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The possible role of trees in farming systems of the tropics

During the last decade more and more attention has been given to the possible role of trees in the farming systems of the tropical areas. On one side this awareness was caused by the decreasing possibilities for rural families to obtain firewood and the world's energy crises, on the other side by the 'discovery' of the traditional important roles of trees in the activities of rural families. This awareness was reinforced by the recognition that 'green revolution and monocropping' techniques were not the solution for the problems of Third World families. In recent years therefore more and more research was carried out on the possibilities of trees in rural development. This article is focussing on the results of these efforts. It is based on some literature study and an interview with Ir. Freerk Wiersum, a forestry specialist with experience in many Third World countries (e.g. Indonesia, Costa Rica, Philippines, Pakistan, and Kenya). At the moment he works at the Dorschkamp, a forest and landscape research institute in Wageningen. Besides this, he also gives lectures on agroforestry at the Agricultural University of Wageningen. Most of his experiences were in the humid and sub-humid regions. This article concentrates on these areas. Trees can have many functions in a farming system. Not only can several trees contribute directly to the food requirements of both people and animals (fruits, vegetables, starch and fodder), but in two aspects they can also have a complementary effect on the food situation. Firstly, trees are able to influence environmental circumstances of the sometimes rather vulnerable ecosystems of the tropics, so that both a more sustainable and a higher production is possible. This effect is caused by an improvement of the soil and microclimate (i.e. reduction of solar radiation and soil improvement by leaf litter). Secondly, trees can provide fuel wood, which in many areas is the only available energy-form for rural families. In some areas the wood is also used for construction or as a cash-crop (teak). Tree growing by rural people can take several forms. The most important to distinguish are: 1. Shifting cultivation: covering all systems in which mostly annual cropping is rotated with tree fallows; 2. Taungya cultivation in which annual crops are temporarily intercropped in young tree plantations; 3. Multi-storey systems in which various perennial and sometimes annual crops are cultivated simultaneously with trees; 4. Alley cropping in which permanent cultivation of annual crops takes place in between rows of regularly pruned trees (these trees are of ten planted on contour strips); 5. Farm tree growing when farmers plant their own tree plantations, either privately or communally. Trees may also be planted along irrigation canals, erosion prevention, live fences etc. These forms can be found. Question: But is there not a tendency in rural areas with serious shortage of land or increasing population pressure to substitute trees by permanent annual food cropping, as farmers firstly have a food priority? In other words, does the role of trees not diminish? Wiersum: I don't think that it is possible to conclude that there is a decreasing function of trees. There are four reasons:

1. There is not always competition between trees and food crops, as trees can also provide food in the form of fruits, pods, fodder etc.; 2. The positive roles of trees on the soil and the microclimate can increase the productivity of the whole farming system. There are clear examples known of this positive role; 3. A farmer's family has always several different needs to fulfil. In some, trees play an essential role. Trees can not only provide direct food, but also medicinal products and wood for shelter; 4. Most food cannot be eaten unless it is cooked. without firewood as an essential supplier of household energy people may become malnourished. Especially in areas with heavy deforestation these essential functions are becoming obvious. In several of such cases it can be observed how the shortage of trees makes it commercially attractive for farmers to cultivate fast growing tree crops. In Pakistan, for example, you can find that in the most fertile and hence densely populated areas farmers have started to grow fast growing tree crops, and that the area has changed from wood-importing to woodexporting. This is a valley area. The more marginal upland areas have become woodimporters instead of their former export of wood. This process is leading to a rather contradictory land use system. In the high or medium potential areas (the valleys) a very intensive form of land-use is developed and both food crops and trees are cultivated. The marginal hilly areas, which are basically still suitable for tree-growing, have become net wood-importing and are further marginalised, as they are not very suitable for food crops. In same areas (e.g. India), this trend of shifting commercial tree growing to former food-growing areas has even resulted in unfavourable social consequences. Here the landowners decided to establish plantations, both because of the commercially interesting demand for wood and of the lesser labour demand for tree plantations. This caused a decline in both the food situation and employment rates for the local people. This is probably an extreme situation. It is the big challenge for both foresters and agronomists to develop more adaptive tree-growing systems with fast-growing multipurpose tree species for these marginal areas to counteract further marginalisation. On this challenge we do not yet have the answers. Question: But in those marginal areas also soil fertility problems will restrict possibilities for tree growing. As one of the advantages of tree growing the pumping: ability of trees to bring up nutrients, whether leached or not, from deeper soil layers is mentioned. Does this work in practice? Wiersum: Well, there is a lot of wishful thinking in this matter. Almost no concrete figures are available on this pumping ability. In fact, most trees turn up to have their roots rather superficial or also seek their nutrients in the upper layers of the soil, where most nutrients are available. Still, trees have advantages: Tree roots are known to have much symbiosis with soil symbionts and mycorrhiza. Trees are known to have e.g. an easier uptake of less soluble phosphate. Especially the longer period of this symbiosis of a tree, compared to an annual crop, facilitates the nutrient uptake. Leaf fall of trees improves the soil organic matter content. This improves not only the chemical, but also the physical and biological character of the soil.

