Agroforestry at 40: The institutional evolution of World Agroforestry in research, development, policy and delivery

Maize growing under fertilizer tree. Photo: World Agroforestry

The institutional evolution of World Agroforestry for the two thousand and tens decade is a combined outcome of sound planning and serendipity. The decade started in a highly disruptive way with the world still reeling from the triple food, fuel and financial crises of 2008-9. On a note of positive disruption, it also started with the CGIAR reform and creation of CGIAR Research Programmes (CRPs) with expanded funding. In particular, the creation of the Forest, Trees and Agroforestry CRP was very useful in helping raise the profile of Agroforestry and ICRAF.

The Board of Trustees of World Agroforestry guided two corporate strategic planning exercises in 2012 and 2017 and approved the organization’s first ever Corporate Business Plan in 2018. These documents laid out the clear logic of the why, what, how and where of our institutional agenda. They also, importantly, helped focus and categorize our work more clearly. The development challenges which we prioritized and the value propositions of ICRAF became more closely linked by deliberately tying in our diverse revenue streams with our changing cost structures. We became more conscious of our quadrophenic identity in research, development, policy and delivery. Whilst our ultimate target beneficiaries and national counterparts remained constant, the range of our partners grew. Here we expanded our engagement particularly with the private sector, sub-national governments and mainstream INGOs.

One highly innovative approach that World Agroforestry pioneered in this decade is linking the science of discovery to the science of delivery. We successfully sourced several large grants (>US$ 5 million) to investigate the scaling up and scaling out processes of technical, social and policy agroforestry solutions. This has effectively positioned ICRAF within the blended finance and private investor spaces with growing demand for bespoke project design, decision support, risk identification and delivery options.

ICRAF staff competencies and business processes also evolved substantially in the two thousand and tens decade. Our administrative and support staff became a more connected group of enablers, and greater subsidiarity was seen in our 30 strong country and regional offices. Weaving all this together with a fit-for-purpose Enterprise Resource Planner (ERP) is still a work in progress. However, with increased risk awareness and due diligence demands the ERP remains a priority management task.

The latest and most significant positive disruption of the decade though, is the merger of the Center for International Forestry Research  (CIFOR) and World Agroforestry from January 2019. This voluntary move to create a bigger and more impactful single organization is built on the 40 successful years of ICRAF’s history and the 25 years of CIFOR’s history. Together, we are confident that we can leverage all the rich content of our research, development, policy and delivery efforts to accelerate our impact and better drive institutional effectiveness.

In this period, we remain most grateful to our donors, scientists and agroforestry practitioners who have developed our work around highly salient and innovative topics including: landscape approaches, geospatial science, capacity development, gender, SHARED approach, ecosystem services, biomass energy, tree germplasm, rainbow water, agroforestry systems, tree commodity value chains, research methods, land health, landscape governance, African Orphan Crops, impact investing, rural resource centres, green economy, integrated policies, impact assessment and knowledge management. With all this in place, the next decade is looking even more promising.

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Further reading

Book: Sustainable development through trees on farms: agroforestry in its fifth decade 

As a concept agroforestry has now entered its fifth decade, as a practice it probably is as old as agriculture. This book takes stock of how concepts and practice of agroforestry have changed in the past forty years. Read more

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World Agroforestry (ICRAF) is a centre of scientific and development excellence that harnesses the benefits of trees for people and the environment. Knowledge produced by ICRAF enables governments, development agencies and farmers to utilize the power of trees to make farming and livelihoods more environmentally, socially and economically sustainable at multiple scales. ICRAF is one of the 15 members of the CGIAR, a global research partnership for a food-secure future. We thank all donors who support research in development through their contributions to the CGIAR Fund.'

Tony Simons

Tony Simons is the Director General of the World Agroforestry Centre (ICRAF). He has worked 27 years on issues at the tropical agriculture/forestry interface, within the private sector (Shell Forestry); academia (University of Oxford); official development assistance (ODA/DFID); and research (CGIAR). He holds degrees from Massey University and Cambridge University, and an Honorary Professorship in Tropical Forestry at the University of Copenhagen, and has published over 100 research papers. Tony is passionate about the transformative change that the private sector can bring to development.

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