Agroforestry is an integrated approach of using the interactive benefits from combining trees and shrubs with crops and/or livestock. It combines agricultural and forestry technologies to create more diverse, productive, profitable, healthy, and sustainable land-use systems. 
A narrow definition of agroforestry is "trees on farms."

There are many key policy-related constraints to agroforestry, such as agricultural subsidies that exclude agroforestry cropping systems.

The Overstory Newsletter


The importance of policy for agroforestry

by Frank Place, Oluyede C. Ajayi, Emmanuel Torquebiau, Guillermo Detlefsen, Michelle Gauthier and Gérard Buttoud

November 19, 2012

The increasing importance of agroforestry as a major land use practice

There is now general agreement about the magnitude and scale of the integration of trees into agricultural lands and their active management by farmers and pastoralists. Zomer et al. (2009) conducted a global assessment of tree cover on agricultural land and found that 48% of all agricultural land had at least 10% tree cover. A high percentage of tree cover is found in nearly all continents of the world, highest being in Central America and southeast Asia. Although Africa shows a smaller percentage of tree cover at continental level, the most widespread farming system in Africa is the so-called agroforestry parkland (scattered trees in cropland), making Africa a typically “treed continent” in agricultural areas (Boffa, 1999). The FAO Forest Resources Assessment Report has integrated since 2000 the assessment of trees outside forests, which consist mainly in agroforestry systems as well as tree systems in urban areas.

The evidence suggests that policy plays an important role in distinguishing countries and regions which have benefited greatly from agroforestry from those who have not. Three policy areas appear to be most important. The first concerns essential long term private property rights over land and trees. Where these have been absent or contested, tree planting and management by farmers has been limited. Second, policies related to tree germplasm multiplication and dissemination are important in facilitating expansion of agroforestry. Finally, the recognition of agroforestry as an attractive investment area within agricultural institutions and programmes is also important.

Key policy-related constraints to agroforestry

The adoption or lack of adoption of agroforestry is influenced by a variety of factors. Some have relatively little to do with policy -- including climate conditions (e.g. rainfall), household and farm characteristics (e.g. resource endowment, size of household), and attributes of the particular agroforestry technology (e.g. time lag between costs and benefits) (Ajayi et al., 2007). However, a number of important factors are directly linked to policy. In some cases, these policy ‘failures’ can be over-riding of others and their alleviation critical to wider adoption. This is the first justification for why adoption of agroforestry is a policy issue. The second reason why the adoption of agroforestry is a policy issue is that agroforestry generates significant public environmental services such as watershed protection, biodiversity, and carbon sequestration for which market failures exist. The result is that without government involvement in providing greater incentives, the level of private investment in agroforestry will be less than socially optimal.

In the following paragraphs, the key policy-related constraints to agroforestry adoption are discussed, in no particular order of importance.

Property rights – Land tenure

Due to the longer period (relative to annual crops) through which farmer testing, adaptation and eventual “adoption” of agroforestry technologies takes place (Mercer, 2004; Scherr and Müller, 1991), the importance of property rights is greater than for many other types of agricultural enterprises or practices (Place and Swallow, 2002; Ajayi and Kwesiga, 2003). In some places, long term rights to land are insufficient to motivate long term investments such as agroforestry.

Tree tenure

Forest policies inhibit tree growing on farms by regulating harvesting, cutting or sale of tree products and certain tree species. Although sometimes well intentioned, such protective policies, when applied to agricultural landscapes, discourages farmers from planting and protecting new seedlings that emerge.

Agroforestry tree germplasm systems

The problems observed in the agroforestry tree germplasm sector are numerous: narrow base of tree germplasm which is available in areas outside of growing areas, little multiplication of this narrow base so that quantities available for all species are low, the quality of the germplasm is low on average and variable, with little investment in germplasm improvement, and retail level systems – interfaces with farmers are not well developed and are challenged by competition between private and public sector involvement. Seed collection, propagation and multiplication methods are also poorly known and farmers often have no other option but to protect or transplant trees which have germinated spontaneously.

Subsidies or support for other land use practices

There are many governments that have put in place price floors for food products, subsidies for specific inputs like fertilizer, or favorable credit terms for certain agricultural activities. These almost always exclude agroforestry and therefore discourage its practice. In the case of fertilizer, for example, such government policies induce higher use of fertilizer and less interest in using more sustainable practices like agroforestry.

