From Jamaica to Togo to Vanuatu, agroforestry helping countries prevent climate collapse

Landscape degraded by one of two invasive vines invading Vanuatu. Photo: Look and Learn NGO

Researchers and NGO heads from the African, Caribbean and Pacific Group of States learn how trees on farms can help fulfil their commitment to the Paris Agreement

In May, delegates from as far away as Papua New Guinea braved visa hurdles and long flights to reach the World Congress on Agroforestry 2019 (WCA2019) in France, their aim to learn more about agroforestry and how it can help their countries achieve the targets they set to lessen the impact of changed weather and extreme weather events and stall climate catastrophe.

Glarinda Andre, team leader for Live and Learn NGO, Vanuatu. Photo: World Agroforestry/Cathy Watson

At WCA2019 in Montpellier, they also attended a training seminar on Agroforestry for Achieving NDC Targets in Africa, the Caribbean and the Pacific (ACP). The participants had every reason to be there. ‘Our communities are facing disaster,’ said Glarinda Andre from Vanuatu, a small Pacific Island state suffering sea-level rise and ever more frequent violent storms.

Vanuatu is also struggling with an invasive vine that is choking the landscape, the NGO leader said. On farms, the only way to fight it is with shade created by an agroforestry system of Canarium and Terminalianut trees with sweet potatoes. Clearly already a convert — ‘Agroforestry is something our ancestors did’ — she was at WCA2019 to learn more.

Funded by CTA, the Technical Centre for Agricultural and Rural Co-operation, the training aimed to untangle the critically important Nationally Determined Contributions.

‘NDCs are the main instrument for keeping global temperature rise at no more than 1.5-2°C above the level of pre-industrial times,’ explained Peter Minang, a senior scientist at World Agroforestry (ICRAF), which organized the event.

According to the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change, the NDCs are ‘the heart’ of the 2015 Paris Climate Agreement and embody the ‘efforts by each country to reduce national emissions and adapt to the impacts of climate change’.

For participants, the seminar was a chance to reflect. The specifics of the NDCs were unfamiliar to most so each received a copy of their country’s NDCs. They came from 15 ACP countries: Benin, Cameroon, Ethiopia, Gambia, Ghana, Kenya, Jamaica, Nigeria, Papua New Guinea, Senegal, Solomon Islands, Togo, Uganda, Vanuatu and Zimbabwe.

Participants at the CTA-funded workshop on national climate change targets held on the sidelines of the World Congress on Agroforestry. Photo: World Agroforestry/Susan Onyango

Olu Ajayi represented CTA. ‘It is an unqualified pleasure being here,’ said the Nigerian scientist turned development worker. ‘CTA is particularly concerned about NDCs and youth.’

Ajayi has written widely on agroforestry as a win-win solution to climate change and food insecurity in Southern Africa. ‘Agroforestry is a promising proven practice.’

Dennis Garrity, UN Drylands Ambassador and former director-general of World Agroforestry. Photo: World Agroforestry/Cathy Watson

The seminar highlighted the current role of trees in containing the climate crisis. ‘One third of all emissions are now being neutralized by trees in agriculture,’ said Dennis Garrity, UN Drylands Ambassador and former director-general of World Agroforestry.

Trees on boundaries and contours, alley cropping, dryland farmer-managed natural regeneration, perennial crops, farm woodlots, and fertilizer and fodder shrubs in fields all played a key part, he said.

None in the room doubted agroforestry but a key question was how to encourage it.

‘In my country, it has been looked down upon because it is traditional and not forestry,’ said social ecologist Miriam Murphy from Papua New Guinea. ‘A barrier to adoption is our abundance of forests. But still there is a lack of wood for building in shanty towns.’

‘That same barrier is very apparent in Cameroon,’ agreed Minang, referring to his home country. ‘In forest areas, people do not see the need to plant trees. But forests are moving further and further from cities and 80% of domestic timber comes from farms. There is a dire need for farmers to grow trees.’

Peter Minang, leader of World Agroforestry’s tree governance and climate change work. Photo: World Agroforestry/Cathy Watson

Minang, leader of World Agroforestry’s tree governance and climate change work, said that ‘specific tree growing is also needed for energy for big cities. There is a huge market for charcoal. Around Kinshasa, a whole system of agroforestry with Acaciaspecies and cassava has grown up to respond to this.’

NDCs have two parts: unconditional actions that a country can take on its own and actions that are conditional on donor support. Respecting the desire to develop, there is no template for an NDC; so, some countries have numerical targets such as hectares planted while others express vaguer aspirations such as ‘ensuring water supply to agriculture’.


