Grow a green economy with your agroforest

Agroforestry could rehabilitate natural capital and livelihoods, helping to build ‘green’ economies that reduce negative environmental impacts, use natural resources efficiently and sustainably, manage risks with wisdom and benefit all of society, says Ravi Prabhu with Amy Christine Cruz


Dr Ravi Prabhu, who is Deputy Director General of Research at the World Agroforestry Centre, was speaking at the Philippine’s First International Agroforestry Congress, held 19–21 March in Bohol, Philippines.

Ravi Prabhu, Philippine's First International Agroforestry Congress, Bohol, agroforestry, climate change

Ravi Prabhu speaking at the Philippine’s First International Agroforestry Congress. Photo: World Agroforestry Centre/Regine Joy P. Evangelista

“Food security and sustainable development are big issues now,” he said, “and both can only be achieved by changing how people think and live”.

“Changes to agricultural landscapes are rapid and pervasive”, he added, noting that not all of the changes are for the better.

“Basically, we are challenged to, first, produce 60% more food on the same amount of land; second, make essentially everything resistant to extreme weather; and, third, massively reduce greenhouse gas emissions from land use. All of this by 2050. However, it is clear that the way we are drawing down on natural capital—the way we are misusing our ecological endowment—is exceeding the capacity of our planet to cope. Several ‘planetary boundaries’ are already being exceeded”, he warned.

Agreeing with work done by Professor Robert Costanza of the Australian National University and other colleagues, Dr Prabhu suggested that the way we design our attempts at finding solutions must take into account, and build on, our natural capital rather than seeking to convert it to physical or financial assets.

“It is important everyone understands that we have reached our limits in use of natural resources”, he urged, “and that future development solutions consider the costs and impacts of this current economic model. What we need is a green economy, which is low in environmental impacts, efficient in use of natural resources, resilient in managing risks through natural capital and socially inclusive in benefiting all societal groups.

“People should keep in mind that we are dealing with complex systems that work across nested scales and have multiple connections, non-linear responses and lag effects. This means that solutions have to be designed to be adaptive and resilient so that they can deal with the uncertainty that comes from these complex systems”.

He suggested that agroforestry was just the kind of body of knowledge and technologies that could provide practical solutions as the starting point for changing current trajectories. We should use trees to rehabilitate natural capital and livelihoods. Agroforestry, in his view, should aim to optimize the multiple benefits of trees at nested scales for multiple purposes from food security through to livelihood enhancement and climate-change adaptation and mitigation. This could provide pathways to invest in natural capital and produce benefits for other assets.

“We have to keep in mind three things while addressing these issues”, he said. “First, we must learn to think beyond conventional practices and look to agroforestry to fill the yield gap. Another thing to remember is to look for the diversity dividend by harnessing the potential of new species and novel assemblages of known species.Harnessing diversity in this way would likely mean better provision of ecosystem services. Last, we have to determine which investments would have the greatest development impact”.

In closing, he stressed that we need to look beyond agronomical and biophysical innovations to expanding these existing innovations to the larger society and economy. Paraphrasing President Clinton, he suggested that it was a quest to find pathways to “the green economy, stupid!”.

“With over 40 years of innovation and practice in agroforestry in the Philippines” he admonished the assembly, “you delegates to the First International Agroforestry Congress in the Philippines, should see yourselves as the catalysts and large-scale change agents who can transform lives and landscapes by turning your knowledge into action at multiple nested scales for a green economy.”


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This work is linked to the CGIAR Research Program on Forests, Trees and Agroforestry'

Amy Cruz

Amy Cruz is the communications officer for the World Agroforestry Centre Philippines. She is developing an integrated communications strategy for the Philippine program, scripting and editing videos and promoting projects through various media. Her other interests include social media, writing and photography. She has a Bachelor of Science in Development Communication, major in Science Communication.

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