New agroforestry manual lays out pathway to transform Filipino food systems

Applying agroforestry principles and concepts for livelihoods, food security, and climate
A woman sows seeds in a terraced plantation near Lake Sebu, Philippines. Photo by Allan Barredo/ILO

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The way that the world tackles biodiversity loss has changed for the better. At a global biodiversity summit (the 15th Conference of the parties to the U.N. Convention on Biodiversity) in December 2022, the importance of all landscapes for biodiversity conservation was recognized.

This apparently minor step in fact represents a historic achievement. Previously, biodiversity action was seen to be important mostly in natural habitats and protected areas and agriculture was mainly dealt with as a threat to biodiversity in those places. However, with this important adjustment of the Convention, the importance of agricultural landscapes for biodiversity conservation becomes of central importance.

Agriculture occupies almost 50% of the potentially productive land surface of Earth, so the recognition of its importance to biodiversity is most welcome. In essence, the Convention now calls upon countries to adopt landscape management approaches that ensure agricultural productivity but at the same time provide the conditions and habitats that protect wild biodiversity and play their parts in providing migration corridors for wildlife.

The new Global Biodiversity Framework of the convention will be of particular importance in the Philippines. The Philippines is one of the world’s 17 ‘mega-biodiverse’ countries. The diminutive Western Pacific Ocean archipelago contains about 5 percent of our planet’s terrestrial plant species, and has high levels of endemism thanks to its geography and isolation.

But competing land uses and the expansion of monocultural agriculture threaten these species’ survival – as well as the ongoing viability of many rural livelihoods. The country is also prone to natural disasters such as typhoons and landslides, and climate change coupled with ecosystem degradation is increasing their prevalence.

In short, the Philippines needs to leverage its wealth of biodiversity to build long-term resilience into its livelihoods and landscapes: and to do so urgently. Agroforestry – which many Indigenous Filipinos have practised for centuries as a means to ensure year-round food and income – offers an exciting pathway forward, which can also help the country meet international targets such as the Paris Agreement on Climate Change and the UN’s Global Biodiversity Framework.

The Center for International Forestry Research–World Agroforestry (CIFOR-ICRAF) has been running an Integrated Natural Resource and Environmental Management Project (INREM) to help strengthen the climate resilience of upland mountain communities. A key element of the project is introducing sustainable forest management options such as agroforestry, and many farmers involved in the project have begun to implement such approaches.

Now, to aid in further realising the potential of the approach amongst farmers, extension agents, and policymakers in the Philippines, CIFOR-ICRAF has just published a Tagalog version of its 2022 manual on agroforestry, ‘Agroforestry: A Primer – Design and management principles for people and the environment’.

Like in the Philippines, farmers in many places around the world have practised agroforestry for millennia because it has proved to be a sustainable way of managing land, growing crops, producing livestock, and ensuring good livelihoods for farm households. Scientists have formally recognized the many values of agroforestry since the 1970s. Now, it is entering ‘mainstream’ discussions on ways to respond to the challenge of climate change, reverse biodiversity loss and ensure food security. Many organizations now recommend it as a tool for restoring landscapes.

But as the manual’s authors highlight, agroforestry is not a simple techno-fix, or “just a matter of adding trees to farms.” To bring about a sustainable agricultural transition towards biodiverse, inclusive, resilient, and safe food systems, agroforestry promoters need to pay attention to farmers’ incomes, livelihoods, and incentives. “We are seeing a lot of tree planting projects that are emphasizing the planting of the trees rather than managing the trees,” said co-editor Anja Gassner, who is the director of CIFOR-ICRAF Europe. “Too often, farmers are regarded as beneficiaries of agroforestry and restoration projects, rather than as partners – and their needs, their aspirations and their capacities are not sufficiently taken into account.”

That’s why this publication was written: not to provide another ‘how-to’ manual prescribing technology packages, but a guide to help farmers and their supporters build their capacity to implement agroforestry principles in the context of their local conditions – meeting their personal goals and aspirations. It seeks to guide professionals who are supporting farmers to implement agroforestry, such as extension workers, planners and managers, researchers, trainers, teachers and students of agroforestry, and professionals working on projects and programs that use agroforestry.

The publication contains contributions from leading agroforestry expert practitioners across the tropics. It covers key components of agroforestry systems; how agroforestry promotes soil health and conservation; principles of agroforestry design; co-design and establishment of agroforestry practices; planting material; and management of trees. It also presents generic characteristics of several widely-used agroforestry practices, including annual crops with trees; livestock with trees; multistrata perennial agroforestry; cacao agroforestry; oil palm agroforestry; and rainforestation farming. Lastly, it offers a series of synthetic case studies to illustrate how farmers, and those who support them, have applied the principles and concepts that have been set out in the manual.

“This guidebook aims to further explain the principles of agroforestry so that more people will practise it, not just as a sustainable farming system, but as a measure to mitigate and adapt with climate change,” said the Philippines’ former Forest Management Bureau Director, Tirso Parian. “Hopefully, this guidebook will serve its purpose—to encourage and guide farmers and practitioners of agroforestry, as well as other interested stakeholders.”

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