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  • Just Launched! Diversity of agroforestry practices in Viet Nam, report by ICRAF

Just Launched! Diversity of agroforestry practices in Viet Nam, report by ICRAF

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Originally posted on World Agroforestry’s website.

In Southeast Asia, Viet Nam is a leader in characterisation and classification of agroforestry systems for various eco agricultural zones. The book pushes the country further into the lead.

A new book, Diversity of agroforestry practices in Viet Nam, was launched on 21 March 2021 on the International Day of Forests and Trees by World Agroforestry (ICRAF) in Viet Nam.

Diversity of agroforestry practices in Viet Nam [PDF]
“This publication describes the high diversity of agroforestry practices in Viet Nam,” said Rachmat Mulia, agroforestry researcher with ICRAF Viet Nam and one of the editors of the book, “and supports a wider development of agroforestry.”

“We provide information about the main characteristics of the systems, such as plant components and common design, including their distribution across the country,’ added Nguyen Mai Phuong, agroforestry researcher with ICRAF Viet Nam and the other editor of the book. ‘In addition, for most of the systems presented, we provide photos for better illustration.”

Agroforestry has been practised in Viet Nam for decades in the form of traditional models, such as forest–garden– fishpond–livestock systems in the lowlands and fruit or timber tree-based models in the uplands. According to the Spatially Characterized Agroforestry online database, the total area of agroforestry in the country had reached about 900,000 hectares during 2013–2014.

Owing to agroforestry’s potential for addressing the global challenges of food insecurity and the climate crisis, enhanced knowledge of its scope, diversity and potential benefits are considered necessary for the authorities, agricultural practitioners, and the research and development sectors. In addition, knowledge of, and work towards, removing barriers to agroforestry adoption at national and sub-national levels will help accelerate agroforestry development and help meet its fullest potential.

Docynia indica is considered as one of Viet Nam’s special fruits. Here, it is growing with upland rice in Son La Province, North West Region. Photo: World Agroforestry/Nguyen Mai Phuong

Agroforestry development can also support Viet Nam in achieving targets of several national policies. The country has included agroforestry in its 2020 Nationally Determined Contributions as a measure for land conservation to maintain food production and for carbon sequestration to combat the climate crisis.

“This book will become one of the most important publications by ICRAF Viet Nam,” said Nguyen Quang Tan, country representative for ICRAF Viet Nam. “It can generate longer-term and broader positive impact for the country, in particular, and for research in development of agroforestry worldwide. We purposely selected 21 March 2021 as the day to launch the book, that is, the International Day of Forests and Trees, to signify that agroforestry, through its capacity to generate various products and services, can also contribute to forest conservation.”

The book is divided into three parts. First, it provides main characteristics of 48 agroforestry systems spread across 42 provinces in Viet Nam during 2013–2014, as found in the Spatially Characterized Agroforestry database. Second, it presents agroforestry systems documented in different projects and studies implemented by ICRAF Viet Nam. And the third part is other agroforestry systems in Viet Nam documented in the literature.


Download the book

Mulia R, Nguyen MP, eds. 2021. Diversity of agroforestry practices in Viet Nam. Ha Noi, Viet Nam: World Agroforestry (ICRAF).

This article was produced by World Agroforestry.

CGIAR Research Program on Forests, Trees and Agroforestry (FTA) is the world’s largest research for development program to enhance the role of forests, trees and agroforestry in sustainable development and food security and to address climate change. CIFOR leads FTA in partnership with ICRAF, the Alliance of Bioversity International and CIAT, CATIE, CIRAD, INBAR and TBI. FTA’s work is supported by the CGIAR Trust Fund.

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  • Profiting from well-chosen tree species: improving the productivity of farming systems in Northwestern Vietnam

Profiting from well-chosen tree species: improving the productivity of farming systems in Northwestern Vietnam

Model exemplar landscape being established in Son la province. Photo: ICRAF
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By Ivanna Patton, La Nguyen and Ake E Mamo, originally published at ICRAF’s Agroforestry World Blog

Northwestern Vietnam is home to the three poorest provinces of the country, with a combined population of 3.4 million people and poverty ranging from 32% to 48% of households  across provinces.  There is a culturally diverse mix of communities comprising 30 ethnic groups but land use is dominated by maize production, largely sold for use as pig feed, on recently deforested slopes that are subject to high degradation rates.

In Son La province, for example, 65 000 ha of natural forest was converted to commercial maize cultivation between 2002 and 2009. In some areas shifting cultivation of upland rice, maize, soybean and cassava is still practiced but population pressures are shortening natural fallow periods, resulting in continuous cultivation with very little attention to erosion control measures exacerbating high economic and environmental risks.

Discounted cash flow (cumulative Net Present Value of agroforestry practices over a maize monoculture) calculated using production data from trials supplemented by information from mature trees and a 10% discount rate.

