Conservation news

Agroforestry in spotlight ahead of Jokowi’s trip to New York

  • Researchers gathered in Bogor this week to promote the tenets of agroforestry ahead of next week’s signing of the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development.
  • Agroforestry, in practice, aims to diversify crop arrangement to make land more resilient while also adding trees to sequester carbon.
  • Projects from Indonesia and elsewhere were on display, with the goal of providing an evidence base for future engagement in SDG processes.

Ahead of Indonesian President Joko Widodo’s arrival with world leaders in New York to sign the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development, an international group of researchers gathered outside Jakarta this week to promote the tenets of agroforestry in an effort to make certain that trees and diversified agricultural practices are prioritized in the archipelago.

The World Agroforestry Center, still known by its former acronym ICRAF, hosted its Sustainable Development Goals Day as part of its annual Science Week, held for the first time in Indonesia. The idea was to discuss agroforestry in the context of the SDGs while also providing an evidence base for future engagement in SDG processes ahead of the meeting in the US.

“The Sustainable Development Goals cannot be achieved one by one but as a whole,” said ICRAF chief science adviser Dr. Meine van Noordwijk in a release. “They are like the canopy of a tree, which is supported by negotiations over how to best use land in local contexts, that is rooted in the problems and the solutions to them that can be found by combining scientific and local knowledge.”

Agroforestry, in practice, aims to diversify crop arrangement to make land more resilient while also adding trees to sequester carbon. While there are indications that tree cover loss in Indonesia has slowed substantially, the thick haze once again engulfing neighbors Singapore and Malaysia, not to mention Sumatra and Kalimantan, shows that in many ways the country’s penchant for monoculture, particularly in a palm oil sector where as much as 45 percent of growers are smallholders, is unsustainable and harmful for both livelihoods and ecosystems.

“There are two things basically: agroforestry can sequester carbon because agroforestry management always includes trees, and trees can sequester carbon into biomass,” said ICRAF landscape ecologist Sonya Dewi. “It’s also because with agroforestry, there is no room for clear cutting.”

A beetlenut palm grove in Aceh, Indonesia. Photo by Rhett Butler

Around the country, scientists and development groups are aiming to promote a culture of agroforestry as a means to combat environmental degradation while simultaneously boosting local livelihoods.

Dr. James Roshetko of ICRAF, for instance, is working with communities in South Sulawesi, Southeast Sulawesi and Gorontalo under the AgFor Sulawesi project to help expand agroforestry practices to improve productivity and better manage the land. These are farmers operating on roughly one hectare each.

“Typically in the communities, what we’ll do is visit and then tell them what we’re about, and develop a group of interested farmers,” he said. “We sit down with those farmers and local government officials to identify what are their main priorities and challenges for rural development.”

While many farmers technically have “segregated systems” on their land — rows of different crops next to each other — Roshetko said the integrated systems, or those in which a variety of crops are being grown simultaneously on one strip, often perform better.

“The resilience is an important part of it, and they know that,” he added.

After the introduction of new agroforestry methods, and improving on ones already present in the communities for growing priority crops such as cacao, coffee, cloves, pepper and durian, farmers share the knowledge they’ve picked up, acting effectively as agroforestry ambassadors. This is especially key since most projects in this arena have limited timelines.

“We’re confident that they won’t go back to what they were doing before because when we work together, we work together with them to improve their agroforestry systems,” he said. “So they know that by continuing what they’re doing, they’re going to have an increase in productivity.”

Community deforestation in Riau, Indonesia. Photo by Rhett A. Butler

ICRAF scientist Beria Leimona, who works on projects in Indonesia, the Philippines and Vietnam, said one of her current projects is focused on seeing how payment for ecosystem services can be integrated into climate change mitigation and adaption solutions.

“One of ICRAF’s mandates is that we don’t aim for general solutions, but we contextualize to a finer scale that can provide tangible solutions for the local government,” she said. “We also want to see what the local knowledge is. We can’t assume they don’t know anything, but we want to see if we can improve what they know now.”

It’s not a one size fits all approach: in Indonesia, Leimona’s work in Central Sulawesi’s Buol regency is very different, for instance, from her work in Lantapan in the Philippines, a place, she says, that has much more advanced agribusiness models.

“In Sulawesi, our method is to see different contexts have different solutions,” she said.

ICRAF ecosystem services specialist Sacha Amaruzaman stressed, though, that their work is not solely centered in “extreme conditions” that are defined entirely by monoculture and/or forest conversion.

“Sometimes in the place where we work, intercropping has already happened, or a very simple agroforestry has already been developed by the locals,” he said. “Mostly when we come there it’s not being optimized or the potential is not being recognized. Our role is to make them aware that they have the potential lying in their garden.”

Sandra Moniaga, commissioner at Indonesia’s National Human Rights Commission, applauded ICRAF’s scientific initiatives, but stressed the need for both local governments and officials in Jakarta to better use the research to safeguard traditional land use systems.

“There are some little success stories, but on the other hand, some practices have been destroyed and replaced,” she said. “[For example], on timber plantations in North Sumatra … and the rubber in West Kalimantan has been replaced by oil palm. So these are the realities.”

Agroforestry is also linked to the issue of land rights, Sandra said.

“The people can only cultivate their lands when their rights are recognized. If their control over the land is not there, how can they manage the land sustainably?”