Despite the surprising lack of common definitions, upwards of 85% of NDCs mention agroforestry as a strategy to achieve their country’s unconditional commitments, according to an analysis by World Agroforestry researcher Lalisa Duguma.

Lalisa Duguma, researcher at ICRAF. Photo: World Agroforestry/Cathy Watson

‘Smallholders’ familiarity with agroforestry and its use on about one billion hectares makes it a low-hanging fruit for emission reduction in agriculture and resilience,’ says the Ethiopian forester who works on sustainable landscapes.

‘By converting 25% of deforested areas to agroforestry, about 80% could achieve all their unconditional commitments. Agroforestry can capture up to one ton of soil carbon a year per hectare. It sequesters carbon while holding more water in the soil, thereby helping farmers manage drought.’

Delegates brought their own experience.

Wilson Clifton, Jamaican agroforester. Photo World Agroforestry/Cathy Watson

‘Agroforestry can include riparian planting and trees in gullies with many years of erosion,’ said Wilson Clifton from Jamaica. His nation’s NDCs focus largely on energy. Yet agroforestry would deliver them faster and at lower cost, he said.

Ebrima Cessay, agriculture extension specialist with the Gambian government. Photo: World Agroforestry/Cathy Watson

In a session on ‘who has to do what and what do you want to do?’, Momodou Badji from the Gambiangovernment said, ‘We can identify nature-based enterprises that could be directly linked to agroforestry.’ His colleague Ebrima Cessay said, ‘There is great interest in diversifying agriculture.’

Duguma said achieving NDCs with tree-based approaches entails talking with people, not to ask them to plant a tree but rather to ask: ‘What do they know? What has worked? What has not worked? What is the purpose of the trees they want to grow?’

Minang said the number one barrier is financial: ‘With agroforestry, you don’t get much until Year 3. You need to do things that bring in cash as you do the trees. Anything that is not viable on its own in the early days is very hard to handle.’

Current NDCs fall short of being able to meet the 1.5-2°C mark, however, and are due for upgrading in 2020. ‘Targets are pretty low. The idea is that we become more ambitious,’ said Minang.

A global stocktaking will soon start.

‘We need stretch goals,’ said Garrity. ‘Agroforestry currently captures 740 megatonnes of carbon a year. By 2035, it can be twice that. We need agriculture to be carbon neutral by 2050.’

‘Be a force for good in your country’s NDC unit. Show them how agroforestry dramatically increases carbon stocks,’ he urged.

CIRAD’s Emmanuel Torquebiau, lead organiser for the World Congress on Agroforestry gives closing remarks. Photo: World Agroforestry/Cathy Watson

The participants went home enriched, inspired by the Montpellier Declaration to ‘make our planet treed again’, and with their own resolution to form an agroforestry and NDCs network.

The words of WCA2019 organizer Emmanuel Torquebiau rang in their ears: ‘It is important that tomorrow’s agriculture mimics the processes of natural ecosystems. Agroforestry can take up this challenge.’





World Agroforestry is grateful to CTA for funding the training as well as the participants’ attendance at WCA2019. CTA is a joint international institution of the African, Caribbean and Pacific Group of States and the European Union. CTA operates under the framework of the Cotonou Agreement and is funded by the EU. For more information on CTA, visit

The 4th World Congress on Agroforestry was organised by CIRAD, INRA, World Agroforestry, AGROPOLIS and Montpellier University in May 2019.


Also read:

Blog: Peru’s integrated approach to nationally determined contributions can boost agroforestry’s role in fighting climate change

Policy brief: How Agroforestry Propels Achievement of Nationally Determined Contributions



World Agroforestry (ICRAF) is a centre of science and development excellence that harnesses the benefits of trees for people and the environment. Leveraging the world’s largest repository of agroforestry science and information, we develop knowledge practices, from farmers’ fields to the global sphere, to ensure food security and environmental sustainability.ICRAF is one of the 15 members of the CGIAR, a global research partnership for a food-secure future. We thank all donors who support research in development through their contributions to the CGIAR Fund.'

Cathy Watson

Cathy Watson is chief of programme development at the World Agroforestry Centre in Nairobi. Before joining ICRAF in November 2012, she founded and ran two NGOs in Uganda -- Straight Talk Foundation and Mvule Trust. She was made a senior Ashoka fellow for social entrepreneurship in 2006. She has also been a foreign correspondent, working for The Guardian and the BBC, among others. A graduate in biology and Latin American Studies from Princeton, she has over 30 years of work experience in Africa with a focus on trees, youth, HIV, families, and communication for social change. She holds a graduate certificate in agroforestry from the University of Missouri.

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