Most agricultural crops are grown as  monocultures on steep slopes, subject to soil degradation and declining crop yields. It is estimated from soil erosion measurements in farm trials, that typical erosion rates under maize monoculture in Yen Son district were almost 70 t ha-1 yr-1.

Agroforestry practices, involving contour planting of high value fruit and timber trees are a potential option for halting and reversing land degradation, improving ecosystem functions and enhancing the profitability of farming systems.

At the inception of the research reported here, agroforestry did not feature as an option in government policy at provincial or district level, and practical options for integrating trees on farms were not well developed in the region. There were only a few tree nurseries, generally producing germplasm of uncertain quality for a very narrow range of tree species. Farmers were further disadvantaged by low prices for products as a result of poor market access resulting from lack of infrastructure and market information, low and uncertain product quality along value-chains and lack of market links that affected the poorest disproportionately, leaving few livelihood options but subsistence agriculture.

Model exemplar landscape being established in Son la province. Photo: ICRAF

Recognizing the potential of agroforestry, the World Agroforestry Centre (ICRAF) in Vietnam, with support from the Australian Centre for International Agricultural Research (ACIAR) and CGIAR research programme on Forests, Trees and Agroforestry implemented a comprehensive 5 year (2011 – 2016) agroforestry research project with local partners to improve the performance of smallholder farming systems in Northwestern Vietnam.

 “We sought to increase the productivity of associated crop and livestock systems, leading to more diverse and sustainable production systems and better income from tree products.” Says Delia Catacutan, Head of the ICRAF Office in Vietnam. “The project took advantage of recent improvements in infrastructure which facilitate market access and increased livelihood opportunities.”

The project titled: ‘Agroforestry for livelihoods of smallholder farmers in Northwest Viet Nam (AFLi) had four specific and interconnected objectives. The first was to develop viable agroforestry practices for three altitudinal zones (<600 m.a.s.l., 600-800 m.a.s.l. and >800 m.a.s.l.), involving active engagement of local people in the design and testing of agroforestry options through on-farm trials.

The second was to improve the availability of high-quality germplasm to enable the expansion of agroforestry, addressing issues of germplasm availability, quality and multiplication. The third objective was to enhance market access and opportunities for adding value to agroforestry products and the fourth was to facilitate policy dialogues and develop extension methods for widescale promotion of agroforestry across the region.

The main assumption underpinning and being tested in this work was that integration of well-chosen tree species into the farming systems and landscapes of Northwestern Vietnam will make production systems more profitable, environmentally sustainable and resilient.

Late-fruiting longan with maize and forage grass system in Yen Bai Province. Photo: World Agroforestry Centre/La Nguyen

“We built on existing agroforesty knowledge and ongoing research in North-West Vietnam, and put a strong emphasis on understanding the interactions between trees and livelihoods under different agro-ecological and socio-economic conditions in order to facilitate subsequent dissemination and adoption of agroforestry practices.” Says Dr La Nguyen, Project Leader of AFLi.

The project benefited from FTA’s global network of agroforestry research, specifically through introduction of successful sloping agricultural land technology from the Philippines and research on market development for agroforestry products and extension approaches from Indonesia and Cameroon.

FTA funds also enabled the project to respond both to farmer needs (through adding more diverse, multistrata practices to the range of options being evaluated) and opportunities to engage policy makers (through co-investment with provincial Departments of Agriculture and Rural Development (DARDs) to initiate a network of exemplar landscapes that showcase landscape transformation when agroforestry practices are adopted at scale in a given area).

This complementarity of flexible funds from FTA alongside the programmatic funding from ACIAR was important in ensuring that the research was locally relevant and that outputs were taken up at national and provincial levels.

At the end of the project in 2016, AFLi reported significant outcomes ranging from capacity strengthening, to economic, social and environmental benefits across the farming systems of Northwestern Vietnam.

Capacity outcomes: awareness, knowledge and skills. A key indicator measured against AFLi’s four project objectives is improving farmers’ awareness, knowledge and skills on establishing and managing agroforestry practices, including seedling/germplasm production and marketing. The project trained a significant number of stakeholders (lead farmers, extension staff and researchers) and raised awareness amongst key policy makers, who now provide a critical mass of expertise that can promote agroforestry practices across the region.

More than 2,000 people including farmers, extension workers and research partners were trained on different aspects of agroforestry including agroforestry design, tree pruning, seed and seedling production, and contouring. The introduction of farmer innovations from the Philippines including the pragmatic ‘ox back method’ for laying out contours rather than more cumbersome use of ‘A’ frames and the incorporation of cash crops in vegetation strips designed primarily to control erosion, were particularly valued by farmers.

