4 June 2019
Agroforestry Congress, ICRAF/FAO Publications Call for Transformation of Global Food System
Photo by Nikita Birkbeck
story highlights

The ‘Montpellier Declaration: Make our Planet Treed Again!’ reiterates the close link between unsustainable agricultural practices, declining biodiversity and accelerated climate change, as highlighted by recent flagship reports from IPBES and the IPCC.

On the eve of the Congress, the World Agroforestry Centre marked its 40th anniversary with the launch of a book titled, ‘Sustainable Development Through Trees on Farms: Agroforestry in its Fifth Decade’.

Also launched at the Congress, the FAO publication, ‘Agroforestry and Tenure,’ underscores the importance of secure access for smallholder farmers, especially women, to invest in agroforestry.

25 May 2019: A “transformative change” is needed in governance, education and finance to speed up the adoption of agroforestry systems to help tackle “the disastrous impacts on our planet of the global food system.” This was one of the main conclusions of the fourth World Congress on Agroforestry, which is also echoed in publications launched at the event by the World Agroforestry Centre (ICRAF) and the Food and Agriculture Organization of the UN (FAO).

The Agroforestry Congress convened on the theme, ‘Agroforestry: Strengthening Links Between Science, Society and Policy,’ and gathered 1,200 participants from 100 countries in Montpellier, France, from 20-25 May 2019. The event was co-organized by the French Agricultural Research Center for International Development (CIRAD) and the French National Institute for Agricultural Research (INRA), in partnership ICRAF, Agropolis International and Montpellier University of Excellence.

Research presented at the Congress underscored benefits of mixing trees and crops in agriculture and pastures, highlighting positive impacts on biodiversity, food security and nutrition, farm profitability, optimal water management, soil restoration, and climate change mitigation and adaptation. A presentation by Chad Frischmann, Drawdown, emphasized, for example, that “12 of the top 20 climate solutions are in the food system, and many of those have to do with trees and agroforestry.”

Reflecting a shift from the past when Congresses were dominated by participants from the South, this year’s Congress drew a large number of participants from temperate regions, indicating the growing global momentum for family farming and other sustainable agriculture approaches. Explaining this resurgence, Stephen Briggs, an agroforestry farmer from the UK, said there is growing recognition that agroforestry “provides greater economic and production resilience, [which is] important to help deal with the impacts of climate change.”

Issued at the conclusion of the Congress, the ‘Montpellier Declaration: Make our Planet Treed Again!’ reiterates the close link between unsustainable agricultural practices, declining biodiversity and accelerated climate change, as highlighted by recent flagship reports by the Intergovernmental Science-Policy Platform on Biodiversity and Ecosystem Services (IPBES) and the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC). The Declaration highlights the multiple benefits of agroforestry as a solution to these challenges, including its role in: maintaining or enhancing yields while mitigating carbon emissions; adapting to the increasingly frequent droughts and floods linked to climate change; restoring degraded soils; and maximizing the overall productivity of landscapes for humanity and nature. While welcoming the increase of trees on farms around the world, the Declaration expresses concern that progress remains “spotty and slow,” calling on leaders from the political, corporate and finance and research sectors to “rapidly and fundamentally engage in a process of deep transformation to promote the benefits of agroforestry to the world’s landowners and land managers.” [Montpellier Declaration: Make Our Planet Treed Again!] [CIRAD Press Release] [Agroforestry Congress Website]

Agroforestry provides greater economic and production resilience, which is important to help deal with the impacts of climate change.

The Evolution of Agroforestry

On the eve of the Congress, ICRAF marked its 40th anniversary with the launch of a book titled, ‘Sustainable Development Through Trees on Farms: Agroforestry in its Fifth Decade.’ With contributions by 80 authors, the publication analyzes the evolution of agroforestry approaches over the years, starting from its original definition as a technology for using trees on farms to current understanding of agroforestry landscapes that encompass trees within and outside of forests.

The publication is organized around three main sections that: review the science of trees, soils and their interactions with crops; highlight six landscapes around the world where “local transformations and learning contributed key lessons to the emerging agroforestry science”; and discuss key policy issues, including the role of integrated approaches to land use policies in connecting local action with global concerns.

An example of transformative change highlighted in the book is the restoration of 370,000 hectares of land in Shinyanga region of northern Tanzania to reverse the impacts of degradation linked to a combination of drought, overgrazing and political changes. The publication highlights how a partnership between local partners, the Tanzanian Government, ICRAF and the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN) linked tree planting to food security and improved livelihoods for smallholders, and contributed to policy changes at the national level to support investments in sustainable land management (SLM).

Reflecting on broader lessons that can be drawn from such local successes, the publication emphasizes that agroforestry should be viewed as a holistic approach to land and natural resources management that underpins all 17 SDGs and involves harmonizing agricultural, forestry and related policies. [Publication: Sustainable Development Through Trees on Farms: Agroforestry in its Fifth Decade] [ICRAF Blog Post on 40th Anniversary Publication]

Agroforestry and Land Tenure

FAO Deputy Director-General, Maria Helena Semedo, presented projects exploring multiple benefits of agroforestry, such as: reducing outmigration in Nepal; boosting soil health and water conservation in the drought-prone regions of Guatemala and Honduras; and introducing fruit trees in timber plantations in Kyrgyzstan. Semedo also highlighted a number of global initiatives to promote good agroforestry practices, including the UN Decade of Family Farming 2019-2028 and World Bee Day, which is celebrated on 20 May.

Underscoring that to invest in agroforestry, smallholder farmers, especially women, require secure access to land, Semedo outlined some messages from the FAO publication titled, ‘Agroforestry and Tenure,’ which was also launched at the Congress. The publication reviews some of the main tenure-related challenges that can affect agroforestry adoption, including: tenure insecurity on either land or its products that undermine agroforestry adoption; land fragmentation; policies limiting access to and use of the land by women and minority groups; and barriers presented by some customary regimes.

The publication offers some specific recommendations for strengthening agroforestry through sound tenure policies, including through: identifying local resource uses and tenure contexts; securing tenure by “drawing on what exists”; creating complementary incentives that lead to adoption and sustainability of agroforestry; and promoting equity, participation and justice.

The publication references the FAO Voluntary Guidelines on the Responsible Governance of Tenure of Land, Fisheries and Forests in the Context of National Food Security as a foundation for issuing comprehensive guidance on strengthening tenure in agroforestry systems. [Publication: Agroforestry and Tenure] [FAO Press Release]

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