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A plea for a REDD plus plus approach

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Issue date: 
June 01, 2011
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There has recently been quite some discussion on the REDD planning, with REDD the Reduction of Emissions from Deforestation and forest Degradation. This also applies to Indonesia and India, where we live.


(with a massive participatory raising and nursing

of trees in the agricultural environment)

Kees Stigter (cjstigter@usa.net) and Mohan Reddy Vishwavaram (Mohanreddyv1@gmail.com)


There has recently been quite some discussion on the REDD planning, with REDD the Reduction of Emissions from Deforestation and forest Degradation. This also applies to Indonesia and India, where we live. Discussing this for Indonesia, Yansen (2010) argues that “our participation in nature based solutions for climate mitigation and adaptation is the right pathway to follow. (……) The development from REDD to REDD plus is a good sign of the changing paradigm on the plan itself. REDD plus does not just view natural forests as carbon stock, but far more importantly, as natural ecosystem service resources. (…..) Thus, a plan such as REDD plus not only gives us a chance to contribute to global warming mitigation, but also plays a significant role in conserving the tropical ecosystem itself”.

We are convinced that another additional step has to be taken in this reasoning, making use of agroforestry. Agroforestry is discussed in Box I. Applying agroforestry we are mimicking nature, particularly some classical traditional tropical ecosystems (e.g. Stigter, 2010). We have to go a next step to REDD plus plus, that would mean not only conserving the tropical ecosystem, what we do with REDD plus, but creating and mimicking in agricultural production such tropical ecosystems. Such ecosystems not only sequester carbon dioxide but at the same time considerably improve the agricultural environment by the massive use of trees, raising and nursing them in a participatory approach in the often degraded agricultural environment (see again BOX I). This is at the same time an adaptation strategy to climate change (APN, 2010).





What is Agroforestry, what does it, how can it improve the livelihood of farmers

(After APN (2010), edited with thanks to the Institute of Agroforestry, PAFERN Secretariat, University of the Philippines Los Banos College, Laguna)


Agroforestry combines the production of trees, food crops, and animals on the same land. It can even integrate mini-forests, orchards, and aquaculture systems. The interactions among these different components make agroforestry unique in agriculture and forestry.


What types of agroforestry systems can we implement? You can choose from various agroforestry systems according to available resources and environmental conditions of your farm:

Agrosilvicultural Systems produce agricultural crops and trees at the same time. You can choose from:


· Alley Cropping Systems where trees act as hedges and agricultural crops are planted on alleys;


· Multistorey Systems where trees and crops of different heights are planted;


· Improved Fallow Systems where some land areas are planted while others are left to “rest”.


Silvopastoral Systems combine the planting of trees and the production of livestock. You can choose from:


· Tree-Crop Grazing Systems where animals are allowed to graze freely between trees;


· Protein Bank Systems where leguminous trees provide supplementary protein for livestock;


· Live Fence Systems where fodder trees are used as fences.


Agrosilvopastoral Systems produce agricultural crops, trees, and livestock in the same area.


Integrated Systems combine different systems from the previous categories.



How can we mitigate climate change through agroforestry?


If agroforestry systems are properly planned and implemented, more carbon dioxide and other

greenhouse gasses can be sequestered every year. However, a poorly designed agroforestry, such as some slash and burn types, can enhance global warming and further contribute to climate change. Undertaking agroforestry systems involves proper implementation of soil and water conservation measures, particularly also along steep slopes. Putting these measures in place enable agroforestry systems to efficiently minimize erosion, floods, and landslides. The canopy of trees, tree litter, and humus also filter sunlight thereby maintaining soil moisture. An efficient agroforestry system not only maximizes the benefits it provides but also ensures

the link to climate change mitigation.


It is generally accepted that the agricultural sector is most vulnerable to the impacts of climate change. Agricultural production runs most risks from changes in temperature, rainfall and extreme meteorological and climatological events (APN, 2010; Stigter, 2011). Because of its potentials, agroforestry is not only unique in agriculture and forestry, it may also be a key strategy in mitigating and adapting to climate change (APN, 2010). But for that to happen we need a massive participatory raising and nursing of trees in the agricultural environment, a REDD plus plus.

The case of India


Agroforestry helps maintain ecological balance by providing indirect benefits such as soil and water conservation and improved soil fertility (APN, 2010), as well as improved microclimate conditions (Stigter, 2010). Agroforestry improves quality of life of farmers by increasing income due to multiple harvests and sale of products from the systems’ different components, thereby providing regular income throughout the year (APN, 2010). It may therefore play a key role in ecological restoration and poverty alleviation (Vishwavaram, 2010). A proposal for this may be found in India (Box II).