A monitoring and evaluation survey showed that 73% of farmers in areas where training had been conducted knew the key elements required to implement agroforestry on farms, and were provided with adequate technical support from extension workers to establish agroforestry practices on their farms. The demonstration from the participatory farmer trials that agroforestry practices were a viable option in the region has raised awareness amongst policy makers leading to policy change at provincial and district levels (these are catalogued below), promoting and providing incentives for farmers to adopt agroforestry.

Through the development of a network of exemplar landscapes across the region in conjunction with provincial DARDs, it is anticipated that these trained farmers, research and extension staff will provide a critical nucleus of expertise to underpin widespread promotion of agroforestry – a strategy endorsed through ACIAR funding of a second phase AFLi project with a 60% higher budget than the first phase.

Economic outcomes: income and productivity.  Seven agroforestry options involving different combinations of fruit and timber trees with grass strips and maize were evaluated through participatory on farm trials over 3-4 years indicating higher productivity and profitability compared to maize monoculture. With most practices, net cashflow compared to maize monoculture was initially negative with investment costs greater than immediate returns, becoming positive after five years and then predicted to rise sharply (Figure 1).

For example, with longan-maize-forage intercropping, forage grass was the main income source in the first year, while income from maize started to pick up in the second year, and longan trees started to bear fruits in the third year and produce substantial yields from year five. Average annual incomes from the different agroforestry practices by their third year ranged from 16 to 38 million VND (700 – 1650 USD) ha-1 compared to an average of 12.5 million VND (544 USD) ha-1 for maize monoculture. There is also reduction in soil loss from agroforestry that could be valued at 5.7 million VND (250 USD) ha-1 which is the cost of replacing the NPK lost through erosion by purchasing fertilizer.

Discounted cash flow (cumulative Net Present Value of agroforestry practices over a maize monoculture) calculated using production data from trials supplemented by information from mature trees and a 10% discount rate.

Discounted cash flow (cumulative Net Present Value of agroforestry practices over a maize monoculture) calculated using production data from trials supplemented by information from mature trees and a 10% discount rate.

The trials show the potential for agroforestry to substantially increase household income in the medium term but also indicate that farmers, particularly those in cash-poor households, are likely to need financial assistance to establish agroforestry, that provincial governments are now beginning to provide through incentive schemes and input subsidy (see below). For households with livestock, the use of grass strips provides immediate benefit from the value of livestock fodder, also critical for controlling livestock grazing to prevent damage to establishing trees.

Farmers showed a preference for more diverse agroforestry options involving several tree species, creating more relisient production systems in the face of anticipated price fluctuations for different products. The potential areas suitable for agroforestry expansion are 495,000 ha across Son La, Yen Bai and Dien Bien provinces, and using S-shaped diffusion curves to predict adoption with different assumptions regarding policy incentives and uptake it is estimated that from 128 to 250 thousand households could benefit over a fifteen year period of promotion.

Social outcomes: building social capital and growing markets. A co-investment scheme to support the establishment of exemplar agroforestry landscapes was facilitated by AFLi through building social capital amongst farmers, between farmers and extension workers and researchers, and between project staff and provincial governments.

For example in Na Ban village in Mai Son district, around a third of the farmers initially volunteered to put trees on their farms with technical assistance provided by the Son La extension centre and co-financing from the provincial DARD. This resulted in 50 ha of agroforestry in a landscape about three times that size, creating a showcase for how agroforestry can transform people’s lives and their landscsape. Nearly all the farmers in the landscape are now interested in adopting agroforestry and the provincial DARDs are co-investing in establishing a network of six exemplar landscapes across the region as focal points for promting agroforestry.


The project also facilitated partnership-building with the private sector, to grow the market for son tra (Docynia indica) an indigenous fruit tree which is being domesticated and promoted within the AFLi  project. Farmers can earn high incomes from growing the fruit, but as more farmers adopt improved tree germplasm, supply will increase and market prices would be expected to fall unless the market for the fruit expands. To effect this the project worked with National Institute of Medicinal Material in Hanoi (NIMM) and the Tay Bac Tea and Special Food company to develop non-perishible products from son tra including dried tea and extract that suit the urban market in Vietnam as well as creating the potential for export. The project is now working with the district government of Bac Yen, local farmers and the food company, to secure sustainable supply of quality son tra fruits for the market at attractive prices for producers.

Environmental outcomes: Soil erosion trials have shown that agroforestry is far more effective in controlling soil erosion than monoculture practices.  Compared to maize monoculture system, for example, the longan-maize-forage grass system on the 3rd year, suggest a reduction in soil loss by up to 56%; 23% in teak-plum-coffee-soybeans-forage grass; up to 90% in acacia-longan-coffee-forage grass system; and up to 74% in acacia-mango-maize-forage grass system. Once the trees reached maturity stage and the grass strips have become stable, erosion can be expected to be 90% less to zero. Not to mention improvements in on-farm biodiversity, the more than 60,000 trees of 18 fruit and timber species, planted by farmers in exemplar landscapes and FDTs would have significantly increased tree cover in the landscape with carbon sequestration benefits.