Trees are able to catch more air-deposed minerals through their canopies. Still, the pump-function of trees should not be overestimated. The introduction of leguminous trees can, of course, improve the nitrogen content of the soil. Under low input circumstances, however, trees can certainly have some advantages. When nutrients are withdrawn from the system in the form of agricultural products or fodder, which is in most cases necessary for a family to earn a living, trees will not be able to restore that loss of nutrients. When more nutrients are withdrawn from the system, trees will not be able to maintain the productivity. This management aspect is also important in the role of trees in reducing erosion. Recent research on this gives as the overall conclusion that an effective soil cover, protecting the soil, is the decisive factor in erosion control. When the soil cover under trees is removed, erosion will also be severe. And therefore the key to successful erosion control does not lie in the presence of trees themselves, but rather in good management practises. Trees can give probably more possibilities to a good management in this respect, compared to annual crops. Question: Which directions in (agro)forestry look promising at the moment?Wiersum: Probably we can look at best at the different above mentioned forms of (agro)forestry: A. Shifting cultivationBesides, of course, the establishment of coffee, cacao, rubber and oilpalm plantations, which are established in several countries as successors of tropical forests, not many examples of tree farming have been developed. Certain theoretical possibilities are: planting of fast-growing, selected tree species, which can shorten the fallow period by a fast growth and also give useful products. Several interesting examples of this technique have been developed by local farmers, e.g. in Papua New Guinea traditionally Casuarina oligodon has been planted to regenerate the soil. And in Kalimantan Rottan has been used for this purpose. Another example is the use of artificially planted fallows used in the colonial tobacco estates in North Sumatra. alley-cropping: here a combination of (leguminous) tree crops (esp. Leucaena leucocephala and Gliricidia sepium, which are the most used and most promising species) with annual crops is planted. Most examples come, however, from the subhumid regions. Alley cropping in the humid tropics (above 3000 mm annual rainfall) seems to be rather difficult with the high leaching and erosion hazards. The leaves of Leucaena tend to decompose so rapidly in these regions that no stable system can be built (see further under D). B. TaungyaThis system is originally a forestry system, in which the objective is to establish a tree crop, in which during the first years the space between the young trees can be filled up with annual crops. This system is widely used, not only in plantations, but also in smallholders' coffee, cacao and tea. This system is clearly advantageous for two major reasons: - In early years of establishment a (food) production is established - More time will be spent to weeding, which will advantage the tree establishment. C. Multi-storey cropping

These systems are also widely used. The most famous examples are the tree gardens of southeast Asia. Here, multiple functions are combined in several strata of trees and crops. Another example gives Budowski (in Huxley, ed., 1983) in which a leguminous tree (Erythrina poeppigiana), laurel (Cordia alliodora) and coffee are grown by Costa Rican farmers (2600 mm annual rainfall, below 800 m elevation)'. The leguminous tree is kept at a height varying between 2.5 and 4 m and regular pruning takes place every six months when the crown has reached an average diameter of 4 to 6 meters. According to Budowski, pruning takes little time: "Usually less than 2 minutes to cut down the branches of a single tree and another 4 to 5 minutes to hack and spread them over the ground". Farmers also sometimes delay the pruning so as to retard the flowering and harvest periods of the understorey coffee. Unshaded coffee is harvested earlier and, by delaying the harvest through manipulations of the shade, smallholder coffee growers are able to solve a critical labour shortage. Budowski gives also another example of Alnus acuminata (a local alder) inside grazed pastures. Of course, many other examples can be given (see e.g. Hoekstra, et al., 1983). D. Alley croppingMost research in agroforestry is directed towards these systems. Most promising are the efforts with Leucaena and Gliricidia. The leguminous trees are, for example, grown in alternate 1.20 to 1.80 strips with annual (perennial) crops. Prunings from the trees are either used as mulch or as fodder for animals. Heavy pruning takes place before the annual crop is planted and repeated 4 or 5 weeks later. After the harvest Leucaena is allowed to grow out and can provide e.g. fodder in the dry season. In certain cases Leucaena is planted on contour strips. The mulch material should be put before the trees in order to reduce erosion. A project in Rwanda decided to cut the upper roots of the Leucaena, to force the roots to grow deeper. Juo (1985) estimates the nitrogen contribution by Leucaena mulch on maize grain yield to be equivalent to about 100 kg/ha for every 10 t/ha of fresh prunings. E. Farm tree growing, whether communally or notOne important lesson that can be drawn from efforts' in this direction which were mostly concentrated on firewood- is that farmers are rarely motivated to grow trees purely for fuel. Therefore attention should be given to multipurpose trees (FAO, 1985). Another lesson is that communal tree farming proves difficult in its implementation, but further possibilities should be explored e.g. in working with small 'functional' groups. Conclusions:1. A1though more and more attention has been given to the ro1e of trees, it is clear that a more integrated approach is necessary. Toa many development projects have ignored the functions of trees, but on the other hand also forestry should come out of their (protected) forests. Especially the work of the International Council for Research in AgroForestry (ICRAF) on its Diagnosis and Design Programme is interesting. More contacts should be established with the developing Farming Systems Programmes. 2. Agroforestry is not recent. Everywhere in the world agroforestry systems can be found. It is essential to start with the study of these systems and to seek improvements hereof. The old pattern of top-down approaches should be abandoned. 3. No miracles should be expected from trees, although trees can provide more possibilities for a sustainable and even more productive system under low external input conditions. It is important to note that marginal lands that will not sustain continued cultivation with agricultural crops, will not sustain continued cultivation with trees either, in case these trees are intensively exploited and all their produce exported from the site. Besides this, problems

not earlier mentioned in this article can arise as e.g. intensified labour problems or bird problems. These should not be overlooked.