Helping rice farmers grow trees for adapting to climate change

Farmers in a rice-and-agroforestry landscape in Indonesia. Photo: World Agroforestry Centre

Farmers in a rice-and-agroforestry landscape in Indonesia. Photo: World Agroforestry Centre


Trees in, and around, rice fields help farmers’ become more resilient to climate change, improve their incomes and protect the environment. A new practical manual helps guide farmers in Southeast Asia, the rice bowl of the world.

More than 3.5 billion people — around half the world’s population — have rice as their staple food. In Asia, people often eat rice two or three times a day, obtaining 30–70% of their dietary energy from it. In 2014, 31% of the global rice harvest was from Southeast Asia: Brunei Darussalam, Cambodia, Indonesia, Lao PDR, Malaysia, Myanmar, Philippines, Thailand, Timor-Leste and Viet Nam. But the production of rice is threatened by climate change, land degradation, water scarcity, and over-exploitation of natural resources. Combined, they put at risk the security of farmers’ livelihoods and food supply.

In recognition of the importance of helping farmers adapt to climate change, the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (FAO) commissioned the World Agroforestry Centre to produce a practical manual that would guide farmers in Southeast Asia in how to integrate trees into their rice farms.

Cover rice and AF manualAgroforestry in rice-production landscapes in Southeast Asia: a practical manual has its origins in the findings of the FAO’s Asian Rice-production Landscapes project and Advancing Agroforestry on the Policy Agenda: A Guide for Decision-makers and takes advantage of the World Agroforestry Centre’s extensive experience with, and knowledge of, agroforestry practices.

FAO had designed the Regional Rice Initiative for Asia in 2013 to support countries in improving policies and strategies to promote sustainable management of rice agro-ecosystems. Under the Initiative, the Assessment of Trees Outside Forests in Asian Rice-production Landscapes project evaluated the extent and use of trees in such landscapes in Indonesia, Lao PDR and the Philippines. The results provided evidence that trees can contribute to improving local socio-economic and environmental conditions.

Planted or naturally regenerated trees found in homegardens, along roads and streams, in agroforestry systems, in small woodlands, along hedges and in fallows have proven to be excellent sources of goods and services to increase the socio-economic and environmental sustainability of agricultural landscapes. Trees on agricultural land can provide food and non-food products, support adaptation to climate change, increase biological diversity, regulate hydrological and nutrient cycles, protect the soil and improve nutrition and income. As a result, they can play an important role in mitigating and adapting to the multiple stressors that agricultural systems are currently facing and, consequently, in increasing food and nutrition security of rice-based farming communities.

Rice terraces with trees in Viet Nam. Photo: World Agroforestry Centre/Lisa Hiwasaki

Rice terraces with trees in Viet Nam. Photo: World Agroforestry Centre/Lisa Hiwasaki

Rice in Southeast Asia is part of a more complex livelihoods’ system in which trees, other crops, livestock and other activities are all connected. Farmers and other household members are not necessarily trying to maximize rice yields but to optimize their available resources (human, natural and financial), spread risks, achieve food and nutrition security and generate income. Farms that grow only rice are vulnerable to both climate and market shocks. Diversification through adding trees help spreads the risk. Trees are stronger and more resilient to storms, floods and droughts. They can continue to produce both food and income even immediately after a storm or flood that has destroyed a rice crop. Trees endure long droughts much better than even irrigated rice if the source of irrigation water is depleted. Some farmers in Viet Nam, Indonesia, the Philippines, Myanmar, Lao PDR, Thailand and other countries in Southeast Asia have been able to lessen these risks if they have a mix of trees and rice on their farms rather than just rice alone.

Aimed at rural advisors and agricultural extensionists, who are the people who work most with farmers, the manual is organized into three sections. The first gives a background on agroforestry and on the benefits its integration into rice-production landscapes can provide to farmers. It also introduces the challenges facing rice production in Southeast Asia, particularly, those caused by climate change, and how trees can help reduce the risks faced by farmers and those who rely on them. The second section provides guidance on how to design, plan and manage trees and rice together towards integrated agroforestry landscapes. The third section discusses the role of advisors, extensionists and other community facilitators and how they can best serve farmers to achieve mutual objectives in integrated farming landscapes.


Download the manual

Wangpakapattanawong P, Finlayson R, Öborn I, Roshetko JM, Sinclair F, Shono K, Borelli S, Hillbrand A, Conigliaro M. 2017. Agroforestry in rice-production landscapes in Southeast Asia: a practical manual. Bangkok, Thailand: Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations Regional Office for Asia and the Pacific; Bogor, Indonesia: World Agroforestry Centre (ICRAF) Southeast Asia Regional Program.







ICRAF The World Agroforestry Centre is one of the 15 members of the CGIAR, a global partnership for a food-secure future.

We would like to thank all donors who support research in development through their contributions to the CGIAR Fund.

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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