English (en) | Change Language
Published: 1996-10-19

ICRAF is the International Centre for Research in Agroforestry, headquartered at United Nations Avenue, P.O. Box 30677, Nairobi, KENYA. Their research is directed at mitigating tropical deforestation, land depletion, and rural poverty through improved agroforestry systems. ICRAF (1992 Annual Report) defines agroforestry as "land-use systems and practices where woody perennials are deliberately integrated with crops and/or animals on the same land management unit. The integration can be either in spatial mixture or in temporal sequence. There are normally both ecological and economic interactions" between the trees and other components of an agroforestry system. ICRAF focuses on sustainable technologies for small landholders in the humid to semi-arid zones of the tropics. They have a wide variety of excellent publications and are a good contact for questions related to the use of various tree species in agricultural systems. 


"PRINCIPLES OF AGROFORESTRY" (10 pp.) by Dr. Frank Martin and Scott Sherman is a basic introduction for those with little or no prior experience in this field. They define agroforestry as "the integration of trees, plants, and animals in conservative, long-term, productive systems." Agroforestry is seen as an approach to agriculture, not a single finished technology. Benefits for the farmer include: food, feed, fuel, fiber, soil conservation and renewed soil fertility. Tables include: trees with edible products; principle agroforestry species; successful examples from various locations; successful examples of integrating trees and crops; and seed suppliers. The tables are followed by a section of definitions, a bibliography, and two pages of related resources and organizations. Available from ECHO for $3; free to development workers. 

A TOOL KIT FOR FOLKS INVOLVED IN AGROFORESTRY. IIRR's Agroforestry Technology Information Kit is just the kind of practical resource we are always looking for. The kit is a collection of practical, well-illustrated summary sheets on various technologies related to agroforestry and sustainable agriculture in the tropics. It was originally designed for use by social forestry officers and technicians in the Philippines. Some of the common names of plants will not be familiar to most, but the information contained in the kit would be of interest to a wide range of development workers.

Topics are divided into the following basic categories (followed by a sampling of topics): Soil and Water Conservation Technologies and Agroforestry Systems (SALT-1, alley cropping, in-row tillage, A-frame use and construction, vegetative barriers, controlling cogon [grass], etc.); Annual Cropping System (cover crop selection, upland rice cultivation, root crops, cultural pest management, etc.); Seeds and Plant Propagation (seed collection, processing, testing, storage, and pre-germination treatments; tree nursery establishment and management; plant propagation, transplanting, etc.); Trees and Their Management (SALT-3, boundary plantings and shelter belts, pruning, fruit trees for harsh environments, growing bamboos, bank stabilization, species comparisons, etc.); Livestock Production (SALT-2, forced feeding, housing, plant-based medications, intensive feed gardens); and Home-Lot Technologies (medicinal plants, bio-intensive gardening with agroforestry, mini-ponds for dry areas, fertilizer from farm wastes, etc.). There is probably nothing in the kit that ECHO does not already have in our resource center. However, to have it all summarized in a highly pictorial manner is very helpful. Basically, it is a collection of simple, proven, basic, sustainable technologies with potential for further exploitation by resource-poor farmers. Kits are available in booklet form for US$27 from IIRR, 475 Riverside Drive, Room 1035, New York, NY 10115, USA; phone: 212/870-2992; fax 212/870-2981; e-mail iirr@cce.cornell.edu. Kits are also available (US$8/P200 plus postage, very reasonable in Asia) from the IIRR headquarters in the Philippines at IIRR Bookstore, Silang, Cavite 4118, PHILIPPINES; phone 63-969-9451; fax 63-969-9937. 

AGROFORESTRY TODAY is published by ICRAF, a non-profit international research body governed by a board with equal representation from developed and developing countries. ICRAF's mandate is to "initiate, stimulate and support research leading to more sustainable and productive land use in developing countries through integration of trees in land-use systems." The articles were more practical and applied than their research orientation had led me to expect. Articles in the one issue included "Agroforestry: a very social science," "Readings in social agroforestry" [a bibliography], "The great eucalyptus debate," "The apple ring Acacia", and an article on beekeeping and forestry. I will quote from the latter.

