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10 Agroforestry in the Pacific Islands: Systems for sustainability

Smallholder farmers and the larger community, individual land holdings and the landscape: The agroforestry predicament
The component trees
Encouraging agroforestry

Smallholder farmers and the larger community, individual land holdings and the landscape: The agroforestry predicament

It will be clear to any reader who has come this far that the authors of this book believe that the maintenance and further dissemination of agroforestry offer great benefits to Pacific Island peoples. We also recognize, however, that there can be costs, that there can be disadvantages, connected with agroforestry, at least as perceived by individuals or by some parts of the community. The views opposing agroforestry, as well as the views supporting it, need to be included in the discussion. The advantages and disadvantages of agroforestry have been subject to considerable analysis in the literature, for instance by Arnold (1984) with particular regard to economic constraints and incentives, or by Budowski (1982) with regard to biological as well as to socioeconomic aspects. Greatly simplifying their detailed considerations, it can be said, on the beneficial side, that agroforestry is "ameliorative and protective" that is, it can increase, diversify, and sustain crop production while improving environmental stability (de la Cruz and Vergara 1987). On the detrimental side, trees can be or be seen to be competitive - either economically or biologically or both - with annual-crop production rather than complementary or supplementary. Consequently, when farm size falls below a certain level, farmers may forego tree products and services in favour of staple food-crop production. Or if land tenure is not secure, the time-lag in realizing benefits gained by planting trees may become a severe disadvantage, and trees will not be planted or pro tected. Sustainability is not common sense if there is no future return to the individual on today's investment in conservation or long-term production. Also, trees hinder mechanization, and their establishment or maintenance may require more manual labour than is easily available.

All this is no more than to say, as has been observed by many authorities, that agroforestry is not a panacea. Policies promoting agroforestry may demand costs from those who will not receive the benefits. Planning for agroforestry becomes very complex if it takes into consideration the incongruencies that may exist between ecological and economic accounting or if it seeks to resolve the issues of equity that promotion of agroforestry may cause across time and between social sectors or between the individual and the community.

Looking specifically at the Pacific, Künzel (1989, 24-27) has pithily expressed the doubts raised by Tongan farmers about agroforestry. While recognizing the antiquity of their agroforestry tradition and appreciating the benefits of trees, the farmers also made the following points, which Künzel relates as though they were in a letter from a Tongan farmer:

I have farmed my land for all my life, and it has been a constant struggle against trees. Before I can plant any crops, I have to remove the trees. The more trees I remove, the more crops I can plant. It is our saying that good farmers have neat fields, which means neatly cleared. Trees are for the lazy. True, there have been less trees in recent years than when I was young, but this does not change the wisdom of our forefathers.

Of course trees make the soil more fertile, but this takes many years. During the few years that I need to cultivate a certain area, trees only shade out my food crops. I learnt to live with that while I had to clear my field by hand. Ecologists always marvel at the systems I developed. But now that I can hire a tractor easily, I clear my trees with enthusiasm. Believe me, it improves the yield.

The building materials, perfumes, medicines and dyes I get from trees are old-fashioned and ineffective.... I like those products from overseas.... Nobody is boiling tree bark to fight a stomach ache in New York. Pills work better, and I want to use them too.

If I cut a tree, I reap the benefits completely and immediately. If I plant a tree, who knows the person who will benefit? Probably not me, and maybe not my children.

Young trees are more vulnerable than young onions! One week when I have no time to water, or a runaway cow while I sleep, and all is gone. Not to mention fire. I do not like risks like that.

Finally, all the arguments about the ecological benefits of trees are de finitely true. But when the day starts and I have to decide whether or not to plant cassava or trees for my family, a day planting cassava is worth more.

These views of a fictitious Tongan farmer clearly provide reasons for current agrodeforestation. They also remind us that the first purpose of agricultural or agroforestry systems is the production of goods that have value for the farmer, not the maintenance of agro-ecosystems in a healthy and sustainable state. In today's Pacific, the production of goods with value is affected not only by rapid population growth in many countries but also by a whole range of nontraditional factors such as mechanized technology, monetization, a never-ending search for new export products, individualization, wage-paying employment, and new forms of communication in combination with advertising. Agroforestry often fits uneasily with these changes. Although everyone agrees that agroforestry has great contributions to make to biological and physical sustainability, many people have doubts about its social and economic benefits. As Künzel (1989, 27) says: "Clear and convincing reasons why agroforestry will benefit the individual farmer need to be found."

The relationship between the individual farmer and the larger community is in many ways analogous to the relationship between an individual landholding and the landscape in which it is situated. To maintain the landscape in good health, it is not necessary that every landholding, every stretch of land, contain trees, just as every farmer need not be an agroforester- but it is necessary that there be sufficient trees in the right places, at the least on sloping land and along streams. However, the predicament in the Pacific, as in much of the world, is that the landscape is not a unit of management even though it best expresses the integration of environmental processes and relations at the regional level. Governments everywhere are only now starting to grope toward the concepts of landscape ecology, a groping that may be motivated by demands to make development sustainable but that is - to be more optimistic- facilitated by the modern tools of computer databases and remote sensing of the environment. None the less, bringing the science of landscape ecology into land utilization and management is a difficult and slow process, for landscape ecology cuts across economic sectors and encompasses traditionally distinct agencies or ministries, such as agriculture, forestry, and urban planning (Naveh and Lieberman 1984). When this inertia is combined with population growth, with economic pressures, and with the complex issues of land tenure and of multiple control over land use, it is no wonder that implementing conservation measures is often difficult or that agrodeforestation is taking place. Even within this context, however, there are ways to plan for agroforestry, to encourage it, and to slow down agrodeforestation. These will be discussed later in this chapter. First, we will turn to a brief consideration of the basic component of Pacific Island, or any other, agroforestry systems - the trees themselves.

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