Agroforestry has potential to improve the production of food, grass for livestock, and forest products as well as a comfortable habitat for wildlife, according to Dr Sara Scherr, the Chief Executive Officer of EcoAgriculture Partners.
Dr Scherr is an agricultural and natural resource economist specialising in land management policy in tropical developing countries.
Speaking to Sunday Times, Dr Scherr said that given the pressure on land resulting from growing population, agriculture, wildlife, protected areas, farms, water, forest production areas, with each one having a function and its own way of managing land, it is not easy for each person to get particular piece of land.
To ensure efficient land use and management, she said, people should make the same land generate the different functions.
Scherr was in Kigali recently for the Forest and Landscape Investment Forum (FLIF).
She concurs with a recent United Nations statement that said more than 7 billion people populated the Earth in 2011 and this number is expected to increase to 9.3 billion by 2050, noting that to meet the demand for food by 2050, food production will have to increase by over 60% which calls for urgent productive and sustainable use of land.
Proper land management and use, including agro-forestry, can help solve such issues of food demand vis-à-vis the growing population, according to the Food and Agriculture Organization.
“And the beauty of agro-forestry is that you have a small way of mixing animal crops, grass, shrubs, short trees, tall trees, timber trees, fruit trees, fodder trees and you can mix them with food crops… and you are also provide much more comfortable habitat for many kinds of wildlife than you do on monoculture agricultural system. That is why agroforestry is so wonderful,” Dr Scherr said.
She said that the system is much more sustainable on slopes, reduces the need for soil conservation structures and gives financial value to the conservation structures.
Ensuring Agroforestry is a success
She also said that there are three things to consider: One, people in agriculture and those dealing in forestry, especially in public agencies and schools, need to work together.
The second is applied research that has to be done, looking for the best practices which will really work, and share them with farmers.
The third area is developing value chains that relate to the products of the trees.
“In Kenya, for example, one of the biggest sources of revenue for farmers is fall trees that they grow in the crop lands, [and] they sell the leaves to the dairy farmers because such leaves are perfect feeds for livestock, and it’s a very lucrative practice,” she said.
She said that, for Rwanda, agroforestry is a wonderful solution, but there should be right tree seedlings, and good management practices for mixing trees and crops to have good outcomes so that trees don’t suppress the crops or vice versa.
She cited trees which lose their leaves during the maize growing season and lead to much higher maize yield (under the trees) than they do when there are no trees.
According to Rwanda State of Environment and Outlook Report of 2015, 29.2 per cent of Rwanda’s territory was covered in forest. Vision 2020’s goal is to increase forest cover to 30 per cent.
Natural forests, which cover 10.8 per cent of the country, are comprised of an association of forested belts in national parks, forest reserves, natural and gallery forests and other remnant forests. Human made forests consisting of forest plantations of exotic tree species (mostly eucalyptus and pine), woodlots and agroforestry plantations cover 18.4 per cent and represent nearly 63 per cent of all forest cover.
Rwanda is one of almost a dozen countries that have pledged to restore land in response to the Bonn Challenge, a global aspiration to restore 150 million hectares of the world’s deforested and degraded lands by 2020.
In 2011, the Government of Rwanda pledged to restore 2 million hectares of land by 2020, which represents the highest national commitment to the Bonn Challenge to date.
“Given its high population density and the significance of agriculture to the economy, agroforestry represents the most important and wide-reaching restoration opportunity,” states the report by REMA.