A2Z4 04" 'The secret of extending the period when flowers are available to bees,' says Dr. Michel Baumer [ICRAF staff], 'is paradoxical.' Best results are achieved by planting trees which are actually somewhat ill-suited to their environment. 'If you plant trees that are well-suited to an area, they'll flower when all the other trees flower,' he says. 'But those which are not at their ecological optimum, which are slightly marginal to local conditions, will often produce their flowers at a different moment than their neighbors. Some trees under these conditions even react by producing more flowers than normal.

" 'For example, Eucalyptus gomphocephala gives better results in some places in North Africa than on its native sandy plains of southwestern Australia. There are tens of thousands of flowers on an adult eucalyptus .... Even one tree represents a considerable source of nourishment for a bee colony.' ...A tree of great potential for dryland beekeepers is the apple ring acacia, Faidherbia albida, also called Acacia albida. For beekeepers in the Sahel-Sudan area it has the advantage of producing flowers at the end of the rains (most trees in this area flower before or during the rainy season) and it is the main source of nectar and pollen, if not the only one, during two or three critical months.'"

Subscriptions are US$40 for individuals. Those unable to pay may state their case for a free subscription. Order from ICRAF, United Nations Avenue, Gigiri, P.O. Box 30677, Nairobi, KENYA; phone (254 2) 521450; fax (254 2) 521001; e-mail ICRAF@CGNET.COM. It is also available in French and Chinese. 

"ALTERNATIVES TO SLASH-AND-BURN" BULLETIN. ICRAF is coordinating a "Global Initiative for Alternatives to Slash-and-Burn Agriculture." Publication of this quarterly bulletin is part of that effort. It highlights ASB activities around the world, including research at three benchmark sites in Cameroon, Brazil and Indonesia and related training programs. Add your name to the mailing list by writing ASB Update; ICRAF; P.O. Box 30677; Nairobi, KENYA; fax (254 2) 521 318; e-mail D.BANDY@CGNET.COM. 

AGROFORESTRY STUDY TOURS. (Abstracted from Agroforestry Today.) Technical and Study Tours, Ltd. organizes study tours in Kenya focusing on agroforestry, agriculture, forestry and the environment, as well as wildlife safaris. Participants can become acquainted with more than a dozen successful agroforestry projects, meet with ICRAF staff, make use of ICRAF facilities, and visit their field station at Machakos. Contact Technical and Study Tours, P.O. Box 50982, Nairobi, KENYA; phone (254-2) 791227/780461; fax (254-2) 780461. 

RESTORATION FORESTRY: AN INTERNATIONAL GUIDE TO SUSTAINABLE FORESTRY PRACTICES, edited by A2Z4 05Michael Pilarski, 1994, 528 pp. It is difficult to put together a resource this comprehensive! This well-researched and -indexed reference manual distills 15 years of dedicated experience in this field. Over 50 authors contributed, and it serves as a sourcebook for information on over 2400 forestry books, articles, organizations, periodicals, and individuals. It is an excellent and international overview of sustainable forestry. Model forestry projects are described, university degrees in forestry are mentioned, and complete contact information is given for most entries. Available for US$26.95 plus postage ($4.05 in USA; $6.75 overseas surface; $21 overseas airmail) from Friends of the Trees, P.O. Box 4469, Bellingham, WA 98227, USA; tel/fax 509/485-2705. 

A NETWORKING NEWSLETTER FOR AFRICA. Since 1990 the Methodist Church Division of Social Responsibility and the Methodist Relief and Development Fund have produced a networking newsletter called Africa Link. It is part of their Africa Water and Agroforestry Program, and it is published twice a year in English and French. Typical contents include brief news items provided by members telling what they are doing, conferences or workshops they have held or plan to hold, and references to resources available in Africa. Each recent issue has included a complete reprint of an article selected from another publication which the editor believes would be of interest to members. An item we gleaned from the last issue (how to keep rats from young oil palm trees) appears in Chapter 8. African development workers can write them at Methodist Relief and Development Fund; Division of Social Responsibility; 1 Central Buildings; Westminster, London SW1H 9NH, UK; phone 071 222 8010; fax 071 799 2153. 