Contributing to change: AFLi research had a key strategy of harnessing volunteerism, co-operation and co-investment in its expansion from trial agroforestry systems to the establishment of on-station and on-farm trials and the management and monitoring of those trials, including research on propagation of priority agroforestry species and small-scale nursery development. And then to enhancing market access for focus species then exploring value-adding opportunities by smallholders and facilitating links between producers and other market actors. The key outputs from the strategy were disseminated through farm cross-visits, farmer field days and training sessions held at the test sites, accompanied by regular impact assessments and policy dialogue.

Research findings were used to inform the communication strategies, policy dialogues, extension and expansion activities through workshops, media products, extension materials and training.  This also involved major dissemination efforts through a network of farmer demonstration trials (FDT) and agroforestry exemplar landscapes to demonstrate large-scale agroforestry adoption. Outcome mapping was used to document the influence of the project on policy processes.

Communication and dissemination through various means (TV shows, videos, fact sheets, conference presentations, photo exhibits, blog stories, policy dialogues and training events) were critical to increasing the project’s visibility.

The project produced seven videos, of which, two were nationally broadcast. It also produced 17 blog stories, eight international and Vietnamese journal articles, four working papers, 20 technical reports, 14 extension materials, a fact sheet, a policy brief, and two information brochures.  Knowledge was also shared across large networks throughout Asia via presentations in major conferences such as: (1) Conservation Agriculture in Southeast Asia; (2) World Agroforestry Congress; (3) Asia-pacific Farmer’s Association; (4) Southeast Asian Network for Agroforestry Education; (5) and ALiSEA (6). Several other projects have made field visits to see the AFLi project achievements as a direct result of the project’s growing popularity, such as those of the SUFORD-SU PROJECT in Laos PDR, the IFAD-Ha Tinh project on Sustainable Rural Development, and the USAID-funded Green Annamites project.

Government policies and alignment: Through documentation of policy dialogues and processes the project outputs can be shown to have been important in the development of several national, provincial and district level policy instruments. These include:

  1. Yen Bai provincial Resolution15/2015/NQ-HDND— with provision for financial support of 6 million VND ha-1 for individual households or group of households, to establish son tra-based agroforestry practices in Tram Tau and Mu Cang Chai districts.
  2. Yen Bai provincial Decision 27/2015/QD-UBND—One time financial support at 1 million VND ha-1 for individual households to establish sustainable maize cultivation on sloping land by planting grasses along contour lines to reduce erosion.
  3. Yen Bai provincial Decision 2412/QD-UBND—Support for “son tra development in Tram Tau and Mu Cang Chai districts for the period, 2016-2020”. This involves Increasing the total area of son tra plantation to 10,000 ha, improving the existing 3,820 ha son tra plantation through use of better germplasm and management, and son tra planting on 6,200 ha of degraded forest land.
  4. Minisrtry of Agricultural and Rural Development (MARD) Decision 2477/QD-BNN-HTQT, at national level which created MARD’s Agroforestry Working Group that was set up to:
  • Advise MARD on agroforestry development in Vietnam
  • Review, improve, and propose agroforestry-related policies
  • Cooperate with local provinces, national and international organizations to research and develop agroforestry options for adaptation and mitigation of climate change
  • Capacity building for national and local staff and mobilizing funding sources for sustainable agroforestry development
  1. MARD’s inclusion of agroforestry in the National Action Plan Framework for Adaptation and Mitigation of Climate Change of the Agriculture and Rural Development Sector (2008-2020).

The enactment of above policies plus alignment with the government’s numerous strategies toward rural development green growth, and climate change adaptation and mitigation (ie, Vietnam’s Green Growth Strategy) has and will continue to stimulate wide-scale adoption of agroforestry in the region and beyond.

Some lessons learned were that wider adoption of agroforestry requires a combination of bottom-up and top-down strategies. Bottom-up work was required to develop feasible options with farmers that suit their circumstances; but top-down action from government to sanction and support agroforestry establishement is required for widescale adoption of agroforestry by famers across landscapes where land use is driven by competing, often incentivized options operating together with land designation and regulation.

AFLi as it stands today brings new insights about how smallholder farmers make decisions related to tree planting and adopting new production systems in changing policy, market and environmental contexts. In addition to the relevance of these results to policy makers and extension services, the research findings also enrich the scientific literature on constraints and opportunities for agroforestry adoption and on drivers of land-use change in general.