Desert farming: The peasant perspectives of climate change (After: Vishwavaram, 2010)

Where did all the water go? There was an abundance of fresh water till a few decades ago. All the water simply disappeared and we are in for chronic shortages of fresh water. The rural people find it difficult to manage enough of fresh water for household needs. There are instances of disposing of the livestock for want of drinking water, particularly during summers. How do we understand the dramatic shift from abundance to absolute shortages and perpetual droughts? Our ancestry used the rainwater as it was given to them. The rainwater comes to us as recycling water (particularly through trees). Never before in history it was subject for terminal consumption.

The eco-systems were self-endowing, self-sustaining and self-regulating in satisfying their water demands (locally called Swayambhu). The rainfall could be seen more in the role of a recharging agent. The eco-system got surcharged during monsoon on receiving the rainwater and the biological activity of the eco-system perhaps reached its zenith. Post monsoon, the water kept withdrawing from the system. The undisturbed eco-systems did not subject the rainwater for terminal consumption as we do today. We have knocked down the Swayambhu and with it the rainwater ceased to be the recycling agent. Deprived of the Swayambhu, we are left behind in the company of the desert terrain coupled with desert climate, without trees.

Earlier, inflows in the network of many large water tanks and kuntas  (traditional small water tanks) used to come back to the catchment in the form of up-keeping the groundwater table. The peaking groundwater table played a critical role in the crop production on the rain fed upland. That is no more the case. Loss of peaking groundwater support, sporadic rainfall, paltry share of the rainwater yield amid soaring temperatures conspired together to end up in perpetual crop failures either in part or full, besides holding down the crop productivities. Crop failures coming on top of low productivities often resulted in debt bondage and farmer’s suicides. Never before in history the crop output was directly proportional to the volume of rainwater available. There used to be multiple sources of crop moisture support. The crops in the post Green Revolution period are deprived of the multiple sources of moisture support.

Unless we give up the terminal consumption of rainwater, there is going to be no let up to the food and water shortages. Any effort at giving up terminal consumption requires the restoration of Swayambhu in the first place. We will do well to develop water yielding farm systems with many trees in the place of the present water killing farm systems.


REDD and REDD plus left to themselves will prove to be quite ineffective in Indian conditions. The forests in India are centrally (Delhi) controlled. The forests are rather the only source to cater to the growing demand for a) wood b) fire wood and char coal c) meat/milk d) raw material such as beedi leaf (local cigarette), liquor brewing and a host of other needs besides supplying markets with MFPs (Minor Forest Products such as tamarind etc.), and e) medicinal plants. The administration knows it well and the market forces operating in all the products from a) to e) are growing with the economy.


All the trade in these products is ILLEGAL and yet there is no knowing of putting a check to it. The products are smuggled out in collusion with the foothill tribes. The forest dwellers help the smugglers, knowing that once the big timber is removed, it is easier to bring the land under cultivation. The tribes sell the shrubs in the town markets as charcoal and firewood, and at the end put fire to what remains of the forest to convert it into good grazing land (and at the end bring it under the plough). The mainstream descends on these converted lands and buys it off and the tribes must once again go deeper into the forests and the story is repeated.


We need a REDD plus plus approach in which all the forest products are developed on agricultural lands. It implies that we develop timber, fire wood & charcoal, meat &milk (goats, sheep and bedfellows), MFPs and medicinal plants all from the farm sector.  Such a REDD plus plus system is a Tree, Crop, Livestock Joint Production System (TCLJPS) of agroforestry. TCLJPS is nothing new in the Indian context. This was in vogue over centuries prior to the green revolution and we need to bring it back in the changed context.


The TCLJPS will go a long way in resurrecting the organic farming, which in turn among others will help the fossil energy use by and large redundant. Jatropa, an oil tree species raised as part of the overarching TCLJPS, will add to the bio-fuel pool besides the expected sumptuous biogas supplies from animal rearing. Add to it the oil and ethanol yielding crop production. We will be able to undo the fossil energy use in the agriculture sector. The sector will become self-sufficient in its bio-energy production and will be able to help such energy demanding sectors as transport.


All this besides TCLJPS’ incalculable services in sequestration.  Indeed TCLJPS agroforestry makes sense as a key instrument in fostering the REDD and REDD plus.  As REDD plus plus, this helps us in recasting "farming as forestry by other means" in India.


Case studies from Africa


A successful example to follow, of a massive introduction of trees, in Niger, West Africa, is given in BOX III.





Niger: A haven of trees

(From: Greening the Desert: Scientists Catch up with Reality,

Mae-Wan Ho and Lim Li Ching, 2008.)


