The yield gap and post-production issues in agroforestry

Coordinator of the research team that developed the background paper for the UN FAOs’ Forests for Food Security and Nutrition conference, Ramni Jamnadass made an informative and engaging presentation at the event.

The background paper was comprehensive in its scope:
Listen here to Ramni Jamnadass describe the key points to the background paper:


the presentation focused primarily on how to improve yield, and on post-production issues such as maintaining nutrition after harvest and building markets.

She did also offer some background by way of introduction.

•Agroforestry is practiced by more than 1.2 billion people worldwide

•560 million people live in farm landscapes > 10% tree cover

•The value of trees not acknowledged in rural development

•Despite the ubiquity of the products and services there is a lack of impact information.

Trees can provide:

•Human foods (fruits, leaves, nuts and more for direct consumption)

•Animal fodder (important for dairy, meat production)

•Soil improvement (important to support staple crop yields)

•Fuel (which relates to the provision of charcoal and wood fuel while also allowing for the proper processing and cooking of food)

What’s key, however, is using the right trees in the right place, for the right purpose(s) and at the right time, to maximise tree’s potential beneficial products and services.

The concentration of food security issues in a small area is noteworthy, and constitutes a land degradation and social deprivation cycle: 80% of the world’s undernourished are in just 20 countries.

worlds undernourished

So how to improve this situation?
There is, as pointed out succinctly in Roger Leakey’s 2012 publication Living with Trees of Life a yield and diversity gap that needs to be filled. And there are difficult overriding questions that must be addressed.

•How can land be used to feed a growing population without further damage to the local and global environment?

•How can food and nutritional security be improved on a declining area of available land?

•How can the land be used to enhance the livelihoods and income of those in poverty?

Jamnadass points to three steps for filling this yield gap.

Step 1: Restore soil fertility using leguminous trees that fix nitrogen.
Yields can be raised from <1 tonne/hectare to around 4-5 tonnes per hectare using this technique. Step 2: Diversification, but with trees farmers actually want. Farmers may want or need trees for animal fodder; trees and shrubs for livestock products; or for traditional medicine. In Sub Saharan Africa 80% of people use traditional medicines. Using participatory tree domestication approaches, traditionally important trees can be integrated into farming systems. Agroforestry trees can be important sources of both macro (fats/oils, protein, fibre) and micronutrients (vitamins and minerals), sometimes outscoring more typical sources such as maize or mangos respectively. To help farmers make decisions regarding which tree species to use, and where to use them, innovative tools have been developed. One of the most exciting , called “A potential natural vegetation (PNV) map for eastern Africa”, is to be found here. Indeed fruit tree portfolios need to be developed, to optimise productivity, in terms of yield, nutrition, year round availabilities and other important factors. Fruits, nutritionally important, can be more perishable than many of the agri-food commodities often transported around on a large scale, such as maize and rice. This is a conundrum FAO Senoir Economist Terri Raney examined recently, in a presentation at CGIAR's Food Security Futures conference, based on the paper authored by Howarth Bouis (IFPRI), Terri Raney (FAO) and John McDermott (IFPRI). If we are to better address malnutrition and micronutrient deficiencies we need to develop a nutrition-sensitive value chain for fruits. Jamnadass offers five headings: Input; Retail Market; Processing/export; Production; Post-harvesting/storage.

Input: refers mainly to varieties and their nutrition, agronomic characteristics (e.g. Early and late maturing)
Retail Market: producing nutrient rich foods through the best production practices
Processing/export: including harvesting and storage
Production: improved processing and packaging
Post-harvesting/storage: Transportation and consumer knowledge.

Step 3. Relates to sales, and focuses on commercialisation, value adding and trade. Agroforest products have traditional markets, but need to develop new markets. One of the most exciting and eye catching examples is edible insects. In poin of fact, the new FAO publication on this topic was downloaded 2.3 million times in the first three days of its launch.
Public Private partnerships, such as that between Mars, ICRAF and others, can help in numerous ways, from crop to shop.

Ramni Jamnadass in this presentation, has shown creative and important ways to make agroforesty work better for farmers and for households.

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