AFli further contributes to research on the role of indigenous species for afforestation and mixing with conventional trees and crops in agroforestry systems, such as son tra (Docynia indica). New knowledge generated through the trials on propagation methods of this species, productive combinations with other species and its potential to contribute to soil conservation are cornerstones of its domestication. This combines with new insights from value chain research on the opportunities and limitations for diversifying and strengthening existing livelihood options through adding value to products from remote, disadvantaged rural areas.

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  • Huge potential for non-timber forest products in Vietnam

Huge potential for non-timber forest products in Vietnam

Loading bamboo onto a truck in Bach Ma National Park, Viet Nam. Photo: Luke Preece/CIFOR
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Loading bamboo onto a truck in Bach Ma National Park, Viet Nam. Photo: Luke Preece/CIFOR
Loading bamboo onto a truck in Bach Ma National Park, Viet Nam. Photo: Luke Preece/CIFOR

Products from forests in Viet Nam aren’t well developed. Nor has their potential to help fight climate change been fully realized. Now researchers and government are working together to change this.

The high value of non-timber forest products is no secret to Viet Nam. For millions of people who live in mountain communities, especially members of the many ethnic minorities, these products—such as grasses and leaves that are fed to livestock, wood for cooking and fruit, flowers, bark and leaves for food and medicines—are deeply woven into village life. They fuel much of a village’s economy, forming the raw material of household items, crafts, fine art, food, pharmaceuticals and jewellery, simultaneously generating jobs, increasing incomes and improving living standards.

These products are valuable for the country as a whole, with a total export value in 2015 of over USD 500,000 not to mention domestic sales. Plus, the forests from which they come sequester harmful greenhouse-gas emissions.

To take full advantage of this important resource, the national government created a Forest Development Strategy 2006–2020, in part dedicated to the preservation and development of non-timber forest products. So far, the strategy has seen returns: more jobs have been created, the livelihoods of ethnic minorities have steadily improved, and there have been notable increases in production.

Participants at the Forum. Photo: World Agroforestry Centre/Ivanna Patton
Participants at the Forum. Photo: World Agroforestry Centre/Ivanna Patton

However, despite such progress, development of the sector has overlooked the potential for both mitigation of, and adaptation to, climate change and for more rapidly reducing poverty. The implications of this are significant. Forests and their products could provide much greater contributions to environmental and social goals, especially, those needed to achieve national targets for development and international agreements, such as the Paris Agreement and Marrakech Declaration.

This poses the question: What, exactly, is causing critical resources like non-timber forest products to be so under-used in Viet Nam and what can be done to unlock their full potential?

To find answers, the Deputy Director-General of the Viet Nam Administration of Forestry, Nguyen Van Ha, chaired a forum co-organized with the Viet Nam office of ICRAF The World Agroforestry Centre, the Vietnamese Academy of Forest Sciences and the ASEAN-Swiss Partnership on Social Forestry and Climate Change.

The Forum on Conservation and Development of Non-timber Forest Products for Poverty Reduction and Adaptation to Climate Change, held on 10 November 2016 in Hanoi, brought together leading forestry researchers and delegates from universities and other research and development bodies to assess the potential for conserving forests and developing their products, including their role in household livelihoods, reducing poverty and developing rural communities in the face of climate change.

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Particular attention was devoted to identifying the barriers to improvement and finding solutions. The forum began with several expert reports.

‘The quantity of non-timber forest products has decreased. And many of them are over-exploited and at risk of extinction’, warned Phan Van Thang of the Non-timber Forest Product Research Center. ‘This is a result of small-scale production, shortcomings in quality control and assurance, unstable markets and a lack of deep study’.

Nguyen Tien Hai of ICRAF explained further that, ‘Local households’ exploitation of non-timber forest products dominates the market’, adding that improving rights of use, government regulations and the management of forests have had a negligible effect on curbing unsustainable collection of non-timber forest products.

Yet while many products were over-exploited, others were found to be under-used. According to research carried out by Nguyen Duc To Luu of PanNature, cardamom, for example, had achieved only a fraction of its potential, primarily because of a lack of reliable markets and suitable products.

Shortcomings in policies and their implementation were highlighted by Nguyen Van Son of the Department of Forest Development as another barrier. He explained that programs were under-funded, poorly assessed and produced only low quantities.

Femy Pinto from the Non-Timber Forest Products Exchange Program, an Asia-wide NGO devoted to the study and development of the sector, described their experience with product management, emphasising that for development to be successful, communities themselves needed to be involved from the beginning, their use rights formally recognised and economic and social incentives provided.

In the following panel discussion, Dr. Vo Dai Hai of the Viet Nam Administration of Forestry explained how studies have been sporadic, guided by the objectives of the time and usually driven by value chain and policy imperatives. To gather more insightful and useful knowledge, systematic research needed to be done.

