Friday, June 7, 2019

4th World Congress on Agroforestry

Date of visit: May 20 - 24, 2019
Type of event: Conference
Topic: Agroforestry
Location: Montpellier, France
International Fellow: Fen-hui Chen (Taiwan)

Over 1,200 experts from a hundred countries met in Montpellier, France for the 4th World Congress on Agroforestry on May 20-22, 2019. Just six miles inland from the Mediterranean Sea, Montpellier is one of France's oldest university cities. The world congress is held every 5 years, and this year was the first time it was held in Europe. The congress has previously been held in the United States, Kenya, and India. In addition to the scientific program and posters, side-events, field trips, and a rich social program all kept participants busy during the entire week. Agroforestry, or the intentional integration of agriculture and forestry, has recently drawn much attention from scientists and farmers across the globe recently for its potential benefits. The overall objective of this world congress was to strengthen the links between science, society, and public policy. The program covered a wide range of topics, such as: climate change, biodiversity, agroecology, land degradation and restoration, public policies, adoption, finance, germplasm, landscapes, and more.

Climate change was one of the hottest topics at the 4th World Congress on Agroforestry

There were more than 600 posters covering the most recent
national and international developments in agroforestry.
If you think agroforestry is an issue pertaining only to tropical Africa, you would be surprised to know that attendance from tropical versus temperate areas was about the same for the first time at this congress. It is estimated that agroforestry systems comprise 8.8% of the utilized agricultural area in Europe. The most common agroforestry practices in Europe are alley cropping and silvopasture (the combination of trees with forage and livestock production). Several organizations accelerate the application of agroforestry in Europe. For example, AFINET fosters exchange and knowledge transfer between scientists and practitioners of agroforestry. The European Agroforestry Federation (EURAF) is aimed at promoting the use of trees on farms as well as any kind of silvopastoralism throughout Europe.

The benefits of agroforestry associated with climate change were widely discussed at the congress. Agroforestry systems are known to sequester large amounts of carbon in tree biomass and in soil organic carbon stocks. Compared to pure agricultural practices, agroforestry is capable of mitigating carbon emissions, adapting to increasingly erratic weather caused by climate change, restoring degraded soils, and maximizing the overall productivity of landscapes.

Appropriate policy can certainly encourage the adoption of agroforestry. The first mention of “agroforestry” in policy documents of the Common Agricultural Policy (CAP) of the European Union was in 1998. The target of the current CAP is to establish 74,000 ha (183,000 acres) of agroforestry, although measurement of progress towards achieving this goal is not readily available. India is the first country to adopt a national agroforestry policy in 2014. This policy merged the existing policies for agriculture, forestry, water, and environment, and recognized that land use, by its very nature, must be integrative.

Lessons Learned
Domain Enclos de la Croix vineyard (est. 1816) recently
converted to agroecological management.
Prevailing agroforestry systems or problems might be different among regions or countries, but congress attendants were all seeking techniques or policies on agroforestry that would best benefit the environment. Not only scientists, but also farmers, are beginning to understand the importance of trees and to voluntarily modify their agricultural systems towards agroforestry. At one of the stops on the conference field trip, we visited an agroforestry vineyard that was started in 1816 and converted to organic farming in 1992. The 7th-generation farm owner started to plant trees in his vineyard a few years ago after he noticed changes in the local climate. He hopes to run his vineyard sustainably and has decided profit is not his top priority.

An International Fellow’s Thoughts and Perspectives

Fen-hui Chen, International Fellow from Taiwan
I am happy to see that more researchers and farmers around the world are beginning to recognize the importance of trees in agricultural systems, though progress is still scattered and slow. In Taiwan, agroforestry has not been mainstreamed or supported through policy. Only a few people are really interested in or are implementing agroforestry there. However, after attending this congress, I know I am not alone. The Montpellier Declaration, which was published at the end of this world congress, states “Make our planet treed again!” I believe the degradation of the world’s biodiversity and environment can be mitigated if we all work together.

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