DIRECTORY OF INTERNATIONAL TRAINING AND EDUCATIONAL OPPORTUNITIES IN AGROFORESTRY. Several have asked us where you could go for a degree in agroforestry, a question that we have not found easy to answer. So we welcome publication of this 78-page book by the United States Department of Agriculture. "One of the most severe limitations to the successful adoption of agroforestry land-use systems has been the dearth of personnel with the knowledge and skills to integrate the various disciplines required in researching, planning and managing agroforestry interventions." The book covers universities and other institutions, degrees and short courses, in the USA and overseas. This 1993 book is free from Robin Maille, USDA Forest Service, International Forestry, Franklin Ct. Building #5500W, P.O. Box 96538, Washington, DC 20090-6538. ICRAF/Nairobi is now preparing and publishing this directory, and they are working on a 1995 edition, as new programs and courses are coming on line all the time. To order a copy or to let them know about a course your institution offers, write ICRAF at their address above. 

SHADE FOR INCREASED SOIL FERTILITY UNDER TREES. A report by John Wilson in the January-March 1990 issue A2Z4 06of Agroforestry Today suggests that shade may be one of the leading factors for increased soil fertility in agroforestry systems. We know that agroforestry systems can increase soil fertility, presumably by pulling nutrients from deeper in the soil or by nitrogen fixation from leguminous trees. There are frequent reports of improved grass growth under tree canopies, but the grasses grown under the canopies may be species which prefer shade over full sun. For example, an Australian study reported "a 250% higher yield of Panicum maximum under the canopy of a leguminous tree, Albizia lebbeck, than outside the canopy in full sun." Dr. Wilson's work found a 30% increase in growth of the grass Paspalum notatum under 50% shade of the non-leguminous Eucalyptus grandis and a 70% increase in total nitrogen in the grass compared with grass in full sun.

As evidence for his theory, Dr. Wilson cites an experiment he performed in an open pasture field of Panicum maximum where shade was the only factor. Areas were covered with shade cloth so that the sunlight was 50% of its normal intensity. The total herbage yield in shaded areas increased 43%, nitrogen in the leaves increased 43%, and the soil nitrogen increased 106%. He attributes this to lowered soil temperatures (maximum centigrade temperatures of 30-36 under shade verses 45-50 in full sun). The lower soil temperature promotes microbial activity and soil mineralization. "This influence is important in areas where the soil nitrogen level is a limitation to crop or pasture growth." 

NEMATODES IN AGROFORESTRY. Nematodes are tiny "wire worms" that abound in the soil. The rootknot nematode, Meloidogyne incognita, is one of the most infamous, both for its devastating effect on crops and the ease with which its presence can be identified. It causes knots to form on the roots, in some cases making roots look something like a string of beads. Other kinds of nematodes also cause major crop losses, but require a nematologist to identify them.

The increasing use of agroforestry systems in which trees and shrubs are permanently grown in close association with annual crops raises an interesting question. How do these associations affect nematode damage, especially if the trees are themselves hosts for nematode survival and population build-up? This question is addressed in an article in Agroforestry Today by Mia D'Hondt-Defrancq (April-June 1993, pp. 5-9), from which the following is abstracted.

"Two types of interaction between trees and crops affect nematode populations. Direct interactions take place where the nematode population is directly influenced by the introduction of a species of plant new to the area or a new species of nematode." Indirect influences occur when the nematode population is altered by the local environment.

Direct Influences. Some species of trees and shrubs actually reduce the number of certain species of nematodes. This might be due to a chemical that is exuded which kills nematodes. In other cases the tree or shrub acts as a trap-host (it attracts nematodes but prevents their reproduction).