In Niger today, millions of trees are flourishing, thanks to poor local farmers. There are at least 3 million tree-covered hectares, not the result of the large-scale planting or other expensive methods often advocated by African politicians and aid groups, but by the efforts of individual farmers themselves. The area is far greener than it was 30 years ago; and these gains have come at a time when the population of Niger has exploded. About 25 years ago, farmers like Ibrahim Danjimo realized something had to be done. “We look around, all the trees were far from the village,” he said, “Suddenly, the trees were all gone.” Danjima, now in his 40s, has been working the rocky, sandy soil of his tiny village since he was a child. He and other farmers in Guidan Bakoye took a small but radical step of not clearing the saplings from their fields before planting as they had for generations. Instead, they would protect and nurture the saplings, carefully ploughing around them when sowing millet, sorghum, peanuts and beans. Another change was the way trees were regarded by law. From colonial times, all trees in Niger had been property of the state, which gave farmers little incentive to protect them, and they were chopped for firewood or construction.


Over time, farmers began to regard the trees in their fields as their property, and in recent years, the government has recognized the benefits and allowed individuals to own trees. Farmers make money off trees by selling branches, pods, fruit and bark. Mahamane Larwanou, a forestry expert at the University of Niamey in Niger’s capital, said the revival of trees had transformed rural life. Farmers can sell the branches for money, they can feed the pods as fodder to their animals, sell or eat the leaves and fruits. The tree roots fix the soil in place, preventing it from being carried off with the fierce Sahel  winds. The roots also help hold water in the ground rather than letting it run off into gullies that flood villages and destroy crops.


Farmers practise mostly rain-fed agriculture. The return of trees increases the income of rural farmers, cushioning them against the boom and bust cycle of farming and herding. Ibrahim Idy, a farmer in Dahirou, a village in the Zinder region, has 20 baobab trees in his fields. Selling the leaves and fruit beings him about $300 a year in additional income. He has used that to buy a motorized pump that draws water from his well to irrigate his cabbage and lettuce fields, and sends his children to school. His neighbour, who has fewer baobab trees, cannot send his children to school; instead they have to draw water from the well. In some regions, swaths of land that had fallen out of use are being reclaimed with labour-intensive but inexpensive techniques.


In the village of Koloma Baba, in the Tahoua region just south of the desert’s edge, a group of widows has reclaimed fields once thought forever barren. They dug pits in plots of land as hard as asphalt, placed a shovel of manure in each pit and wait for rain. The pits held the water and manure stayed in the soil and regenerated its fertility. In this way, more than 240 000 ha of land have been reclaimed, according to researchers. But it is still a hand to mouth existence, the women produce enough to eat, and disaster is always just one missed rainfall away. While Niger’s experience of greening on a vast scale is unique, smaller tracts of land have been revived in other countries. “It really requires the effort of the whole community,” said Larwanou. “If farmer don’t take action themselves and the community doesn’t support it, farmer-managed regeneration cannot work.” Moussa Bara, the chief of Dansago, a village in the Aguié region where the regeneration has been a huge success, said the village had benefited enormously from the revival of trees.



An approach in Kenya, Africa, shows a way of getting a REDD plus plus approach funded. Vi Agroforestry (2007) argued that it is the aim of improving the lives and livelihoods of the farmers and consumers in the poorer countries of the world that drives agroforestry research and development. Agroforestry: (i) increases income and shelter, where increased production and productivity results in sales of tree products and crops, employment opportunities and improved rural housing; (ii) results in better and sustainable energy sources through increased supply of fuel wood that is cheaper and of better quality, and that conserves animal waste for fertilizer purposes; (iii) provides home grown medicinal products; which is particularly important in Africa where medicinal trees are a source of medication for 80% of the population; (iv) stabilises soils, captures nitrogen from the air, helps recycle nutrients within the system, and augments soil fertility; (v) provides vegetative cover that can alter microclimatic conditions around them for crops or even for the farm as a whole; (vi) collects and stores carbon in biomass and in soils, thus keeping it out of the atmosphere, where carbon dioxide and methane are components of the greenhouse gases that contribute to global warming; (vii) is crucial for maintaining healthy watersheds, of growing importance in the 21st century, when it is predicted that water will become the world’s primary natural resource concern; (viii) decreases the need for forest encroachment, and thus helps preserve the forests’ biodiversity, while providing niches for a range of organisms.


Throughout the tropics, natural woodlands and forests are threatened by ever-increasing population pressure on land. Trees integrated into the landscape in dynamic agroforestry systems help to protect them. In addition, sustainable agricultural techniques are also proven to improve the amount of carbon stored, thus reducing the level of CO2 in the atmosphere. During the next strategy period Vi Agroforestry therefore intends to develop a programme for mitigating global warming though carbon sequestration projects, giving small scale farmers opportunities to be remunerated for ecosystem services. A certification system will be tried where the amount of sequestrated carbon is calculated and thus can be sold to people/companies and institutions in developed countries. In this manner it is intended to attract increased and stable funding to support the programme, while also strengthening awareness of the importance of supporting developing countries in their adaptation to climate change (Vi Agroforestry, 2007).