Phan Van Thang of the Non-timber Forest Product Research Center added that it was important for the findings of any such research to be shared, especially between provinces.

A chief concern was the lack of comprehensive assessment, which could not only help in recognizing achievements but also in improving unrealistic regulations and, as Nguyen Van Ha  commented, financial inefficiencies. This was a critical point because, with the exception of the Government of the Netherlands, the amount of assistance from the international community had declined in recent years. Nguyen Quoc Dung of the Forest Inventory and Planning Institute urged for more international cooperation and a bigger share of the national budget for connecting Viet Nam to regional networks.

A major practical outcome of the Forum, said the Chair, will be the inclusion of many of these points in the Viet Nam Administration of Forestry’s review of its policies on non-timber forest products, helping to reshape the structure of Viet Nam’s forestry sector, improve rural development and fully realise the sector’s potential.

This research forms part of the CGIAR Research Program on Forests, Trees and Agroforestry.

ICRAF extends special thanks to all participants and supporters, particularly, the Viet Nam Administration of Forestry, the Viet Nam Academy of Forest Sciences, the Swiss Agency for Development and Cooperation and the ASEAN Working Group on Social Forestry.  The latter body leads the ASEAN-Swiss Partnership on Social Forestry and Climate Change project, which has been providing technical support to Viet Nam and other member states of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations. The Working Group (formerly known as the ASEAN Social Forestry Network) was established by ASEAN senior officials of forestry in 2005, linking policy-makers directly with civil society, research organizations, academe, the private sector and others who share a vision of building social forestry in the region.

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  • The role of agroforestry in climate-change adaptation in Southeast Asia

The role of agroforestry in climate-change adaptation in Southeast Asia

Witoon Chamroen (left) explaining to Prasit Wangpakapattanawong of ICRAF how his 40-year-old rubber trees in his mixed tree garden produce more latex than younger trees grown in monoculture, in Phattalung, Thailand. Photo: World Agroforestry Centre/Robert Finlayson
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Index of climate vulnerability. Source: Economy and Environment Program for Southeast Asia
Index of climate vulnerability. Source: Economy and Environment Program for Southeast Asia

The ten countries of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations are highly vulnerable to the effects of climate change. Experts argue that agroforestry can help make the region’s millions of smallholding farmers more resilient and secure food supply.

Southeast Asia, with a population of more than 600 million mostly reliant on agriculture and forests, is ranked high on measures of vulnerability to the impact of climate change. The high-level Experts Dialogue on Climate Change Mitigation and Adaptation in ASEAN, held in Bali, Indonesia, 30 November 2016, heard that agroforestry could help farmers adapt while also mitigating climate change. The Dialogue was supported by Gesellschaft für Internationale Zusammenarbeit and the Swiss Agency for Development and Cooperation.

The list of impacts of climate change is long: shifting seasons that affect planting and growing periods; extreme heat, droughts, increased aridity and water shortages that reduce or wipe out yields; erratic rainfall that makes farm planning difficult if not impossible; storms, floods and landslides that destroy crops, livestock and homes; rising sea levels that salinate farm land; increased human, plant and livestock diseases; and lowered productivity of livestock, including fisheries.

An agroforest in Lao PDR. Photo: World Agroforestry Centre/Robert Finlayson
An agroforest in Lao PDR. Photo: World Agroforestry Centre/Robert Finlayson

‘Vulnerability is defined as the deficit in coping and adaptive capacity at household level’, explained Ingrid Öborn, Regional Coordinator for Southeast Asia for The World Agroforestry Centre (ICRAF).

‘It is linked to buffering and filtering capacities at landscape and broader societal levels. Agroforestry is increasingly recognized as a sustainable land use in multifunctional landscapes that helps reduce farmers’ vulnerability and increase their ability to adapt, providing multiple benefits. As well as increasing carbon storage on formerly degraded or unused land, immediate benefits include increased and diversified food supply, increased income and maintenance of services provided by ecosystems, such as improved quantity and quality of water’.

Öborn pointed out that 30% of the world’s rural populations are already using trees and that trees are present on 46% of all agricultural land.

‘These “trees outside forests” are often not properly considered when governments make agricultural and forestry policies’, she said. ‘To address climate change thoroughly, we need to bring these trees to the forefront and support farmers to intensify and diversify their agroforests’.

ASEAN is one major body that has understood the need for an integrated perspective. Its Vision and Strategic Plan for ASEAN Cooperation in Food, Agriculture and Forestry 2016–2025, which was endorsed by the ASEAN ministers of agriculture and forestry in September 2015, takes a global and regional perspective and recognizes the main issues as 1) rapid economic growth; 2) regional integration and globalization; and 3) pressures on the natural resource base, including climate change.

The Strategy explicitly identifies agroforestry’s role in its plan of action: ‘Increase resilience to climate change, natural disasters and other shocks: expand resilient agroforestry systems where ecologically and economically appropriate’.