"In Nigeria, for example, the deliberate planting of Leucaena leucocephala in a fallow period dramatically reduced parasitic nematode populations in the soil. When the fallow was converted to leucaena alley-cropped with maize, the population of parasitic spiral and root lesion nematodes remained low. In West Africa, Sesbania rostrata acts as a trap host for the Hirshmaniella species of nematode that are prevalent in flooded areas where rice is grown."

A2Z4 07"In cases where trees and shrubs are suitable hosts for harmful nematodes ... [the damage] may increase drastically. This is because the host will not only allow continuous build-up of the nematode population but will become a very efficient reservoir from which attacks can be made [on future crops]." For example, there were many more nematodes within 2.5 meters of a sesbania hedgerow in the Rwandan highlands than there were 5 meters from the row. In Malawi studies suggest that Acacia, Leucaena and Sesbania species can act as good hosts for rootknot nematodes. Presumably crops susceptible to this nematode will be more seriously attacked when grown in alleys with these trees. "Similar problems can be expected if Tamarindus indica or certain species of Acacia, Albizia and Casuarina are planted where the burrowing nematode is a threat to crops such as banana or vegetables."

Indirect Influences. Trees can reduce nematode problems by indirect interactions. For example, many crop plants have some natural resistance to nematode attack, but this is reduced by high air and soil temperatures (both of which are reduced by shade). Trees and shrubs can also reduce soil erosion and hence prevent the spread of nematodes that are attached to soil particles. To the extent that trees reduce growth of weeds that harbor nematodes, crop losses may be reduced. If benefits of the trees cause crops to be more vigorous, this in itself can reduce nematode injury. "There is also evidence that leachates from the litter of certain trees and shrubs [Ed: water that has soaked through the litter] have nematicidal properties, e.g. Azadirachta indica (neem), Ricinus communis (castor bean) and Leucaena leucocephala."

Indirect interactions can be negative. Plowing reduces nematode density. Reduced cultivation in an alley crop system can thus enhance nematode populations.

I have often wondered if knots caused by nematodes might not sometimes be confused with galls caused by nitrogen-fixing rhizobia. How can you tell them apart? "The nitrogen-fixing galls are readily identified because they are easily rubbed off from the roots and are often pink-red inside."

Many leguminous trees are also good hosts for nematodes. Nematode infection may reduce rhizobial colonization and, hence, nitrogen fixation.

"The following trees have been found to be resistant to the widespread Meloidogyne incognita (root-knot nematode): Acacia senegal, Acacia tumida, Anacardium occidentale, Azadirachta indica, Cassia obtusifolia, Cupressus sempervirens, Eucalyptus camaldulensis, Leucaena leucocephala (found resistant in most countries), Sesbania tetraptera and varieties of Sesbania macrocarpa." The author did not provide a list of trees that definitely are harmed by nematodes. He did mention that Sesbania sesban failed in east Africa due to nematodes. Sesbania grandiflora is badly damaged by them at ECHO. 

ALLEY CROPPING TO SUSTAIN YIELDS. (By Daniel Sonke, ECHO staff.) Alley cropping is an agroforestry technique which has been widely promoted in agriculture development programs throughout the tropics. Many studies report increased harvests in alley crops versus control plots without trees. However, a report from ICRAF in Kenya suggests that alley cropping has been too widely promoted in areas for which it is not suited. The ICRAF report states that alley cropping should not be practiced in dry climates with acidic soils or in areas of low fertility. In some instances the competition between crop and tree roots negates the expected benefits of alley cropping. In others, yield increases were over-estimated because of procedural mistakes.

We contacted Dr. P.K. Nair at the University of Florida Department of Forestry for his perspective. Dr. Nair is a founding scientist of ICRAF, where he worked as a principal scientist for about 10 years. That interview is found later in this article, but first we will review the basics of alley cropping.