Extension systems

Studies from several countries in Africa have shown that sustainable land management practices such as agroforestry are not sufficiently known by extension agents and much less likely to be disseminated to farmers (e.g. in Zimbabwe - Chitakira and Torquebiau, 2010; in Nigeria - Banful et al., 2010; in Zambia- Sturmheit, 1990). This creates an information bias towards other types of practices.

National government and programme structure

Agroforestry has a de facto “orphan” status in many national government settings (some Central American countries are exceptions where agroforestry is more widely recognized); agroforestry in principle is important to many ministries but in practice, it belongs to none. Agroforestry was first attached to the forestry sector but forest departments have historically had relatively few resources for programmes, been unfamiliar with agricultural practices, and often played a more policing than advisory role. Agriculture is the natural home for this farmer practice and there is a noticeable shift of agroforestry towards agriculture, especially as the soil fertility benefits of agroforestry have become more well known.

Environmental services

Agroforestry is increasingly being recognized as a key land use for the provision of environmental services, such as carbon sequestration (Smith and Martino, 2007) watershed protection and biodiversity. These externalities are sometimes spatial such as the effects of agroforestry on watershed protection for downstream users, or temporal, such as the effects of agroforestry on long term soil health and land rehabilitation. These services, or positive externalities, are not rewarded by market mechanisms (market failure) and thus the supply of these benefits is less than socially optimal levels. This is a justification for government involvement to establish or catalyze systems and mechanisms that can link consumers (buyers) of the environmental services with suppliers and to increase the efficiency of such markets (e.g. to provide guarantees, to reduce transactions costs).

Policy reforms that have been pro-agroforestry

There have been some recent policy reforms that have directly targeted and benefited the expansion of agroforestry. A good number of these are related to revisions in forest policy or its implementation. The first example is the reforms which occurred in the form of re-interpretation and implementation of the Forest Code in Niger that helped to expand the practice of farmer managed natural regeneration to over 5 million hectares of land (Garrity et al., 2010). The government of Indonesia has altered policies on property rights to grant communities long term rights to forest land in return for environmental stewardship of the land (HKM programme) and have also created a village forest concept (Hutan Desa) which would provide villages rights to benefits of carbon or other environmental services (Pender et al., 2008). Guatemala recognized in the Forest Act in 1996 that procedures for timber harvesting in agroforestry systems should be simplified. Fifteen years later it is observed that farmers produce timber within their farms as another form of diversification of land use, and as another source of income (Detlefsen and Scheelje, 2011).

Some governments have gone as far as to adopt explicit agroforestry strategies or policies. In France, constraints against agroforestry were mainly economic and linked to taxations of tree products. As long agricultural as subsidies are linked to cultivated area, farmers showed no interest in growing trees in cropland, even if there is a recognized ecological advantage and if long term income can be expected from timber. And if the land is classified as forestry land, taxation is higher. In 2010, the government of France passed an agroforestry policy whose main achievement was to establish agroforestry as a legal agricultural land use qualifying for EC agricultural subsidies in the framework of the common agricultural policy (CAP). Farmers can receive investment support for the establishment of the agroforestry systems on agricultural lands. Without that, all other agricultural practices were favored (APCA, 2010).

Several countries or regions are developing or refreshing agroforestry strategies. Brazil had earlier developed an agroforestry strategy in 1997 and is currently embarking on a participatory process to refresh the policy. The United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) developed an Agroforestry Strategic Framework 2011-2016 which notes the upcoming release of a policy statement on agroforestry and the establishment of an Agroforestry Steering Committee that will guide the implementation of this strategic framework (USDA, 2011).

China and India have embarked on ambitious programmes to increase tree cover outside of forests (Grain for Green and Greening India respectively), including some attention to smallholder agroforestry. In 2009, the Government of Kenya, in particular the Ministry of Agriculture, enacted new Farm Forestry rules which require 10% of all farms to be covered with trees. This was in response to recognition of deforestation, the increase in agricultural land area, and the high motivation of farmers to plant trees. The government has also allocated several million dollars to assist farmers in regions where these targets are not already met. The Indian State of Chhattisgarh adopted an agroforestry policy in 2009 which goes as far as to include agroforestry products among several that it establishes a price floor and guaranteed market for, in order to ensure adequate production.

