How to make sure we have enough to eat

The world is increasingly concerned with providing enough food for its growing population in the face of a changing climate. Agroforestry can be the key to meeting the challenge


By Enggar Paramita


Ensuring national food security can be challenging depending on the biophysical and socioeconomic circumstances and can be made more so by climate change.

Speaking at the opening of the AID Forum Food Security Summit: Asia 2014, Dr James M. Roshetko, senior scientist at the World Agroforestry Centre and leader of the Agroforestry and Forestry in Sulawesi project, argued that agroforestry is a viable option for meeting the many facets of the challenge to secure food supply.

‘Agroforestry is by its nature climate smart’, he said. ‘In agroforestry systems, the species are diverse and through natural processes trees adapt as the climate changes: they adjust and become more resilient. And with more diverse species, by mixing crops and trees, you gain more in carbon stock’.

James M Roshetko, Food Security Summit Asia 2014, agroforestry

Dr James M Roshetko at Food Security Summit Asia 2014. Photo: World Agroforestry Centre/Enggar Paramita

According to Dr Roshetko, agroforestry farmers are not as vulnerable compared to farmers who are dependent on a single crop.

‘Monocrop farmers, they frequently don’t have capital, so a single crop failure can easily wipe them out. Yet, with diverse species farmers have alternative sources of income throughout the year,’ he said.

However, he also claimed that when growing trees and crops together sometimes it isn’t always ‘win win’, pointing out that in the first and second years of establishing an agroforestry system there would be no loss in productivity because the crops and trees weren’t yet competing. But in the third year onwards there would be a trade-off between productivity and diversity.

‘Therefore, we should manage to prioritize what’s beneficial to farmers: whether it’s annual crops or trees’, he explained. ‘We can help them balance the two; a balance that should always be based on farmers’ goals for their livelihoods and the market opportunities’.

Building farmers’ capacity and resilience for adapting to climate change is another important measure. Through a participatory method that’s been applied in the Agroforestry and Forestry in Sulawesi project, farmers and communities are helped to adapt to vulnerabilities caused by climate change and market forces. By improving their knowledge, local people can develop strategies to better manage the threats.

Speaking on the same panel, Dr Henri Bastaman, Indonesia’s Deputy Minister of Environment, argued that addressing only food productivity wasn’t enough. Nations also needed to look at the way they consumed food. Studies by UN agencies and research organizations show that food production and consumption have put great pressure on natural resources.

‘Particularly in Indonesia’, he said, ‘there has been a striking growth of middle-class consumers to around 45 million now, which is set to triple over the next 15 years. This group typically consumes more than people with less income. If the tendency of increasing demand in consumption behavior continues then the environment will be hit the hardest’.

Dr Bastaman pointed out that currently a third of our food is wasted in households, the hospitality industry and retail and, ‘to make it worse, there is also food lost in the supply chain even before the food is consumed. We must act immediately. We need to change the consumption patterns’.

The latest version of the Sustainable Development Goals urge countries to ensure sustainable consumption and production patterns. Indonesia has shown its commitment, with the ministries of Environment and of National Development Planning collaborating on a ten-year program that aims to improve Indonesians’ quality of life through changes in production and consumption in a sustainable manner.  The president-elect, Joko Widowo, who will occupy the palace in less than two weeks, has said that this won’t be the only prioritized goal but also food sovereignty.

Dr Angung Hendriadi from the Indonesian Agency for Agricultural Research and Development, in a panel session on ‘Agricultural Policies and Technologies in a World of Natural Resources and Climate Change’, said that action plans are being prepared, ‘seed-sovereignty’ villages are being developed, irrigation is being rehabilitated, new agricultural land is being identified and land tenure is being reformed to guarantee that Indonesia will be self-sufficient in the staples.

‘Additionally, with recent climate-change impacts, we are expanding research on climate-resilient species’, he said.

In Indonesia, the signs of climate change have been noticeable in past years. The annual temperature has been increasing by 0.3 Celsius while rainfall has been decreasing. Rain has been falling in unpredictable patterns with less rain during the critical dry season and even higher rainfall during the wet season.  It is clear that in this situation, increasing productivity becomes even harder; in many cases, farmers are instead experiencing crop failure.

As one solution to the challenge, so-called ‘climate-smart’ agriculture should be adopted. This approach doesn’t only focus on improving productivity in a sustainable manner but also on building farmers’ resilience and reducing greenhouse-gas emissions. As Dr Roshetko argued, agroforestry is by nature ‘climate smart’ and nations would be well advised to maximize the deployment of integrated tree, crop and livestock systems to not only increase food supply but also return benefits to the environment and to human health.

The AID Forum Food Security Summit: Asia 2014 was held in Jakarta, Indonesia, 8–9 October 2014.




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This work is linked to 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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