Need for Policy Dialogue Evident in Agroforestry Roundtable

November 20, 2017

Courtesy: John Leary/Trees for the Future

815 million people are hungry worldwide. Conflicts in places such as South Sudan and Yemen are certainly to blame for much of the suffering, but so is the increasing impact of climate-related and agricultural stresses related to an increasing population.  As discussions rightfully continue to focus on the rising demands for food, we also need to continue to discuss how techniques that have thus far gone relatively under the radar can help us to reach our ultimate goal of eliminating hunger everywhere.

It was in this context that the Alliance to End Hunger hosted a roundtable discussion on agroforestry, and how trees can be utilized in an astonishing number of ways to protect farms, bolster food security, and build an enabling environment for smallholder farmers’ livelihoods to thrive.

The roundtable was co-hosted by the Alliance to End Hunger, the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (FAO), and a newer member of the Alliance network – Trees for the Future.  The discussion facilitated by FAO and Trees for the Future brought together academic, policy, and on-the ground expertise to discuss and debate what needs to happen to successfully and realistically utilize agroforestry around the world.

A general overview of agroforestry was presented by Vimlendra Sharan, Director of the FAO Liaison Office in Washington DC. Agroforestry, Mr. Sharan explained, provides not only economic benefits of outputs such as wood and fruit, but also through the reduction in need for agricultural inputs and the addition of microenterprise options. Further, agroforestry provides potential social and environmental benefits – building health and nutrition, improving soil fertility, and promoting water conservation, among other things.

(Learn More: FAO publications on Agroforestry)

John Leary, Executive Director of Trees for the Future, explained the concept of “forest gardens,” and how they are utilized in the field. He further reinforced the economic and social benefits of forest gardens and agroforestry broadly through on-the-ground observation. “Forest gardens mitigate the risks that many farmers – especially in low-income countries – face,” explained Mr. Leary. “Farmers need a payday, but they also need a steadier supply of food for their families. Forest gardens can help provide a steadier income year-round while also building their family’s nutritional diversity.”

(Learn More: Trees for the Future’s Forest Garden Training Center)

The overarching message from both presenters, however, was the need for policy action to promote and sustain agroforestry efforts. John Leary explained that there is a strong case to be made for the economic value proposition of forest gardens, but in many places – including the US – policies and tax incentives do not provide support relative to large-scale industrial farms.  Vimlendra Sharan agreed. “Policymakers need to understand how agroforestry contributes not only to local economies, but also national food security and economies,” said FAO’s Mr. Sharan. “While we have lots of great examples of this doing incredible things in the field, it is tough to turn these practices into policy prescriptions.”