Research history of the World Agroforestry Centre Southeast Asia program 1993–2013

A new book that outlines the Southeast Asia’s research history of the last 20 years and showcases each country’s research highlights of the last two years, has been published as part of the Centre’s anniversary celebrations, says Robert Finlayson


From the homegardens observed in Bangladesh and Indonesia; to the millions of hectares of rubber and fruit agroforests of Sumatra and Kalimantan; to the government-fostered taungya systems of Burma, Thailand and Java; and from the tree-cultured swiddens observed from Assam to Mindoro, agroforestry has been woven indelibly into the fabric of land use in Southeast Asia for many generations.

An astounding array of agroforestry systems are observed, evolving in response to market changes, new technical options and the inexorable pressure of more people on the land.

Agroforestry systems were always there, particularly in the uplands. But their potential to solve land-use problems was not recognized by mainstream research and extension institutions and, consequently, they were given little notice. Until recently. But the situation has changed.

Dennis Garrity 1993


A new book published by the Centre in Southeast Asia outlines the establishment and research history of the program over the last 20 years.

The International Centre for Research in Agroforestry (ICRAF) established its regional research program in Southeast Asia in April 1992, according to a report written by the first regional research coordinator, Dr Dennis Garrity, who was appointed in July 1992, assuming his post on 1 November. Other scientists soon joined him in at his post in Bogor, Indonesia: Retno Winahyu, Meine van Noordwijk, Subekti Rahayu , Pratiknyo Purnomosidhi, Thomas P. Tomich, Betha Lusiana, Suyanto and Suseno Budidarsono, while Genevieve Michon and Hubert de Foresta were seconded to the team. The Philippine country office, which began operations at the same time, was home to Agustin Mercado and Glo Acaylar. Soon after, David Thomas established the Thailand program.

Bogor was chosen as the site of the regional headquarters because of Indonesia’s long and rich history of agroforestry systems and the proximity of sister organizations such as the newly created Center for International Forestry Research, the Asia-Pacific Agroforestry Network of the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations and the Institut Pertanian Bogor.

AF nurtures the Earth

For 20 years in Southeast Asia, agroforestry research has helped nurture the Earth and support smallholders. Photo: World Agroforestry Centre/Jianchu Xu

The program’s mandate was to conduct strategic research on key sustainable-landscape hypotheses and to develop and disseminate more effective research methods. Those imperatives remain the same to this day.

It was the young scientific team’s stated intention to ‘identify and concentrate on the most important problems in agroforestry and provide strategic leadership in developing the research base to solve them’.

They saw their research bounded by two themes: 1) the development of alternatives to slash-and-burn agriculture; and 2) the rehabilitation of degraded lands.

On the forest margins, the hypothesis was that complex agroforests provided a superior alternative for small-scale farmers to either food-crop systems or monocultural plantations of perennials. As an alternative to slash and burn, complex agroforests increased production sustainability, increased biodiversity, reduced production risks and increased returns to labour compared to continuous food crops or monocultural plantations.

The second hypothesis stated that rehabilitating Imperata grasslands with small-scale agroforestry systems would be superior to plantation reforestation in terms of production, equitability and participation.

For hilly farmlands, the team’s third hypothesis was that there were several pathways to sustainable farming. Among these, contour hedgerow systems initiated through natural vegetative strips provided distinct advantages as a superior, least-cost foundation upon which to build agroforestry-based, conservation farming.

The last two decades of work have provided evidence that these original hypotheses were correct and led the expanded team to address new problems brought about by climate change.

As well as leading global research in ‘payments for ecosystem services’, sustainable and ‘climate-friendly’ agricultural landscapes and mapping greenhouse gas emissions from changes to land use, the Centre in Southeast Asia has developed a suite of negotiation-support methods that encourage low-emissions development through participatory land-use planning.

The National Planning and Development Agency (Bappenas) of Indonesia has adopted the method, known by its acronym LUWES, for deployment throughout the nation and the Centre’s team have already trained scientists in how to use it in Viet Nam, Cameroon and Peru. LUWES looks set to become the tool that nations use to help build sustainable, ‘green’ economies.

The Centre still sees many challenges throughout the region, especially for poor and marginalized farming communities: increasing populations putting more pressure on natural resources, degrading land, insecure food supply and vulnerability to climate variability and extremes.

In particular, various ‘hot spots’ warrant more support—such as the Mekong River region, the highlands of both the mainland and archipelagos, areas that face conflict between human and biodiversity needs—and the results of the Centre’s research need to be more widely adopted by governments and communities if Southeast Asia wants to feed its 1.5 billion people and not destroy itself in the process.

Read the book

World Agroforestry Centre (ICRAF) Southeast Asia Program. 2012. Twenty years of working towards a sustainable Southeast Asia: 1993–2013. Bogor, Indonesia: World Agroforestry Centre (ICRAF) Southeast Asia Program.



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The work of the World Agroforestry Centre Southeast Asia is supported by 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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