, Volume 30, Issue 1-2, pp 5-55

Science in agroforestry

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Abstract

Agroforestry research is being transformed from a collection of largely descriptive studies into more scientific approaches, based on process-oriented research. The development of agroforestry as a science should be based on four key features:competition, complexity, profitability and sustainability. Managing thecompetition between trees and crops for light, water and nutrients to the farmers' benefit is the biophysical determinant of successful agroforestry systems. Simultaneous agroforestry systems are more susceptible to competition than sequential ones. A tree-crop interaction equation helps quantify competition vs. complementary effects on fertility. Alley cropping, a simultaneous agroforestry system, has limited applicability because the competition factor usually exceeds the beneficial fertility effects. TheFaidherbia albida parkland, another simultaneous system, is almost always beneficial since the reverse phenology ofF. albida minimizes competition while enhancing the fertility effect. Sequential systems such as relay intercropping and improved fallows also minimize competition but the processes responsible for crop yield increases are largely unquantified. New methodologies for reliably measuring complex below-ground interactions are being developed.

Socioeconomic and ecologicalcomplexity are typical of agroforestry systems. Participatory, analytical and multidisciplinary characterization at different spatial scales is the required first step in effective agroforestry research. Diversity of products and services should be manipulated in a way that puts money in farmers' pockets. Domestication of indigenous trees with high-value products enhancesprofitability, particularly those that can be marketed as ingredients of several finished products. Policy research interventions are often necessary to help farmers during the initial years before trees become productive and exert their positive ecological functions.Profitable agroforestry systems are potentiallysustainable, controlling erosion, enhancing biodiversity and conserving carbon, provided nutrient offtake is balanced by nutrient returns via litter and the strategic use of fertilizers, particularly phosphorus. A list of research gaps indicates where hard data are needed to provide a predictive understanding of the competition, complexity, profitability and sustainability aspects of agroforestry.