Researchers to gather at World Congress on Agroforestry
Researchers to gather at World Congress on Agroforestry
15 April, 2019
A man works on a cocoa farm in Peru. Photo by M. del Aguila Guerrero/CIFOR
FTA COMMUNICATIONS TEAM
The 4th World Congress on Agroforestry(Agroforestry 2019) aims to strengthen the links between science, society and public policies. Under the high patronage of Mr. Emmanuel Macron, President of the French Republic, the Congress is to be held at the Le Corum conference center in Montpellier on 20–22 May 2019. The Congress is a part of a Week of Agroforestry running from 19–23 May.
“We wanted, through this general public day ahead of the congress, to make agroforestry better known to civil society”, explained Emmanuel Torquebiau, Agroforestry Project Manager at CIRAD and Chairman of the Organizing Committee of the 4th World Congress on Agroforestry.
The organizers aim to anchor the 4th World Congress on Agroforestry to the societal debate on agriculture. “It is time for technical solutions to be discussed within civil society and to become part of public policy”, commented Christian Dupraz, INRA Research Director and Chairman of the Scientific Committee of the Congress.
By combining science and dialogue with society, the Congress will be an opportunity to assess the contribution of agroforestry to the agro-ecological transition of agriculture at the global level.
Agroforestry, which involves combining trees with crops and pastures, is now recognized to protect soils, address climate change issues and contribute to global food security. This practice could therefore be the future of agriculture. The fields of application are very diverse: hedges and alignment of trees or shrubs in and around plots, multilayer agriculture, timber or fruit production in cropland, fodder trees, trees for honey, shade trees for perennial crops (coffee, cocoa, grapevines) or livestock, multilayer agroforests and agroforestry gardens.
An International Union of Agroforestry will be created at the Congress, to federate agroforestry innovations on a global scale. On Thursday, 23 May, participants will be able to visit the main European experimental agroforestry site at Domaine de Restinclières in Prades-le-Lez (11 km north of Montpellier) where cereals (durum wheat and barley rotated with protein peas) are grown with many tree species, particularly walnut trees. In more stony soils, vines are grown with pines and cormiers. This 50-ha experimental farm, which belongs to Hérault County Council, is scientifically managed by INRA Occitanie-Montpellier.
By Robin R Sears, Ashwin Ravikumar and Peter Cronkleton; originally published at CIFOR’s Forests News
Multiple international and bilateral agreements compel – though do not legally bind – Peru to halt deforestation in the near future. Despite these commitments, deforestation persists.
Confronting deforestation requires understanding and addressing its drivers –who cuts down forests, why they cut down forests, and where the deforestation occurs.
In a new paper in Conservation Letters, researchers under the CGIAR Research Program on Forests, Trees and Agroforestry draw attention to the complex set of drivers of deforestation in the Peruvian Amazon and analyze the origins of what they consider an overly simplified explanatory narrative for deforestation. They suggest that the common public narrative is not supported by evidence, and provide alternative recommendations for a more balanced approach to understanding the problem.
A questionable narrative
During public meetings in Lima since 2014, starting with the run-up to the 20th Conference of the Parties (COP20) of the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change, CIFOR scientists heard repeated public expressions of a particular narrative about the drivers of deforestation that didn’t seem quite right.
The narrative was expressed in different ways at different times, but one particularly striking example comes from a poster displayed in the public ‘Forest Pavilion’ event that ran for a whole week alongside the COP20 proceedings. The poster read:
“90% of the logging and burning of Peru’s Amazon forests occurs at the hands of peasants living in poverty who migrate from the highlands and practice subsistence agriculture.”
Based on the CIFOR team’s experience conducting political ecology and forestry research in the dynamic landscapes of the Peruvian Amazon, it struck them as odd that such a generic and singularly damning claim would be made so publicly, and with such confidence. There are diverse processes at play behind deforestation in the Amazon, and both the immediate and underlying drivers of deforestation are surely more complex than this narrative suggests.
The key premise underlying such a narrative is that the main driver of deforestation in Peru is small-scale, or so-called ‘migratory’, agriculture.
But is this really the case?
The team set out to investigate where this conclusion came from, and what evidence supported it. The results were surprising. In a nutshell, it was found that the only supporting evidence for the public narrative came from remote-sensing data, which indicated that recently deforested patches were very small in size. Period.
