The United Nations Food and Agriculture Organisation (FAO) has called on countries to boost efforts to promote agroforestry, a practice involving the combination of trees with crop or livestock production.
The global food agency, in a release on its website, also stressed that it can help millions of people escape poverty and prevent environmental degradation; making it crucial to ensure food security in the future.
"In many countries the potential of agroforestry to enrich farmers, communities and industry has not been fully exploited," said FAO's Director of Forest Assessment, Management and Conservation Division, Eduardo Mansur.
"Despite the numerous benefits of agroforestry, the sector is largely hampered by adverse policies, legal constraints and lack of coordination between the sectors to which it contributes, namely, agriculture, forestry, rural development, environment and trade."
Agroforestry combines agricultural and forestry technologies to create more productive and sustainable systems for land use. According to FAO, the agroforestry sector is a significant source both of local commodities such as fuelwood, timber, fruit and fodder for livestock as well as global ones such as coconut, coffee, tea, rubber and gum.
In a new guide aimed at decision-makers, non-governmental organisations and governmental institutions, FAO showed how agroforestry can be integrated into national strategies and how policies can be adjusted to specific conditions.
The guide provided 10 tracks for policy action, including raising awareness of agroforestry systems among farmers and the global community; reforming unfavourable regulations in forestry, agricultural and rural codes; and clarifying land-use policy regulations.
The guide also provided examples of best practices and success stories, such as Costa Rica where more than 10,000 contracts have been signed for agroforestry over the past eight years, resulting in the planting of more than 3.5 million trees on farms.
In addition, the guide argues policymakers should create incentives to implement agroforestry. For example, farmers introducing trees on farms should be rewarded in the form of grants, tax exemptions, cost-sharing programmes, microcredits or through assistance to develop their infrastructure.
Long-term credit is also key as benefits to farmers planting trees reach them only after some years. The value of carbon sequestered and other environmental services provided by the trees could also be applied to paying the interest.
The guide was developed by FAO in cooperation with the World Agroforestry Centre, the Tropical Agricultural Research and Higher Education Centre and the Agricultural Research Centre for International Development.