How to grow an agroforestry policy at home

Internationally, agroforestry is recognized as an important contributor to sustainable development yet many countries don’t have policies to support it. A new guidebook helps governments grow their own agroforestry policy, says Frank Place


Agroforestry is often a mix of the old and the new: traditional and modern ways of managing trees, crops and/or animals together. When designed thoughtfully, agroforestry combines the best of forestry and agriculture, resulting in more sustainable use of land.

There are agroforests and other practices of growing trees on farms all over the world, in both tropical and temperate regions, producing food, medicines, fuel and fibre for better health and a secure food supply.  Trees on farms sustain livelihoods, alleviate poverty and promote productive, resilient agricultural environments.

New PictureIn addition, when widely practised agroforestry can boost ecosystems by helping to store carbon, prevent deforestation, conserve biodiversity, keep water clean, limit erosion and provide a bulwark against floods, droughts and climate change.

Agroforestry’s potential for sustainable development has been recognized in international policy arenas—including the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change and the Convention on Biological Diversity—which justifies increased investment, yet agroforestry continues to face challenges among the nations of the world. There are unfavourable policies, inadequate knowledge, legal constraints and poor coordination among the multiple sectors to which it contributes. Nor is agroforestry sufficiently addressed in many national policy-making, land-use planning and rural development programs. As a result, its potential contribution to national economies and sustainable development goals has not been fully recognized or, indeed, exploited.

Accordingly, we have produced a ‘how to’ guidebook for policy makers. Staff of the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations, World Agroforestry Centre, Centre de Coopération Internationale en Recherche Agronomique pour le Développement (Agricultural Research Centre for International Development) and Centro Agronómico Tropical de Investigación y Enseñanza (Tropical Agricultural Research and Higher Education Centre) worked together to produce the compact, 38-page guide.

The topics include discussion about why a nation should develop agroforestry in the first place; what conditions are needed for its development; what barriers hinder that development; why agroforestry should be regulated; and a step-by-step action pathway that starts with ‘spreading the word’ and ranges through ‘securing the land’ and ‘providing incentives’ and ends with ‘governing wisely’.

We are confident that governments will find the guidebook of use because of its relevance: its understanding of the issues that are common throughout the world. For example, one of the policy challenges facing agroforestry in many countries is the emphasis on monocultural food supply from industrial agricultural crops and mechanized, often subsidized, farming, which discourages the integration of trees into farmland. Moreover, in some countries the bureaucracy involved with getting access to both land and tree-based products, combined with insecure land tenure, creates long-term uncertainty that restricts the growth of agroforestry and hinders its full potential from being realized. Sometimes, farmers might also think trees don’t fit with their way of farming. They might be less interested in government agroforestry programs—even those that offer training and useful materials, such as better seeds and seedlings—and more interested in conventional agricultural assistance.

To help overcome these challenges, policies are needed that understand them and find solutions relevant to local contexts. Consequently, our guidebook is aimed primarily at all those involved in creating policies at national and regional levels: politicians, civil servants and advisors.

The guide’s function is to support increased recognition of the benefits of agroforestry, facilitate the development of policies promoting agroforestry, and educate those that constrain agroforestry at the national level.

The guide offers a set of principles rather than prescribes methods. We advise how to integrate agroforestry into policies that fit their specific conditions. We also provide examples of good practices and success stories as well as lessons learned from challenges and failures.

The book is a good place to start when creating or changing policies. If there is no agroforestry policy at all in a country, the guidebook can help readers learn how to build awareness of agroforestry. It shows how policy issues can be addressed through innovative policy design that includes trees, crops and animals. In other cases, where agroforestry is recognized in policy, the guide can help see ways to improve the economic, social and policy context so that there are stronger incentives to practise agroforestry.

We are convinced that if readers follow the actions proposed in the guidebook they will be able to contribute to the formulation of coherent, interactive and proactive public policies that support the development of agroforestry systems and, by that very fact, a more sustainable and secure future.


Edited by Robert Finlayson


Read the book

Buttoud G, Place F, Gauthier M, Gallopin K, Gauthier M, Detlefsen G, Torquebiau E, Ajayi O. 2013. Advancing agroforestry on the policy agenda: a guide for decision-makers. Agroforestry Working Paper no. 1. Rome: Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations.


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This work links to the CGIAR Research Program on Forests, Trees and Agroforestry

Rob Finlayson

Robert Finlayson is the Southeast Asia program's regional communications specialist. As well as writing stories for the Centre's website, he devises and supervises strategies for projects and the countries in the Southeast Asia region, including scripting and producing videos, supervising editors and translators and also assisting with resource mobilization.

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