The studies cited to support this analysis based their assessment on the frequency of small patches of deforestation. One source reported that 75% of deforested patches were smaller than 0.5 ha, and a further 15% were 0.5 to 1.0 ha. Without any apparent assessment of what the land use was in those patches, the study used these figures to conclude that the main culprits of deforestation were subsistence farmers.
Crucially, CIFOR’s research team found that not one of the cited sources supporting this conclusion involved any field-based verification of remotely sensed data. In reality, small deforested patches can indicate any number of processes – from subsistence agriculture in sustainable rotating systems, to speculative clearing in primary forests for expansion of cash crops.
‘Ground truthing’, or verifying satellite data with facts on the ground, can reveal who the actors were, their motivations for deforestation, for what purpose it was conducted, and what kind of forest was cleared. And this information can lead to effective strategies to confront both the underlying and immediate drivers of deforestation.
Checking the facts
A study led by a different group of CIFOR scientists, on a continent-wide assessment of the drivers of deforestation, used expert human interpretation of fine-scale satellite imagery to go beyond simply measuring the size and frequency of deforestation events. These scientists aimed to determine post-deforestation land uses, which is at least another piece of the puzzle.
While the authors of that study included a caveat that small-scale land uses are difficult to classify by remote sensing, they did report with some confidence that 41.9% of deforestation events in all of Peru were followed by smallholder cropping — a far smaller figure than the 90% reported by the Peruvian government.
By not considering the complex dynamics of who is deforesting, why they are doing it, and where, the prevailing narrative is imprecise and inhibits the design of effective strategies to change behavior on the ground.
Clarifying the terms
A second source of confusion and inaccuracy in the public narrative is the use of the ambiguous term ‘migratory agriculture’. Does it refer to shifting agriculture, or agriculture by migrants? Because these can be two very different things.
‘Migratory agriculture’ is sometimes used in the narrative to refer to swidden-fallow agriculture, or shifting cultivation, wherein farmers rotate production among active fields of annual crops and regenerating forest areas, or fallows. Such cycles produce temporal and spatial mosaics of crop fields and forest that can be relatively stable and sustainable.
Other times, it refers to ‘agriculture by migrants’. For example, Che Piu and Menton use this definition in reference to the expansion of the agricultural frontier via the influx of migrants who may convert forest for agricultural use.
In other cases, the detected clearings may be the result of logging. It is feasible that poorly conducted single-tree selection logging for very large canopy emergents, such as Dipteryx spp. in western Amazonia, can result in a canopy gap as large as 0.3 ha.
The simplifying language of ‘migratory agriculture’, or even ‘small-scale agriculture’, that has pervaded contemporary discussions obscures important distinctions among classes of actors and drivers of deforestation.
Such highly generalized explanations of what drives deforestation should be discarded in exchange for a more nuanced understanding of both proximate and underlying drivers of deforestation. This information then can better inform policy.
To their credit, Peru’s national forest service (SERFOR) and regional forest authorities have made progress in recent years in carrying out participatory processes to enable government, civil society, and local communities to work together towards sustainable and equitable access to and use of the country’s forests and forest resources.
Therefore, it is a giant step backwards to place the blame for deforestation generically and uncritically on the shoulders of the most marginalized and least capitalized actors, the smallholder farmers. Instead, the strengths of the Amazonian people to achieve environmental, livelihood, and development objectives should be recognized and honored, and authorities should aim to work with them to design and implement effective policy.
The way forward
Ultimately, deforestation in undesignated natural areas must cease in Peru, including halting illegal logging and the advance of the agricultural frontier into mature forest. At the same time, authorities and NGOs should recognize that episodic deforestation is part of smallholder agricultural systems, and, furthermore, that agricultural expansion will continue to occur. It is the role of the local authorities to ensure that it occurs only in authorized areas.
To achieve these goals, while still meeting national objectives of sustainable development, a deeper, more critical analysis of the drivers of deforestation, and, importantly, how to address them, is essential.
This can be supported by rigorous mixed-methods research on the drivers of deforestation, coupled with multi-stakeholder processes to evaluate opportunities and trade-offs. Such information can be translated into action through political negotiations.
As is always the case, divergent interests will have to be negotiated. Nevertheless, understanding the realities of deforestation is a necessary starting point for such conversations. And this should be communicated to the public in a narrative that acknowledges multiple and complex causes, rather than one that blames marginalized communities and alienates the rural population of Amazonia.
