The global agroforestry challenge

The world’s leaders have been set the challenge of restoring more than 350 million hectares by 2030. Researchers see agroforestry as the key to making it happen.


‘Around 20–25% of global land is degraded, affecting 1.5 billion people’, said Ermias Betemariam, land-health scientist with the World Agroforestry Centre (ICRAF), speaking at a session on land restoration at ICRAF’s annual Science Week in Bogor, Indonesia, on 14 September 2015. ‘The world has been set many challenges to try and turn this around and we see this as an opportunity for greater use of agroforestry systems that address multiple restoration needs’.

‘The whole global agenda is now focussed like never before’, confirmed Dr Dennis Garrity, drylands ambassador for the UNCCD, senior fellow with ICRAF and the World Resources Institute and chair of the EverGreen Agriculture Partnership and Landcare International. ‘Policy makers are becoming serious about restoration and they are realising that agroforestry is probably three-quarters of the total restoration effort. On the 2 billion hectares of degraded land on the planet, agroforestry is going to dominate the restoration agenda because the key is “restoring in mixed-mosaic systems”. By that, we mean holistic restoration that includes croplands and rangelands and agroforests at the landscape level’.

Map of the world's degraded land. Source: Bonn Challenge

Map of the world’s degraded land. Source: Bonn Challenge

Many countries have been successfully restoring their degraded land already but the question remains why this hasn’t been happening on a regional or planetary scale? Researchers have found that countries that have made formal international commitments to restoration correspondingly have a domestic political process that is watched by global audiences, which encourages greater coherence.

‘In Africa, the African Union is taking the lead at the continental level. Consequently, Africa as a whole is planning for 100 million hectares to be restored by 2030’, said Dr Garrity.

To achieve the goal, cross-regional coordination is essential: forestry ministers need to work with agricultural ministers and with livestock ministers within and between countries. There needs to be cross-sectoral coherence otherwise restoration will be thought of as purely a ‘forest’ issue as in the past.

‘There are many models, methods and systems available that encompass forested, agricultural and other land uses to address restoration’, said Dr Garrity. ‘For example, climate-smart agriculture, farmer-managed natural regeneration and evergreen agriculture are but three. There are many more options.

‘But the real issue that needs to be addressed is the integration of trees directly into crop land. This is where the potential exists for major change’.

For example, five million hectares of crop lands are now dominated by fertilizer, fodder and fuelwood trees in Niger and there are many hundreds of thousands more such hectares in , Malawi, Mali and other countries in Africa alone.

‘Restoration is not as expensive as it is assumed if we look at the problem and the solutions differently. Restoration with agroforestry can cover enormous areas for almost nothing,’ said Dr Garrity.

Landscape restored through farmer-managed natural regeneration. Photo: Dennis Garrity

Landscape restored through farmer-managed natural regeneration. Photo: US Geological Survey/Gray Tappan

What are the global challenges?

Sustainable Development Goal 15 is to ‘protect, restore and promote sustainable use of terrestrial ecosystems, sustainably manage forests, combat desertification, and halt and reverse land degradation and halt biodiversity loss’.

The Bonn Challenge is a global aspiration to restore 150 million hectares of the world’s deforested and degraded lands by 2020 and 350 million hectares by 2030. It was launched by world leaders at a ministerial roundtable in Bonn, Germany, in September 2011. Underlying the Challenge is the ‘forest landscape restoration approach’, which aims to restore ecological integrity at the same time as improving human wellbeing through multi-functional landscapes, which is a core framework that ICRAF promotes for deployment of agroforestry systems.

The United Nations Convention to Combat Desertification’s policy brief on Zero Net Land Degradation calls on the world’s leaders to agree on zero net land degradation. To achieve this goal, degradation of productive land should be avoided and already degraded lands need to be restored, with these targets: zero net land degradation by 2030 for 190 million hectares and zero net forest degradation by 2030. Agroforestry has been proven as an excellent choice for reversing land degradation, which meets multiple goals.

The CGIAR, a global partnership for a food-secure future, of which ICRAF is a member, has itself set a goal in its 2016–2030 strategy of restoring 190 million hectares by 2030, with numerous of its component research programs also setting similar goals under their geographic and speciality research areas.



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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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