Disadvantages of Agroforestry: Support

Disadvantages of Agroforestry: Support

Finding support – be it research and development, extension, financing or in government regulations and policies – is one of keys to the survival of any natural resource enterprise. For many, a significant disadvantage of agroforestry is that this support either does not exist locally, is highly fragmented, or runs afoul of institutional barriers and professional biases.

As I have noted before, agroforestry is an ancient land use practice, and some indigenous groups have utilized these systems continuously for thousands of years. For most of the planet however, agroforestry has worn the label of an “emerging” or “novel” land use system in the last quarter century. And for most of the modern era, agriculture and forestry have been seen as separate activities. Moreover, within forestry, the timber and non-timber components are typically seen as distinct. And in agricultural settings, production and conservation are not generally viewed holistically (the notable exception being Prairie shelterbelts), and trees and shrubs can be viewed as impeding cultivation, rather than being a source of diversification and integrated production.

The consequences of this fragmented thinking, is a fragmented support network. At best, you may be educating the “support” agencies you seek out for assistance on the potential benefits of agroforestry and why they should help. At worst you will be fighting against strong-willed professional and political biases that will actively try to subvert your efforts.

With notable exceptions that have progressively implemented agroforestry programs, generations of natural resource professionals have been trained in narrow disciplines, and generally in isolation of each other. Academic silos may make the job of setting up university departments easier, but they don’t reflect the integrated reality of our most pressing production (i.e. economic) and conservation challenges, nor acknowledge the great potential in integrated solutions.

These institutional biases can permeate government departments, and are reflected in the regulations and policies that govern resource use and support programs. The divisions are so ingrained at times, that even the most sympathetic elements of the bureaucracy may have their ‘hands tied’, because agroforestry overlaps elements of many program areas, but is not a core responsibility for any one agency or individual.

You may also find yourself fighting against the apathy or animosity of fellow land managers. Other producers and producer associations harbour insecurities and fatigue from the seemingly endless fight to find support for conventional agriculture and forestry (which admittedly has also been a great struggle against a growing urban culture largely divorced from land management issues). Some constituents therefore view agroforestry as a threat to their existence, rather than an option to move forward. There are conventional agricultural producers that actively or passively resist reintroducing trees and shrubs into agricultural landscapes. And the conventional forest industry, particularly those that have large tenures on public lands, can view cultivation, grazing or integrating non-timber production with timber to be planning and production barrier to their business interests.

Agroforestry has tremendous potential as an integrated solution to complex problems. There is support available. There are fantastic models around the world in government agencies, universities and non-profit organizations that can show the way forward. But for many producers trying to navigate their agroforestry enterprise into uncharted waters, the lack of clear support networks and regionally relevant information, infrastructure, financing outlets and government policies, can feel like they are perpetually fighting a head wind.

Comment (1)

  • Good article George. I would comment that often institutional interests (and the resultant concerted efforts to meet and sustain their funding needs) has created a significant barrier to meeting actual enterprise level interests and needs for producer/enterprise support from what limited government funding support that exists.

    Often times the “professionalized academic-based” institutions and/or NGO/social enterprise based sectors actually compete for and/or exert significant and disapportionate influences on the limited government support that otherwise could be redirected to sector-led enterprise support and development decision making.

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