Why aren’t farmers growing more trees?
Researchers in the Philippines found that farmers’ recognition of services provided by trees is an important but insufficient prerequisite for agroforestry adoption. More education is needed.
By Christine Marie D. Habito and Nina Astrid Fenger
Do farmers recognize the ecosystem services provided by trees? If so, how might their perceptions of these services affect agroforestry adoption?
Dr Rodel Lasco and Marya Laya Espaldon, researchers at the World Agroforestry Centre Philippines, assessed the perceptions of smallholding farmers in Bohol, Philippines on the benefits they get from trees. They also explored whether or not farmers felt that trees were important in helping them to cope specifically with changes in climate. The preliminary findings of the study showed that the majority of the farmers did recognize the ecosystem services provided by trees. They also found that farmers who had more farm parcels and who used on-farm trees to cope specifically with changes in climate were more likely to perceive these ecosystem services.
Ecosystem services are the collective benefits which human society obtains from the natural environment, including clean water, food, fuel, building materials, fresh air, erosion prevention, biodiversity conservation, climate regulation, carbon sequestration and landscape aesthetics. Ecosystem services can be divided into either provisioning (economic), regulating (ecological), cultural or supporting services. The agricultural sector depends highly on ecosystem services for production. Smallholders work in, and interact most directly and extensively with, their natural environment. They not only produce agricultural goods and services but also act as stewards of the environment. Incidentally, smallholders are also among those most vulnerable to external shocks, particularly the negative impacts of climate change.
Agroforestry—the deliberate integration of trees with crop and/or livestock production systems—has favourable effects on the quality and quantity of ecosystem services. In addition, trees on farms also help smallholders’ adapt to climate change while benefiting mitigation through carbon sequestration (see, for example, Lasco et al 2014). However, in spite of these benefits and extensive capacity development programs on agroforestry techniques for farmers, the deliberate integration of trees on farms remains low. This implies a need to better understand the factors influencing farmers’ decisions on whether or not to plant trees on their farms.
In the Bohol study, the smallholders recognized the ecological services of trees the most, followed by the economic and (socio-) cultural services. At the same time, they reported using trees mostly as alternative sources of food and income. In spite of these reported uses, the analysis showed that perception of economic services was less likely among farmers from areas at mid- and high elevation, respectively. This suggests that though farmers were able to recognize the ecosystem services provided by trees in general, perception of trees’ roles across the landscape was varied. In essence, this indicates that level of knowledge of trees’ roles is uneven and that there is room for information and education campaigns and technical support to promote tree-based agricultural production.
This initial analysis shows that farmers’ recognition of ecosystem services provided by trees is, by itself, an important but insufficient prerequisite of agroforestry adoption. Clearly, the progression from positive perception to actual implementation of tree-based agriculture is also dependent on other factors. It is important to deepen understanding of these factors to more effectively and efficiently address the barriers to agroforestry adoption. The World Agroforestry Centre Philippines continues to work with smallholders and public and private partners to support climate-smart, sustainable agricultural production.
This work is linked to the CGIAR Research Programme on Forests, Trees and Agroforestry