Witoon Chamroen (left) explaining to Prasit Wangpakapattanawong of ICRAF how his 40-year-old rubber trees in his mixed tree garden produce more latex than younger trees grown in monoculture, in Phattalung, Thailand. Photo: World Agroforestry Centre/Robert Finlayson
Witoon Chamroen (left) explaining to Prasit Wangpakapattanawong of ICRAF how his 40-year-old rubber trees in his mixed tree garden produce more latex than younger trees grown in monoculture, in Phattalung, Thailand. Photo: World Agroforestry Centre/Robert Finlayson

Öborn told the meeting that in the past, farmers often responded to climate variations by gradually changing their practices, mixing crops with trees to reduce risk if a crop failed because of weather patterns. Understanding this dynamism, replicating the most successful agroforestry systems and matching them to specific socio-cultural-ecological circumstances is crucial for helping farmers adapt to climate change. But governments also need to adapt to changing circumstances and think differently about how farmers, agriculture and forests interact.

She gave several examples of how agroforestry contributes to adaptation. In Viet Nam, researchers from ICRAF and partners found that ‘forest gardens’ sustain livelihoods when variable weather hits intensified crop cultivation. Farmers in Cam My in Central Viet Nam were using forests, as well as their farms, as gardens where they grew vegetables and trees for timber, fruit and other benefits. The gardens were established on land designated as State-owned forest. This created some conflict and highlighted the need to adjust policies to officially recognize farmers’ management that did not reduce the services provided by the forests.

Also in Viet Nam, in the Northwest, whole provinces were under monocultural maize farming on steeply sloping land that led to massive soil erosion, frequent landslides, loss of soil fertility, declining yields and overall severe degradation of the agro-ecosystem. The region was one of the poorest in the country.

Supported by the Australian Centre for Agricultural Research, ICRAF and national partners establishment experimental trials of agroforestry systems that had been computer-modeled to show that they could not only provide environmental benefits but also increase farmers’ incomes quickly. The trials were so successful that not only did neighbours adopt the systems but also the local governments in the three provinces established, together with farmers, three whole landscapes of agroforests of 50 hectares each.

More than 22,000 trees are being planted as well as 50,000 m of forage grasses along contour lines to reduce erosion, and 20,000 seedlings of five fruit-tree species. The landscapes are a co-investment by the ACIAR project (54%), farmers (35%) and the Department of Agriculture and Rural Development (11%).

In Indonesia, an area in Central Java was heavily logged in the 1950s, resulting in soil erosion, agricultural decline, drought-induced famines and high levels of poverty. Re-agroforestation was undertaken, using teak trees as the major species. The landscape was rehabilitated successfully, moving from 2 to 28% tree cover, with teak making up over half. Farmers interviewed said they planted teak as a kind of ‘savings bank’ and because it was part of their cultural heritage.

Witoon Chamroen (left) explaining to Prasit Wangpakapattanawong of ICRAF how his 40-year-old rubber trees in his mixed tree garden produce more latex than younger trees grown in monoculture, in Phattalung, Thailand. Photo: World Agroforestry Centre/Robert Finlayson
Witoon Chamroen (left) explaining to Prasit Wangpakapattanawong of ICRAF how his 40-year-old rubber trees in his mixed tree garden produce more latex than younger trees grown in monoculture, in Phattalung, Thailand. Photo: World Agroforestry Centre/Robert Finlayson

Only 15% maximized teak management for sale to markets. Most farmers preferred mixed systems with diverse trees and crops that sustained customary life and improved the environment. Nevertheless, they said they also wanted to improve their management, obtain better-quality seeds and seedlings, have greater access to markets and expand the amount of intercropping between their trees.

Globally, smallholders produce 90% of cocoa, 75% of rubber, 67% of coffee, 40% of palm oil, 25% of tea and 20–30% of teak in an annual trade worth USD 60 billion. In Indonesia, smallholders are key producers of rubber, cocoa, coffee, palm oil, tea, tea, rattan, honey, sandalwood, damar, benzoin, cinnamon, cloves, nutmeg and candlenut, most of which are produced in agroforestry systems that could benefit from improved management, greater technical knowledge and easier access to markets.

‘Economic value and potential yields depend on socioeconomic and biophysical conditions and farmers’ management practices’, said Öborn. ‘We need to understand farmers’ contexts and needs if we are to help improve their agroforests and thus their livelihoods and resilience to climate change’.

To help farmers adopt agroforestry or improve the management of the agroforests they already have, they need a range of support, such as helping increase their technical knowledge, providing them with accurate weather forecasts and advice on how specific agroforests that suit their conditions can buffer farms against climate change. Other barriers to adoption include a lack of secure land tenure and weak links between agroforestry and climate, food security and development policies.