A number of countries have advanced agroforestry in their programmatic development as a result of increased attention to climate change. In order to make agricultural production and income more resilient to climate change and variability, transformations in the management of natural resources (e.g. land, water, soil nutrients, and genetic resources) and higher efficiency in the use of these resources and inputs for production. The key role of agroforestry for climate-smart agriculture is now cited in key publications along with institutional and policy options available to promote the transition to climate-smart agriculture at the smallholder level (e.g. FAO, 2010). The responses of governments are perhaps most explicitly observed through the development of National Adaptation Programmes of Action (NAPAs) and Nationally Appropriate Mitigation Actions (NAMAs). In the agriculture and environment sectors, agroforestry is a priority action in many countries. Support for these processes has come partly from processes at global and regional levels. The UNFCCC recognized agroforestry as a key mitigation method within agriculture (Smith et al., 2008) and methods for quantification of its mitigation potential were accepted. Similarly, African ministers of agriculture endorsed the wide scaling up of agroforestry to address climate change adaptation and mitigation objectives in agriculture in 2009. The Comprehensive African Agricultural Development Programme (CAADP) developed an agriculture climate change adaptation and mitigation framework which was endorsed by the same ministers in 2010 and which also highlights agroforestry.

Conclusions and implications for advancing policy reforms at national level for agroforestry

There are a number of important policy constraints that hinder wider adoption of agroforestry among smallholder farmers in developing countries, both at formulation and implementation levels. Yet, driven by rural development and environmental objectives, there is a greater policy recognition of the importance of agroforestry. Thus, there is strong reason to believe that a more concerted and collaborative supporting effort among such organizations would lead to even greater policy impacts. It is hoped that the production of the guidelines along with other efforts by countries and institutions will catalyze an even wider partnership and movement towards removing policy barriers that have hitherto constrained agroforestry from reaching its full potential.


Ajayi, O.C., Akinnifesi, F.K., Gudeta, S. & S. Chakeredza. 2007. Adoption of renewable soil fertility replenishment technologies in southern African region: lessons learnt and the way forward Natural Resource Forum 31(4): 306-317

Ajayi, O.C. & F. Kwesiga. 2003. Implications of local policies and institutions on the adoption of improved fallows in eastern Zambia Agroforestry systems 59 (3): 327-336

APCA. 2010. L’agroforesterie dans les règlementations agricoles. Etat des lieux en juin 2010. Assemblée Permanente des Chambres d’Agriculture (APCA), Paris, France, 17 pp.

Banful, A., Nkonya, E. & V. Oboh. 2010. Constraints to Fertilizer Use in Nigeria: Insights from Agricultural Extension Service, IFPRI Discussion Paper 01010, International Food Policy Research Institute, Washington DC.

Boffa, J-M. 1999. Agroforestry parklands in Sub-Saharan Africa. FAO Conservation Guide 34, Food and Agriculture Organization, Rome.

Chitakira, M. & E. Torquebiau. 2010. Barriers and Coping Mechanisms Relating to Agroforestry Adoption by Smallholder Farmers in Zimbabwe. Journal of Agricultural Education and Extension 16 (2): 147-160.

FAO. 2010. “Climate-Smart” Agriculture. Policies, Practices and Financing for Food Security, Adaptation and Mitigation. FAO, Rome, 41 p.

Garrity, D.P., Akinnifesi, F.K., Ajayi, O.C., Weldesemayat, S.G., Mowo, J.G., Kalinganire, A., Larwanou, M., & J.Bayala. 2010. Evergreen Agriculture: a robust approach to sustainable food security in Africa. Food Security 2:197–214

Pender, J., Suyanto, S., & J. Kerr. 2008. Impacts of the Hutan Kamasyarakatan Social Forestry Program in the Sumberjaya Watershed, West Lampung District of Sumatra, Indonesia, IFPRI Discussion Paper 00769, International Food Policy Research Institute, Washington, DC.