Strategic planning that achieves a balance between conservation and development goals starts with better understanding of the needs and realities of multiple stakeholders.
Farms vs. forests? A more nuanced look at agrarian change
Farms vs. forests? A more nuanced look at agrarian change
Forests are being converted into agricultural land throughout the tropics, from Borneo to the Congo Basin. But this process – called agrarian change – can bring communities benefits as well as consequences.
Questions about the benefits and trade-offs of agrarian transitions are too often reduced into a simple debate over how best to increase agricultural production while minimizing deforestation.
“When you’re looking at patterns of agrarian change you need to consider all kinds of other things, not just agricultural production, but livelihoods, diets, ecosystem services,” said Terry Sunderland, a Principal Scientist with the Center for International Forestry Research (CIFOR).
The project uses multiple sites in each of six countries.
“One of the strengths of the project is that we’re using this diversity of landscapes, both to come up with some generalized patterns but also to understand the importance of local context,” said Sunderland.
“And I think one big message that stands out is that context is really important.”
Expanding the debate
The Agrarian Change project takes as its premise the need to increase global food production to feed a growing global population. For many tropical landscapes, this will likely require a continued agrarian transition.
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“Agriculture monocultures are becoming a more and more dominant land use, in part to address the challenge of growing more food. One way that’s going to happen is by transforming landscapes with tree cover and making them primarily agricultural landscapes,” said Liz Deakin, who coordinated the project.
The social impacts of this transition are one current blind spot the project is exploring.
“We are trying to quantify the impacts of the agrarian transition in terms of food security and nutrition levels, as well as the ways it could benefit households, for example through opportunities for employment and education,” said Deakin.
“We don’t want to just say that ‘agrarian change is bad’ for these landscapes. We’re using large datasets to get a more balanced idea,” she explained. “We’re identifying the ways that the change could actually benefit people living in these landscapes, and other ways in which it is not. We’re trying to tease out those ideas from the evidence.”
From the start, the project has highlighted the trade-offs that agricultural transitions tend to entail.
“You would think that the transition to a cash economy in Indonesia would have a positive impact on nutrition, for example, because people have more market access and power,” said Sunderland.
“But actually, research has been showing the opposite: people go through a dietary transition to a much poorer diet. So that’s one very clear and stark trade-off from the transition.”
“We’re also seeing things like social norms breaking down with access to cash, which can impact on livelihoods.”
These kinds of trade-offs are often glossed over, if not ignored completely, by the current debate over sustainable intensification.
“Everyone’s talking about land sparing and land sharing. What we’re trying to do with this project is present a more nuanced picture,” said Sunderland.
Context is key
The project aims to generate a globally representative picture by focusing on selected project sites across a range of landscapes.
What all these landscapes are showing is that you can have agriculture that’s sustainable in the context of broader landscape management, rather than trying to approach it in isolation
Despite similar patterns throughout its sites in Bangladesh, Burkina Faso, Cameroon, Ethiopia, Indonesia and Zambia, the project has also been revealing the critical importance of local context.
“You can learn a lot from asking comparative questions, looking at who benefits in some landscapes and who benefits in others,” said Sunderland.
“One of the ideas we’ve been confirming is that context is everything. So what happens in Burkina Faso may not be able to be applied in Zambia, and vice versa.
“All that nuance is really important but gets missed in the lexicon of development, which often proposes somewhat simplistic solutions to very complex problems.”
Integrating for a landscape-based approach
Intensive data analysis for the Agrarian Change project will be conducted over the next six months, with one further finding expected to come through strongly: landscapes are an ideal scale to explore the social and ecological consequences of agrarian change.
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“In terms of managing landscape-scale processes like the agrarian transition, the integration of function has multiple advantages over the segregation of function,” said Sunderland.
“And that shows up in the landscapes that we’re working in.”
Of course this type of management requires some governance tweaks, if not full reform. But examples are emerging where functions that are usually separate are being integrated, such as in the recent merger between the Indonesian Ministry of Forestry and Ministry of Environment.
And at a more localized scale, Cameroon is also demonstrating some really positive developments in integrating landscape management functions, said Sunderland.
So while some of the Agrarian Change project’s sites are more advanced in integrating landscape management than others, the idea itself is proving robust.
“What all these landscapes are showing is that you can have agriculture that’s sustainable in the context of broader landscape management, rather than trying to approach it in isolation,” said Sunderland.