Adoption, profitability, impacts and scaling-up of agroforestry technologies in southern African countries uri icon


  • Due to a mix of agro-ecological factors (incessant drought, low soil fertility, environmental degradation) and other man-made problems (illiteracy, unfavorable development policies), southern Africa region faces several challenges including worsening poverty, food insecurity, low income base and more recently HIV/AIDS pandemic. Low soil fertility is identified as one of the greatest biophysical constraints to increasing agricultural productivity (Bekunda et al., 1997, Sanchez, 1999). The degradation of soils is caused by a breakdown of the traditional production systems resulting from shortening of fallow periods due to population pressure (Kwesiga et al., 1999). With the collapse of the erstwhile government support for the use of mineral fertilizer (e.g. through subsidies and distribution channels), in the 1990s, the ability of most smallholder farmers to purchase the same level of mineral fertilizers was reduced because the input became unaffordable to them. In addition, many countries in southern Africa are landlocked thus increasing the cost of transporting fertilizer from the ports. Howard and Mungoma (1996) estimated that the use of mineral fertilizer fell by 70% following an increase in the cost of the inputs. The sub-region also faces a rapid degradation of the miombo woodland, shortage of fodder and decreasing access to fuelwood supplies (Kwesiga and Beniest, 1998). For example, Chidumayo (1997) estimated that Zambia alone loses about 200 000 ha of forests per year. Some of the key avenues for overcoming food insecurity and rural poverty in southern Africa include reversing soil fertility depletion, intensifying and diversifying land use with introduction of high value products, and facilitating an appropriate policy environment for the smallholder farming sector. While mineral fertilizer is still one of the best options for overcoming land depletion and increasing food production, the majority of the smallholder farmers are unable to afford and apply the fertilizers at the recommended rates and at the appropriate time because of high cost and delivery delays (Kwesiga et al, 2003; Akinnifesi et al, 2006). Low-cost technologies are needed on a scale wide enough to improve the livelihood of these farmers. This will require the adoption of new approaches to agriculture and rural development (Pretty, 1995). Agroforestry has proven to be one of such approaches. For the past fifteen years, farmers and researchers from different national and international institutions led by the International Centre for Research in Agroforestry (ICRAF), otherwise known as the World Agroforestry Centre have been combining their expertise and resources to develop agroforestry technologies and options to address some of these challenges facing smallholder agricultural production and the environment in the sub-region. The different types of agroforestry technologies address specific human and environmental needs in southern Africa. These include fertilizer tree systems for replenishing soil fertility, rotational woodlots for solving fuel wood problems, fodder banks to supplement feed for livestock and indigenous fruit trees for improving nutrition during the seasonal hunger periods and enhance the preservation of indigenous plant genetic materials

publication date

  • 2006