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Directions in tropical agroforestry research: past, present, and future

Abstract

Reflections on the past two decades of organized research in tropical agroforestry raise several issues. Research efforts started with an inductive and experiential approach but have subsequently followed a deductive and experimental approach that includes hypothesis testing and the development of predictive capability; agroforestry research is thus being transformed into a rigorous scientific activity. The research agenda, so far, has given high priority to soil fertility and other biophysical interactions, less priority to anthropological and sociological aspects, and little priority to evaluating costs and returns, pests and diseases, and the so-called non-timber forest (tree) products. Moreover, larger-spatial-scale issues, such as carbon sequestration, water quality, and biodiversity conservation, have been neglected because of the emphasis on field- and farm-scale studies.

Overall, the high expectations that were raised about the role and potential of agroforestry as a development vehicle have not been fulfilled. In order to overcome this, it is imperative that research be focused on the generation of appropriate, science-based technologies of wide applicability, especially under resource-poor conditions and in smallholder farming systems. Future research agendas should entail a judicious blending of science and technology. Applied research should build upon the findings of basic research to generate technologies for application at the farm, regional and global levels. Such research should place increased focus on previously neglected subjects, for example, the exploitation of indigenous fruit-producing trees, the agronomic components of agroforestry systems, and the global issues mentioned above. Furthermore, an appropriate methodology that embodies economic, social, and environmental costs and benefits needs to be developed to realistically assess the impacts of agroforestry, and an enabling policy environment that will facilitate agroforestry adoption needs to be made available.

Agroforestry research of the 21st century should strive to build bridges from the inductive phase of the past, through the deductive phase of the present, to the future phase of harnessing science and generating technologies for the benefit of the land and its present and future users.

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Nair, P.K.R. Directions in tropical agroforestry research: past, present, and future. Agroforestry Systems 38, 223–246 (1997). https://doi.org/10.1023/A:1005943729654

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  • DOI: https://doi.org/10.1023/A:1005943729654

  • deductive research
  • inductive research
  • science
  • technology