Place, F. & B. Swallow. 2002. “Assessing the Relationships between Property Rights and Technology Adoption in Smallholder Agriculture: Issues and Empirical Methods,” in Meinzen-Dick, R., Knox, A., Place, F., and B. Swallow. Innovation in Natural Resource Management: The Role of Property Rights and Collective Action in Developing Countries, Johns Hopkins University Press, Baltimore, USA.

Smith, P. & D. Martino. 2007. Agriculture, in Climate Change 2007, Fourth IPCC Assessment Report, IPCC, Geneva, Switzerland

Smith, P., Martino, D., Cai, Z., Gwary, D., Janzen, H., Kumar, P., McCarl, B., Ogle, S., O'mara, F., Rice, C., Scholes, B., Sirotenko, O., Howden, M., McAllister, T., Pan, G., Romanenkov, V., Schneider, S. Towprayoon, U., Wattenbach, M. & J. Smith 2008. Greenhouse-gas mitigation in agriculture. Philosophical Transactions of the Royal Society, B., 363: 789-813.

Sturmheit, P. 1990. Agroforestry and soil conservation needs of smallholders in southern Zambia, Agroforestry systems, 10: 265-289

USDA 2011. USDA Agroforestry Strategic Framework, Fiscal Year 2011-2016. United States Department of Agriculture, Washington, 35 p.

Zomer, R.J., Trabucco, A., Coe, R., & F. Place. 2009. Trees on farm: Analysis of global extent and geographical patterns of agroforestry. ICRAF, Working Paper no. 89. Nairobi, Kenya, ICRAF. 63 p.


This article was excerpted from the original with the kind permission of the publisher from:

Frank Place, Oluyede C. Ajayi, Emmanuel Torquebiau, Guillermo Detlefsen, Michelle Gauthier and Gérard Buttoud (2012). Improved Policies for Facilitating the Adoption of Agroforestry, Agroforestry for Biodiversity and Ecosystem Services - Science and Practice, Martin Leckson Kaonga (Ed.), ISBN: 978-953-51-0493-3, InTech, Available from:


Frank Place, World Agroforestry Centre, Nairobi, Kenya

Oluyede C. Ajayi, World Agroforestry Centre, Nairobi, Kenya

Emmanuel Torquebiau, Centre de Coopération Internationale en Recherche Agronomique pour le Développement, (CIRAD), UR 105, Montpellier, France and Centre for Environmental Studies (CFES), University of Pretoria, Pretoria, South Africa

Guillermo Detlefsen, Centro Agronómico Tropical de Investigación y Enseñanza, Turrialba, Costa Rica

Michelle Gauthier, Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (FAO), Italy

Gérard Buttoud, University of Tuscia and FAO, Italy


The Overstory #241: Forests for food and nutritional security
The Overstory #234: Trees on farms to enhance agricultural sustainability, resilience to climate change
The Overstory #231: Biodiversity: ten strategies for commodity production landscapes
The Overstory #224: Global Extent and Geographical Patterns of Agroforestry

Speciatry Crops book coverBy the publishers of The Overstory: From Bamboo to Black Pepper, Cacao to Coconut and Tea to Taro--Specialty Crops for Pacific Islands provides detailed cultivation, value-added, and marketing information for over two dozen of the most important specialty crops for the tropics. Order your copy.


Back in print: The Overstory Book: Cultivating Connections with Trees, Second Edition

Now available to order from

Advanced study internship

The people who bring you The Overstory e-journal now offer an 8-week advanced study internship in tropical agroforestry:

Article submissions

Have you written an article in the last 5 years on a topic that you think would interest other Overstory subscribers? Would you like it to be circulated in edited form to over 8,500 subscribers in 187 countries? Then submit it to the Overstory for consideration--it's that easy! Please read our submission criteria before sending us your submission:

Address changes

Please send e-mail address changes to

Some Links

World AgroForestry Centre

Agroforestry practices help landowners diversify products, markets, and farm income; improve soil and water quality; and reduce erosion, non-point source pollution and flood damage. The integrated practices of agroforestry enhance land and aquatic habitats for fish and wildlife and improve biodiversity while sustaining land resources for generations to come. 

Developed by the The Center for Agroforestry at the University of Missouri in 2013, the Training Manual for Applied Agroforestry Practices and the Handbook for Agroforestry Planning and Design are companion pieces that provide easy-to-use information about agroforestry.