The costs and benefits of agroforestry to farmers

Dean Current, Ernst Lutz, Sara J. Scherr

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Deforestation, growing scarcity of tree products, and environmental degradation have created serious problems for rural land use in many developing countries. Agroforestry, a system in which woody perennials are grown on the same land as agricultural crops or livestock, has been increasingly enlisted in the campaign to meet these threats to the rural economy.Case studies of twenty-one agroforestry projects in six Central American and two Caribbean countries formed the empricial basis for the study described in this article. A focal point of analysis was the profitability of agroforestry for farmers as a crucial incentive to adoption.The findings indicate that many agroforestry practices are profitable under a broad range of conditions and are therefore likely to be widely applicable. Successful projects have worked with local communities, responding to local needs and preferences and offering farmers a broad basket of species and systems from which to choose. Demonstration plots and the use of paratechnicians have been low-cost and effective means of technology transfer, and applied research has been important in identifying techniques and practices suited to the region. Other findings have identified government regulation of tree harvesting and insecurity of tenure-though not lack of title in itself-as disincentives to adoption.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)151-180
Number of pages30
JournalWorld Bank Research Observer
Issue number2
StatePublished - Aug 1995

Bibliographical note

Funding Information:
Social benefits from establishing trees on farms can be significant and are often cited to justify tree-planting projects supported by national governments and donors. Trees can provide protection from soil erosion generated by water and wind (Lutz, Pagiola, and Reiche 1994), thereby protecting future productive potential and preserving important watersheds that feed hydroelectric projects and supply water for population centers. Trees provide wood products for the farm, thus relieving the pressure on natural forest areas (Current and Lutz 1992); they provide raw materials for rural industries that generate employment for rural communities (Arriola and Herrera 1991; Campos, Rodriguez, and Ugalde 1991); and they also provide environmental and social benefits, such as wildlife habitats, water retention capacity, or shade for dwellings. Regionally, the most important applied research initiative has been the Tree Crop Production (Madelena 3) Project, financed by the U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID) Regional Office for Central American Programs (ROCAP) and executed by CATIE (Belaunde and Rivas 1993). Other internationally important research programs included those of the Forestry Fuelwood Research and Development (F/FRED) Project in Asia (French and van den Beldt 1994), the International Center for Research in Agroforestry (ICRAF) (Steppler and Nair 1987), and the Nitrogen Fixing Tree Association operating around the world (NFTA 1993). Numerous national and internationalNGOS have also undertaken applied research and extension activities (Cook and Grut 1989; Nair 1990). The shift in emphasis toward multipurpose tree species was accompanied by a corresponding realization that a project is more likely to succeed if project planners consult local communities about their own perceived needs and then design projects to meet those needs instead of imposing schemes that the communities may not consider a priority. In line with this thinking, research was focused on traditional agroforestry systems (Budowski 1987; Reiche 1992), and many forestry agencies have been changing their emphasis from "guarding" the forest to helping communities produce tree plantings which, in turn, may help protect the remaining forest. The stronger community role in project and technology design has parallels in Africa and Asia (Kerkhof 1990; Budd and others 1990; French and van den Beldt 1994; Raintree 1991).

Funding Information:
Dean Current is a research fellow at the University of Minnesota; from 1988 to 1994 he was agroforestry economist at the Tropical Agricultural Center for Research and Education (CATIE) in Costa Rica. Ernst Lutz is a senior resource economist in the World Bank's Environment Department, and Sara J. Scherr is a research fellow at the International Food Policy Research Institute (IFPRI). Funding from the United Nations Development Programme and institutional support from Hans Binswanger, Michael Baxter, and Colin Rees are gratefully acknowledged. The authors are indebted to the consultants who prepared the country case studies: Dean Current and Ricardo Hernandez Auerbach (Costa Rica), Carlos Reiche (El Salvador), Otto Samoyoa (Guatemala), Carlos Rodriguez (Honduras), Rodolfo Vieto (Nicaragua), Manuel Gomez (Panama), Abel Hernandez (Dominican Republic), and John Jickling and T. Andrew White (Haiti). The case studies are presented in Current, Lutz, and Scherr (forthcoming). Thanks also go to the many individuals who provided information or who participated at the national workshops or at the regional meeting in El Salvador, and to Chona Cruz, Peter Dewees, John Mclntire, Augusta Molnar, and Stefano Pagiola, whose comments on earlier drafts were much appreciated.


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