agroforestry policies have experienced many changes over the last few years. It has been recognized by now that land security has a significant effect on how farmers decide on long-term investments. However, in some countries forestry regulations and heavy taxation are still an impediment to tree planting (e.g. Saxena, 1994, for the situation in India). Even when tenure and tree rights have been changed in the farmers' favour, farmers do not always believe that these revisions are long-lasting. Subsequently they hesitate to get involved in an unknown venture particularly if permits are required for literally every activity and transaction.

Credit facilities are frequently unavailable to farmers, likewise insurance and price support mechanisms. Marketing constraints exist where physical infrastructure is poor, severely curtailing the production of cash crops within agroforestry systems. Another obstacle is a lack of quality seeds and seedlings, or conflicting delivery schedules with the farmers activities.

The above are some explanations for the poor performance of many agroforestry projects. However, merely tackling these individual barriers will not make agroforestry projects more viable. Instead a major change in approach is required. Therefore, introduced agroforestry has to be as responsive to people's needs as the traditional systems, particularly to arising opportunities, and should not be based on outdated perceptions. As described by Malla (1992) in Nepal, forestry policies are still designed to assist rural people in the production of fodder when in many areas, due to labour shortages, the number of livestock has actually decreased. Agricultural crop production has been affected in the same way and farmers have responded by planting trees on their private lands.

The growth of the agricultural population in the countries of the Region is much lower than the growth in the urban areas. In China and Thailand, it is only 0.3 percent and in Indonesia even negative. Thus, in combination with the increasing opportunities for off-farm employment, agricultural land will be left idle or, alternatively, becomes available for less intensive forms of land use. The views that all rural inhabitants are farmers and that their activities are subsistence-based are outdated. These new developments will substantially affect the rural landscape in the next decades. As can be seen already, previously cultivated marginal upland areas are being abandoned in Thailand. Some are turned into commercial small-scale tree farms. Even urban investors are planting high value trees, particularly orchards. If economic growth rates can be maintained in the countries of Southeast Asia then we will definitely see more land use conversion from agricultural to tree-based systems though it is doubtful whether these will be agroforestry systems. Instead it can be expected that on the better soils agricultural production will intensify while trees will occupy poorer sites.

A brief review of the more successful agroforestry projects helps to understand what the most likely developments in agroforestry or small-scale plantations will be.

Subsidies and incentives schemes have frequently boosted adoption rates. However, as soon as such scheme ceased many farmers abandoned their agroforestry plots. Similarly, adoption rates were high where communities received benefits in terms of infrastructural amenities or where farmers attempted to avoid reprisals from government departments (Enters, 1995). A heavy handed top-down approach which sometimes includes the use of threats and force has also lead to an increased use of introduced agroforestry practices (Lee, 1995). Whether such examples should fall into the "successful" category is questionable but they help explain what is happening in the landscape.

Insecure land tenure has helped to explain low adoption rates of soil conservation and agroforestry practices. In fact, many farmers plant trees on land that, in a strictly legal sense, is not theirs, to strengthen their claims (Wiersum, 1994). This strategy is often adapted by projects (e.g., in the Philippines) in which farmers receive limited land security as long as they plant trees on a certain percentage of the land received from a forest department. The long-term sustainability of such approaches is threatened in those cases where there is no market for tree products. Once farmers feel that they have secure ownership they may switch back to agricultural crops.


Historically, small farmers have been the "most obvious" clients of agroforestry research, extension and projects. A review of developments in some Asia-Pacific countries indicates that in the future this will change. Market liberalization and progressive tenurial land arrangements in former centrally planned economies have a major impact on the rural areas. They provides off-farm employment in the urban areas and stimulate the development of rural industries. It creates markets for forest and tree products which led to the establishment of 2 million ha of Paulownia plantations in China and an increase in small-scale pulpwood production in Vietnam for export to Japan and Taiwan. In Thailand, farmers responded to the increasing demand for short-fibre pulp by planting trees even though the Forest Plantation Act of 1992 discourages investments in forest plantations. In India, the plywood sector has created a demand for poplar to which the private sector has responded. Arrangements between private companies and farmers have stimulated tree growing in India, Thailand and the Philippines, where the Paper Industries Corporation of the Philippines (PICOP) has a long history of co-operation with farmers (Kato, 1996).

Wood processing technologies have changed too. Rubberwood can now be used by the plywood and the medium density fibreboard sector (see section on wood processing). In India, ammonium fumigation techniques enhance the appearance of eucalyptus wood. The provision of quality seeds and seedlings as well as clonal material is still the exception for the small-scale user but as the example of the Western India Match Company (WIMCO) and ITC Bhadrachalam indicate, private companies have started to provide tree growers with high-quality planting stock (Tandon, 1991; Saxena, 1994; Lal, 1995).

However, it is not technological innovations that explain the increase of private plantations but rather the availability of land that was formerly used for agricultural purposes, market liberalization which has increased the demand for wood as well as non-timber forest products, changes in land security (e.g., in Vietnam) as well as a closer co-operation between rural tree growers and industries.

Due to further population growth and economic development, the demand for wood and wood products will increase in the future. Due to industrial development, the agricultural labour force will decrease. The combination of these two processes means that more wood will be produced in the rural areas outside the reserved forests. However, it is questionable whether the small farmer, particularly the resource poor, will benefit. As examples in India, Laos and Thailand indicate, it will be rather the people who are able to obtain credit or who have the necessary capital who venture into growing trees.


There will always be a place for traditional agroforestry systems in subsistence economies. Home gardens can be expected to prevail in those areas where rural economies are slowly changing from land-based to industrial activities. They will be maintained as remnants of former practices as long as land prices remain low. In accessible areas, private forestry will be in direct conflict with agricultural systems. Depending on marketing opportunities and prices, farmers will intensify agricultural production and produce for the market as is the case in upland areas where off-season vegetable and fruit production is lucrative. In certain areas (e.g., in Thailand) even urban residents get involved in establishing fruit orchards. Systems such as alley cropping or improved fallows will not be adopted widely. In this sense, the development of "new" technologies with their focus on supporting agriculture will not be successful.

Continuing demand for wood by the wood fibre using industries will contrastingly stimulate farmers to grow trees. Small-scale tree growing enterprises will boom in places which can offer alternative employment opportunities, fair marketing agreements between tree growers and the industry, and sufficient support structures in terms of extension and regulations.

As examples throughout the Region indicate, there is a great potential for agroforestry. However, this forecast needs to be qualified. First, agroforestry will not be a system for land and forest rehabilitation as long as farmers do not receive land security. Second, the resource poor rural population will benefit only marginally from an expansion of agroforestry activities. And third, agroforestry will not be the species diverse and extensively managed home gardens or "kebuns" but will rather be intensively managed small-scale plantations with the objective of producing only one or two products.

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