‘It is a big challenge for governments to sort out all of this’, confirmed Öborn. ‘But the benefits are worth it and can be aggregated from individual farms to whole landscapes that can reap the rewards in the form of biodiversity conservation, better watershed management and carbon sequestration. Globally, agroforestry can be a substantial contribution to reducing greenhouse-gas emissions and helping ASEAN nations meet their Nationally Determined Contributions’.

To help governments understand the full range of benefits and challenges, ICRAF is releasing a series of policy briefs under the aegis of the ASEAN Working Group on Social Forestry. The first in the series, Agroforestry in Southeast Asia: bridging the forestry–agriculture divide for sustainable development, was launched during the Experts Dialogue.

Read the first four policy briefs

Van Noordwijk M, Lasco RD. 2016. Agroforestry in Southeast Asia: bridging the forestry-agriculture divide for sustainable development. Policy Brief no. 67. Agroforestry options for ASEAN series no. 1. Bogor, Indonesia: World Agroforestry Centre (ICRAF) Southeast Asia Regional Program; Jakarta, Indonesia: ASEAN-Swiss Partnership on Social Forestry and Climate Change.

De Royer S, Ratnamhin A, Wangpakapattanawong P. 2016. Swidden-fallow agroforestry for sustainable land use in Southeast Asia Countries. Policy Brief no. 68. Agroforestry options for ASEAN series no. 2. Bogor, Indonesia: World Agroforestry Centre (ICRAF) Southeast Asia Regional Program; Jakarta, Indonesia: ASEAN-Swiss Partnership on Social Forestry and Climate Change.

Hoan DT, Catacutan DC, Nguyen TH. 2016. Agroforestry for sustainable mountain management in Southeast Asia. Policy Brief no. 69. Agroforestry options for ASEAN series no. 3. Bogor, Indonesia: World Agroforestry Centre (ICRAF) Southeast Asia Regional Program; Jakarta, Indonesia: ASEAN-Swiss Partnership on Social Forestry and Climate Change.

Widayati A, Tata HL, van Noordwijk M. 2016. Agroforestry on peatlands: combining productive and protective functions as part of restoration. Policy Brief no. 70. Agroforestry options for ASEAN series no. 4. Bogor, Indonesia: World Agroforestry Centre (ICRAF) Southeast Asia Regional Program; Jakarta, Indonesia: ASEAN-Swiss Partnership on Social Forestry and Climate Change.

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  • Local knowledge on the role of trees to enhance livelihoods and ecosystem services in Ho Ho Sub-watershed, north-central Viet Nam

Local knowledge on the role of trees to enhance livelihoods and ecosystem services in Ho Ho Sub-watershed, north-central Viet Nam

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Authors:Bac Viet Dam, Rachmat Mulia and Delia Catacutan

Understanding how local people view and value the role of trees in enhancing livelihoods and environmental quality is the key to increasing resilience in agricultural landscapes through tree planting. In the Ho Ho sub-watershed, north-central Viet Nam, which is highly exposed to climate change and variability, we investigated local knowledge on the role of trees that involved people upstream and downstream in the sub-watershed. The respondents were requested to identify the different roles of tree-based and annual crop systems in their landscape to livelihood and the environment, and then to rank these roles to reveal the primary function of each landuse system. We found that local knowledge on the roles of each landuse type, both in upstream and downstream communes, was influenced by the household land holding size and the actual contribution to household income as well. This, for example, explains the higher appreciation of acacia than agarwood in terms of livelihood and environmental functions. In the sub-watershed, the average land holding size per household for acacia plantation was 1.3 ha, while agarwood trees were planted in homegardens with a delayed harvesting time (15 years after planting compared to 7 years for acacia). Different responsibilities in agricultural activities between males and females in the family, contributed to contrasting responses between the male and female groups on the role of tree-based and annual crop systems in household income. Men regarded annual crops as a more important source of income than trees, whereas women asserted the opposite. In the sampled households, financial management and private consumption provision were two tasks mostly handled by women, and this likely explains the gender sensitivity. We conclude that local people in the upstream and downstream communes of the sub-watershed recognised well the important roles of trees to livelihood and environmental quality, but in actual implementation, they always prioritised livelihood over environmental issues, especially in relation to tree planting on their own land. Environmental issues were only an option considered for unallocated areas such as protection forest, or for allocated lands not suitable for planting due to physical barriers such as high elevation or steep slopes.
Published 2015 by World Agroforestry Centre (ICRAF) Southeast Asia Regional Program in Hanoi, Vietnam
Working paper 218

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  • Community Forest Management in Vietnam Challenges & Way Forward

Community Forest Management in Vietnam Challenges & Way Forward

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World Agroforestry Centre (ICRAF) – Vietnam 2016

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