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Money really can grow on trees, says Leakey at agroforestry book launch

Professor Roger LeakeyTrees that have been central to the lives of African people for centuries can now be widely grown on farms throughout the tropics and sub-tropics, and they can bring prosperity to the poor while helping diminish long-term environmental problems. This was the central, seminal theme of Professor Roger Leakey’s special lecture to launch his new book, Living with the Trees of Life: Toward the Transformation of Tropical Agriculture, on 3 September at the World Agroforestry Centre (ICRAF).

Leakey told his audience, consisting of researchers, partners, and representatives of the media, that he wrote the book, “a personal account,” based on his three decades of work as a tropical forest biologist and research manager, in order to “raise the public profile of agroforestry.”

“In agriculture, one size does not fit all,” he said. For instance, biodiversity-rich developing countries in the tropics and sub-tropics—where typically 80% of the population practices smallholder agriculture on “old and exhausted soils”— cannot succeed by embracing the same template for agriculture as that found in temperate countries, where each of these indicators is reversed.

“The book also seeks to debunk several myths about agroforestry,” said Leakey. Firstly, agroforestry is not a “Greenie, eco-freak” alternative to agriculture; it is a scientific approach to low-input agriculture. Secondly, agroforestry does not run counter to modern intensive farming, but supports and intensifies it. And thirdly, agroforestry is not about subsistence systems with low productivity; rather, it is about making modern farming more productive by restoring soil fertility and improving the yields from modern crop varieties.” In this way, he said, agroforestry can ‘fill the yield gap’ in developing countries, a gap that is the result of “a cycle of land degradation and social deprivation.”

In his talk Leakey zeroed in on the potential of trees as new crops that can provide profitable business opportunities to smallholder farmers. This will start with bringing traditionally important trees back into the landscape as new domesticated crops. As more farmers grow these as a business and market their produce and products, incomes will rise. “Through tree domestication, agroforestry will intensify tree-enriched farming systems, create new income-generation opportunities from traditionally important plant species, open new markets and business, and foster employment opportunities in value-addition and trade,” said Leakey.

He showed pictures of the fascinating range of new fruits, medicines, oils, creams and other tree products that strategic scaling up of agroforestry could be bring into the mainstream market, and whose sale would benefit farmers in the tropics. For instance, the fruits, nuts, exudates, bark and gum of the bitter kola (Garcinia kola) have numerous applications in hygiene, medicine and social uses. But these are not widely known outside of the tree’s natural habitat in West and Central Africa.

“We now have the start of a ‘new wave of tree domestication’ to meet the needs of poor people, diversify farming systems, and promote socially and environmentally sustainable production systems,” said Leakey. “This new wave will open new windows of opportunity for agri-business, and help to achieve the original objectives of the Green Revolution: to overcome hunger, malnutrition and rural poverty.”

Professor Leakey, who serves as vice-chairman of the International Tree Foundation (ITF), revealed that the UK-registered charity which originated in Kenya (1924) had recently signed a Memorandum of Understanding with ICRAF, under which ITF hopes to evaluate agroforestry’s impact on environmental, social and economic sustainability among diverse local communities across Africa.

Related articles:

Leakey book says ‘trees of life’ could nourish the planet, build wealth

Three steps to bridging the yield gap – Global Food Security blog

Living with the trees of life – Landscape blog

Prof. Leakey’s book launch was part of the events at the World Agroforestry Centre Science Forum 2012: Co-Invest In Trees

For more information:



Living with the Trees of Life: Toward the Transformation of Tropical Agriculture, is published by CABI. See www.cabi.org/bookshop


Daisy Ouya

Daisy Ouya is a science writer and communications specialist with the World Agroforestry Centre (ICRAF). Over the past 15 years she has been packaging and disseminating scientific knowledge in the fields of entomology, agriculture, health, HIV/AIDS research, and marine science. Daisy is a Board-certified Editor in the Life Sciences (bels.org) and has a Masters’ degree in chemistry from the University of Connecticut, USA. Her BSc is from the University of Nairobi in her native Kenya. She has worked as a journal editor, science writer, publisher, and communications strategist with various organizations. She joined ICRAF in July 2012. Twitter: @daisyouya

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