We need Steve Jobs’ in agroforestry

As Steve Jobs used to say, “People don’t know what they want until you show it to them.”

Agroforestry has what people want and need, in both the developing and developed world. Trees that improve crop yields, reduce greenhouse gas emissions, provide nutritious fruits, fodder for animals and fuel. The challenge lies in getting agroforestry adopted on a huge scale.

Eternal optimist Dennis Garrity, UNCCD Drylands Ambassador and former Director General of the World Agroforestry Centre addressed participants at the final day of the Congress saying “people will come to you if you have the right products.”

“Yes, we’ve had our failures,” said Garrity. “But these have helped us to produce dynamite products in agroforestry.”

In France, farmers are producing wheat with walnut trees. Agroforestry is increasingly being seen in Europe as a means for reducing the greenhouse gas emissions from agriculture. Agroforestry systems are being developed for the American corn belt.

In Niger, over 4 million hectares of croplands are now dominated by fertilizer-fodder-fuelwood trees through what is known as Farmer Managed Natural Regeneration (FMNR).

It seems there is a menu of agroforestry products – fertilizer, fodder, food and fuel trees – that farmers can select from, but how can this knowledge be better transferred from scientists to the grassroots level. Garrity says we have failed to get the hard-core aggies on board. “How many agronomists are in the room today?” he asked, to which a few scattered hands were raised.

“We need to reach out to the aggies, they need to know about what we are doing and they need to be coaxed.” Garrity is working hard to achieve this through Evergreen Agriculture which he describes as a brand that connects agroforestry with hard-core ‘aggies’ to scale-up trees on farms.

“African farmers are showing how trees can be successfully integrated into cropping systems. When will we catch up and fully deploy their insights?”

But as I alluded to earlier, Garrity is an optimist. He believes we are beginning to see a trend which will be at the heart of a truly sustainable planet: the ‘perennialization’ of agriculture.

“If we do our jobs well, we will see that perennialization is the key to meeting the new Sustainable Development Goals.”

Agroforestry science and development can make a crucial contribution to the Sustainable Development Goals which will soon replace the Millenium Development Goals. But this contribution can only be made through a massive effort in up-scaling agroforestry across the world.

According to Garrity, we need global maps of agroforestry, a global agroforestry assessment and a global plan for up-scaling agroforestry. Additional staff will be needed to link science with development and we must not forget the holy grail: genetic information on tree species.

An “upcoming global revolution in agroforestry up-scaling” is before us, says Garrity. We have to demonstrate that agroforestry really does have the products that millions of farmers across the world want and need.

“Be ambitious,” said Garrity told Congress participants. “We need more Steve Jobs’s in agroforestry.”

Brown Mang Onwuka

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