A BRIEF OVERVIEW OF ALLEY CROPPING. Alley cropping (AC) is the practice of growing food crops in alleys between hedgerows of trees or shrubs which are regularly "coppiced," or severely pruned. Sometimes the prunings of these trees are placed on the soil as a mulch around the food crops. As this mulch decomposes, its nutrients become available to the crops. Trees with roots which grow deeper than those of typical crops are used to bring nutrients up from the subsoil. Nitrogen-fixing trees are often used to maintain an input of nitrogen into the cropping system. In this way, soil fertility is maintained or improved despite the removal of nutrients in the crop harvest. Typically an AC system consists of trees planted 20-50 cm apart in straight rows which are 4 to 6 m apart (rows may follow the contour if on a slope). The specific width of alleys depends on many factors, including average rainfall and the crops grown.

A version of alley cropping called the SALT technique (Sloping Agricultural Land Technology) was designed to control A2Z4 08erosion (see Chapter 5 on Farming Systems). In SALT, trees are planted only a few cm apart in double rows (rows 50 cm apart). The double rows, which follow the contour, reduce the chance of an opening through which water could flow. As water passes through the double hedgerow, it is slowed down and much of the suspended soil is dropped, eventually forming a terrace of sorts. Crops are grown in alleys between the double rows.

The hedgerows in alley-cropped systems provide other benefits, including fodder and firewood, though some uses compete with their use as mulch and green manure. One report from an African region with limited trees states that farmers highly prized AC because they could grow more stakes for their yam gardens. ECHO used Moringa oleifera for its demonstration alley because leaves can be used for human food or animal feed.

Periodically the hedgerows must be pruned. For use as forage or mulch, a general guideline is to cut the trees by the time they reach 3 m in height or the stem diameter is more than 1 cm. The trees should be cut to 1 m or less. For some crops research has been done to determine whether timing of pruning is important for optimum nutrient availability. Delays in pruning may result in a "woody" mulch which does not decompose adequately. Obviously, AC is a labor-intensive venture not suited to farms with a labor shortage.

Some commonly recommended tree species are Leucaena spp., Calliandra calothyrsus, Gliricidia sepium, Senna siamea, Sesbania sesban, Grevillea robusta, and Acacia spp. Sometimes one may find that a native species is better adapted to local conditions and pests.

Some general characteristics of a useful species are:A2Z4 09
--can be easily established
--is fast-growing, producing much biomass
--is deep-rooted, without many shallow, lateral roots
--sends out new growth rapidly after repeated severe prunings
--provides useful by-products (firewood, fodder, stakes)
--has high protein (nitrogen) content in the foliage
--has a compact canopy to prevent crop shading.

INTERVIEW WITH DR. NAIR. Q. What do you think of the ICRAF report on AC?
A. The report has been blown out of proportion in some journals. The limitations cited are not new revelations. We have been saying from the beginning that AC is not suited to areas with limited water supply. In more humid zones it works beautifully well. In Kenya, for example, AC works very well in the humid regions, but very poorly in the drier regions. Unfortunately, too much eagerness by some people has caused it to be established without regard to its limitations.

Q. For what environments do you recommend AC?
A. Areas with poor soils and plenty of available moisture, where fertilizer is limited, and/or subsistence level agriculture is used. AC is effective on gentle slopes for preventing soil erosion; Haiti has working examples of this. I should caution that a plentiful low-cost labor supply is very necessary as well.

Q. What about the ICRAF recommendation against AC on acidic soils?
A. I have seen successful examples on acidic soils in high rainfall areas (which is where acidic soils often occur) when appropriate tree species are used.

Q. What characteristics would you look for in a useful tree species?
A. High biomass production and nitrogen-fixation are desirable. The tree shape must not produce excessive shade to the crop. Generally species with small leaves or leaflets rather than broad leaves are used because of more rapid decomposition. Decomposition rate can be important; in some situations very rapid decomposition may result in the nutrients becoming unavailable to the crop. Where organic matter is lacking in the soil, slower decomposition may be desirable to improve soil. Leaves with high lignin or tannin may decompose too slowly. Each situation is different.

