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Agroforestry centre-stage at FAO forests for food security and nutrition event

Agroforestry took centre stage at the first-ever International Conference on Forests for Food Security and Nutrition (13-15 May), organised by FAO.

Over 400 participants from over 100 countries attended the conference, including governments, civil-society organisations, local communities, donors and international agencies. For the conference, the FAO partnered with the Center for International Forestry Research (CIFOR), the World Agroforestry Centre (ICRAF), the World Bank and Bioversity International.

Governments, civil society and the private sector “should ensure and strengthen the contributions of forests, trees and agroforestry systems to food security and nutrition”, the FAO reported as a key recommendation.

Moreover, the FAO also reported that “conference participants further encouraged FAO to promote the conference recommendations to the next sessions of the Committee on World Food Security and the Committee on Forestry, as well as to the Second International Conference on Nutrition (ICN2) to be held at FAO headquarters in Rome on 19-21 November 2014.”

A number of key recommendations emerged from the conference, including improving incentives for small scale producers; microfinance; improved access to trees and land through improved tenure (for land and trees) and intersectoral cooperation.

This cooperation should involve governments, civil society, the private sector and other stakeholders, who should build supports for forests, trees and agroforestry systems, which in turn contribute to food security and nutrition. Feasible inter-sectoral actions should be undertaken on landscape-scale partnerships, the FAO said.

Important ICRAF contributions to the conference included a keynote contribution by Director General Tony Simons, background paper and presentation co-ordinated by Ramni Jamandass and presentation by Katja Kehlenbeck.

This groundbreaking conference also saw the first FAO working paper on agroforestry launched. This working paper is to act as a “guide is to assist countries to develop policy, legal and institutional conditions that facilitate the adoption of agroforestry and recognise its contribution to national development.”

The guide cites agroforestry positives such as “producing food and fibre for better food and nutritional security…sustaining livelihoods, alleviating poverty and promoting productive, resilient agricultural environments.

It continues “when practised at scale, it can enhance ecosystems through carbon storage, prevention of deforestation, biodiversity conservation, cleaner water and erosion control while enabling agricultural lands to withstand events such as floods, drought and climate change.”

Nevertheless “agroforestry continues to face challenges such as, unfavourable policy incentives, inadequate knowledge dissemination, legal constraints and poor coordination among the multiple sectors to which it contributes. Nor is it sufficiently addressed in national policy making, land-use planning and rural development programmes. As a result, its potential contribution to the economy and sustainable development goals has not been fully recognized or exploited.”

There are, the report states, four critical conditions that encourage agroforestry.
• it should be beneficial to farmers and other land users;
• there must be security of land tenure;
• inter-sectoral coordination is essential;
• good governance of natural resources is crucial.

The publication also listed, and explained in detail, a “top ten things to do” to help develop agroforestry.

1. Spread the word: Raise awareness of the benefits of agroforestry systems to both
individual farmers and global society.
2. Revise the context: Appraise and reform unfavourable regulations and legal restrictions.
3. Secure the land: Clarify land-use policy goals and regulations.
4. Create a new approach: Elaborate new agricultural policies that take into account the role of trees in rural development.
5. Organize and synergize: Organize intersectoral coordination for better policy coherence and synergies.
6. Provide incentives: Create a clear context for payments for environmental services.
7. Develop markets: Strengthen farmers’ access to markets for tree products.
8. Communicate the know-how: Enhance stakeholder information.
9. Include the stakeholder: Formulate or strengthen policy based on local people’s needs and rights.
10.Govern wisely: Engage in good governance of rural activities.

Emphasising these points José Graziano da Silva, FAO Director General said:
“The crucial contributions that forests, trees on farms and agroforestry systems make to the food security and nutrition of rural people are not sufficiently recognized. Not on paper and not in practice. They are rarely considered in food security and land use policies.
Often, rural people do not have secure access rights to forests and trees that are part of their daily lives, which puts their food security in danger.”
He also emphasised that this situation has led the FAO to start “the process to develop Voluntary Guidelines on the Responsible Governance of Tenure of Land, Fisheries and Forests in the Context of National Food Security.
“These voluntary guidelines were endorsed last year by the Committee on World Food Security, after three years of international consensus building.”

All told, with these recommendations, publications and guidelines, as well as technological innovations (see panel) agroforestry is moving front and centre into the FAO’s thinking and actions with regard to food security and nutrition. The intersectoral barriers and challenges can certainly be overcome, as can the limits of flawed paradigms and standalone silos. The right trees for the right place at the right time may soon start to become even more the norm.

Agroforestry is at the cutting edge not only of inter-sectoral partnerships, it is to the fore in developing and using technologies on the global level to up and out scale its impact.

Amongst many, two innovative examples stood out at the conference. One is the potential natural vegetation (PNV) map for eastern Africa, which covers Ethiopia, Kenya, Uganda, Rwanda, Tanzania, and Zambia. This potential vegetation map, which is available as a Google Earth layer, will help with the crucial task of the right tree be chosen for the right place.

Another is the online learning event on agroforestry, food security and climate change, as revealed at a conference side event on urban forests, agroforestry and trees outside forests. This is an excellent example of expert yet open and crowd sourced research and learning. The initial learning event received contributions from 60 countries and 22,500 participants, and fed into the background paper on agroforestry for the conference.

Coordinated by Maria Nuutinen (Climate Change Officer Mitigation of climate change in agriculture team MICCA Programme Climate, Energy and Tenure Division, FAO) this has generated a Community of Practice as a medium for knowledge sharing on agroforestry.

Nuutinen listed nemerous benefits to a Community of Practice (CoP). A CoP can: develop capacities; increase visibility; increase quality of contact (time, trust, collaboration networks) and spread new ideas, while also being extremely cost-effective.

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