Beyond developing countries


In BOX IV it is argued that this also goes beyond developing countries into the rest of the world.




Trees also advocated in farming in developed countries

From: Two Views of the Future of Agriculture by Michael Towse (making use of a book by Colin Tudge (2005))


Farming is Ecosystem Management

(……….) Whatever the details, the message is clear. Dealing adequately with climate change in the 21st century will require a massive reforestation of the planet. Of course there are other reasons to plant trees:

  • Trees bind the soil and prevent erosion.
  • Perennial trees provide food for honey bees in the off-season when horticultural plants are dormant.
  • Trees provide homes for birds – birds that eat insect pests that might otherwise be sprayed with insecticide.
  • Trees encourage rain – they are a vital link in the local and global circulation of water.

Which brings us to a problem – if we need a planet covered in trees, how will we produce the food we need? It is reasoned “that trees are at the heart of terrestrial ecology and therefore trees must make a vital contribution to feeding the world” - in other words agroforestry. Agroforestry “offers one of the principle hopes for a sustainable world” - it is “one of the great hopes for the future.”

The overwhelming predominance of cereals in the world’s food basket is partly an accident of pre-history. It might have been different. Tree crops such as olive, coconut, macadamia, avacado, pistachio, walnut, cashew and almond to mention just a few, offer highly concentrated calories and nutrients. If cereals had not existed, human civilisation would have flourished nonetheless on tree crops. And imagine the possibilities if as much effort had been applied to maximising tree yields as has been devoted to cereal yields. Our challenge, today, is to find ways to integrate trees with farming.



It is finally very helpful to read Zomer et al. (2009). This is a geospatial analysis of remote sensing derived global datasets. They investigated the correspondence and relationship of tree cover, population density and climatic conditions within agricultural land at 1 km resolution. Among the key results are that agroforestry is a significant feature of agriculture in all regions, that its extent varies significantly across different regions (e.g. more significant in Central America and less in East Asia), that tree cover is strongly positively related to humidity, and that there are mixed relationships between tree cover and population density depending on the region. This first analysis suggested that patterns of tree cover are indeed influenced by a range of factors the authors were not able to examine at the global scale and that need follow up at local scales. A REDD plus plus approach would do so!




APN, 2010. Recognizing the potentials of Agroforestry in climate change mitigation and adaptation. APN Brochure, Kobe, Japan.

Ho, Mae-Wan and Lim Li Ching, 2008. Greening the desert: Scientists catch up with reality. Institute of Science in Society. http://www.i-sis.org.uk/greeningTheDesert.php

Stigter, Kees (Ed.), 2010. Applied agrometeorology. Compendium published by Springer, Berlin etc., xxxviii + 1101 pp.


Stigter, Kees, 2011. Agroforestry in coping with meteorological and climatological risks. The Overstory 233, 17 January. http://www.overstory.org

Towse, Michael, 2006. Two views of the future of agriculture. Prout Institute of Australia. http://www.ru.org/economics/two-views-of-the-future-of-agriculture.html

Tudge, Colin, 2005. The secret life of trees. Penguin Books.

Vi Agroforestry, 2007. Planting the future. Vi Agroforestry’s strategy 2008–2011. Stockholm and Nairobi.

http://www.sccportal.org/Admin/Public/DWSDownload.aspx?File=%2FFiles%2FFiler%2FVisko en%2FVistrategy2008-2011.pdf.

Vishwavaram, Mohan Reddy, 2010. Desert farming: The peasant perspectives of climate change. INSAM website under “Needs for agrometeorological solutions to farming problems”. http://www.agrometeorology.org/topics/needs-for-agrometeorological-solutions-to-farming-problems/des...

Yansen, 2010. RI’s growing climate change challenges. The Jakarta Post, Monday 20 December (Outlook 2011, p. 14)

Zomer, R.J., Trabucco, A., Coe, R and Place, F., 2009. Trees on farm: Analysis of global extent and geographical patterns of agroforestry. ICRAF Working Paper no. 89. Nairobi, Kenya: World Agroforestry Centre.



The example of BOX II in Niger can also be found on the INSAM website of October 2009: http://www.agrometeorology.org/topics/accounts-of-operational-agrometeorology/greening-the-desert-scientists-catch-up-with-reality

Kees Stigter is a visiting professor (agrometeorology and –climatology) in developing countries and founding president of the International Society for Agricultural Meteorology (INSAM) (cjstigter@usa.net).

Mohan Reddy Vishwavaram is a consultant with the Hyderabad Water Forum (Mohanreddyv1@gmail.com). 


Extpub | by Dr. Radut