The trees chosen should not harbor pests of the crops, including birds for some crops and regions. Nor should the trees A2Z4 10themselves be susceptible to pests. In Asia psyllids have destroyed many agroforestry projects using leucaena. Diversifying the species used in a region lowers the risk of losses to insects or diseases. Deep-rooting species are important; shallow-rooting species compete with the crop.

Q. Can the severe pruning of a tree alter its rooting pattern, causing a deep-rooting tree species to produce shallow roots which might compete with crops?
A. This is an area in which we are presently conducting research. I do not want to make a claim without concluding the research. [Ed: We hope to report on this when research is available.]

Q. Can you make a general recommendation on how wide the alleys should be?
A. Alley width depends on the crop needs, available moisture, and the amount of mulch desired. Much research has been done using different alley widths. I encourage people to consult the research applicable to their situation. Keep in mind that more narrow alleys means more tree area and less crop area. The increased tree growth produces more mulch which should increase harvests. Finding the optimum balance between mulch production and crop area is the goal.

Q. Is AC self-sustaining in the long term?
A. As in any system, occasional inputs of nutrients result in longer-term sustainability. AC is designed for areas where fertilizers are limited, but over time even limited inputs will be beneficial. It is also important to realize that removing biomass from the system in the form of firewood or animal fodder makes it less sustainable over time. Although this produces benefits to the farmer, it requires more inputs to compensate. In Haiti the theft of firewood from hedgerows frustrates farmers' efforts to be sustainable. [End of interview.]

The ICRAF report criticized that some alley crop research stations have produced faulty crop yield data due to improper procedure. At two sites mulch was imported into the system to produce better mulch than the hedgerows actually produced. At another semi-arid site tree roots spread 15 m and actually grew into the plot which was supposed to be a no-tree control plot, which suffered reduced yields from root interference without the shade and mulch benefits of AC. One method suggested to correct this was to dig a trench around the AC system to prevent roots from influencing crops around it. Senna species are also being used in experiments, since their black roots can be easily distinguished from others. If you wish to do your own experiments on AC in your area, we encourage you to use similar methods to obtain good data. If you do have experience or data on AC successes or failures, ECHO would like to hear from you.

Mike Benge, USAID, Washington D.C., wrote in response to our article on alley cropping. "Many of the alley cropping systems ran into trouble with root competition when started with cuttings. Cuttings develop extensive lateral root systems, not true tap roots; however, they may develop pseudo tap roots. This causes severe competition for both moisture and nutrients. Gliricidia is a case in point. IITA started the alleys with Gliricidia cuttings, but after a while discontinued because of competition. They began to plant seedlings instead, which did not develop the extensive lateral roots, and found that competition was greatly reduced.

"From my observations in the field, once a tap root is cut, often it will not regenerate. Rather it develops a more extensive lateral root system and pseudo tap roots, which never reach the depth of a true tap root. This is extremely important in water-stressed areas. I suspect that aerial pruning in root trainers may have a similar effect; however, I have seen no research to prove or disprove this assumption." 

FORESTRY CONSULTING ASSIGNMENTS. Are you looking for some new challenges when your present assignment ends? William Helin, with the U.S. Dept. of Agriculture Forest Service, wrote us about a listing of potential consultants maintained by the International Skills Roster; International Forestry; USDA Forest Service; P.O. Box 96538; Washington, DC 20090-6538; USA; or contact Ej Caplan by phone 202/273-4695. The database, which has 3000 experts in forestry, natural resource subjects, and disaster management, is used when the U.S. Forest Service, Peace Corps, USAID, or other development agencies request the help of consultants.

The skills most frequently requested relate to small-scale village forestry, farm forestry, or social forestry projects. There is increasing demand for expertise in resource management, environmental assessment, and land use planning. Consultants are requested in agroforestry, economics, environmental education, sociology, training, watershed management and wood energy. Other requests are for drylands forestry, nursery operations, plantation management, shelterbelts, soil conservation, and specialist skills related to these areas. Requests for long-term assignments of two years or more are almost always for persons with previous overseas experience, such as with the Peace Corps or PVOs. Most require either French or Spanish.