Economic stress and agroforestry solutions

Despite the progress observed in alleviating or reducing hunger in many countries, there remains approximately 800 million people who are still chronically undernourished. However, just looking at these figures would be overlooking another highly important component of food security, which is the quality of the diet. Micro-nutrient deficiencies affect roughly 2 billion people worldwide, most of them being children or women.

Kompong Speu, Cambodia ©FAO/J. Koelen

Most of the world poor live in rural areas. Moreover, in 2015, 10% of people in rural areas lived in extreme poverty, mostly in Africa and in South Asia, and an important share of them are subsistence farmers, pastoralists or landless agricultural workers. When they are involved in commercial activities, farmers often rely on the production of a single commodity, which makes them vulnerable to price fluctuations. Productivity of the land and of labor is also frequently low, which is an impediment to exiting poverty.

There is a need to improve access to nutritious food and sustainably increase productivity.


Economic and livelihoods benefits of agroforestry

Agroforestry improves food and nutrition security

Particularly in developing countries, planting trees together with crops or on pasture lands can help fight hunger and malnutrition, as trees are a source of food, fuel and non-wood products that can be either directly consumed/used or sold:

  • Growing trees which produce food (fruits, nuts, leaves, etc.) provide an easy accessible nutritious food for households.
  • The trees felled or their residues can be used as wood energy for cooking and/or heating.
  • Leaves, and other parts of trees, can serve as forage for livestock.
  • By capturing, filtering and storing water, agroforestry systems may play an important role in regulating water supply.
  • Trees and plants grown on farms are important sources of medicines and natural remedies, which help improve people’s health.

To learn more, see FAO’s website on forests for food security, nutrition and human health.

Agroforestry helps reduce poverty

The economic value of tree products has great potential to support agroforesters working their way out of poverty:

  • By reducing agricultural inputs and thus production costs, or by increasing productivity, agroforestry can increase household income.
  • With the production of agricultural and forest goods with higher value, farmers and foresters can receive a better return for their labor.
  • The development of value chains for the newly-produced tree products may also create new opportunities for small scale forest-based enterprises and employment.
  • The recognition through incentives of the environmental services provided by agroforestry can provide a new source of income for the rural or urban poor.

To learn more about the opportunities and challenges facing agroforestry, read the chapter on forest and landscape restoration and agroforestry in FAO’s 2021 State of the World’s Forests.

Kerewan, Gambia ©FAO/Seyllou Diallo    Manzini - Ezulwini Valley, Swaziland ©FAO/Giulio Napolitano 

Agroforestry contributes to create resilient livelihoods

Combining trees with crops and/or animals helps reduce the vulnerabilities and improve the recovery of people after natural hazards, disasters and socioeconomic downturns.

  • By increasing diversity of production within the farming system, agroforestry can reduce risk of economic failure.
  • Tree roots help to strengthen soil structure, thus mitigating erosion and preventing possible landslides.
  • Tree plantations such as windbreaks help shelter the animals and the crops from strong winds and prevent wind erosion.
  • The water conservation functions of trees and forests help prevent or fight desertification and its social and environmental consequences.

To learn more about building resilient and diverse food systems, see FAO’s Agroecology Knowledge Hub.

last updated:  Tuesday, May 31, 2022