DHAKA, Bangladesh (4 April, 2012)_Just planting a few mango trees in and around different food crops is proving to be an extremely effective agricultural system – improving food security, livelihoods, local land ownership, poverty alleviation and other developmental needs in the Padma floodplain of Bangladesh, shows new research.
“Mango-based cropping systems, which are an ancient composite farming system that have been used in Bangladesh for thousands of years, are more productive than equivalent areas of land devoted to one type of cash crop,” said Syed Ajijur Rahman, Associate with the Center for International Forestry Research and co-author of Agroforestry for livelihood security in agrarian landscapes of the Padma floodplain in Bangladesh which appears in the journal Small-scale forestry.
Diverse crops also leave farms less vulnerable to the unpredictable and potentially devastating impacts of extreme weather, climate change, pests, crop failures, and other environmental factors that could lead to food shortages or severe scarcities, found the study.
Population pressures in Bangladesh, already a densely populated country facing severe problems of food security, poverty and hunger, have forced farmers to shorten crop growth times in order to increase food productivity. This has led to soil erosion, poor water management, and other ecological ramifications from unsustainable agricultural production.
But combining crops such as wheat, bananas, rice, sugarcane, ginger, turmeric, potatoes, beans, and other useful plants such as medicinal herbs, among cash crop trees such as mango, are proving to be both sustainable as well as effective at feeding the local population.
From their surveys in Bangladesh, researchers found that agroforestry (the planting of trees on agricultural land) can have numerous economic and developmental benefits for the farmers due to increased income – farmers using agroforestry on average generated 30 per cent of their household income from agroforestry.
Not only did the diverse crops confer greater food security, but also allowed for more disposable income for education, housing, sanitation and health needs.
Moreover, farmers who used their land for agroforestry gained other benefits in terms of land ownership, economic security and self-determination, leaving them less vulnerable to exploitation, illegal logging and “land grabbing”.
“Agroforestry not only creates the production structures by increasing the production capacity of the farm, but also property rights over land that can be transferred to future generations,” says Rahman.
“Because of this particular quality, and unlike natural forests or fallow lands, which cannot be durably appropriated by individual segments of the community, agroforest constitute the basis of a true patrimony.”
But better national policies in Bangladesh are needed to see agroforestry expand and ensure their resilience.
“The current national forest policy and forestry sector master plan (1995-2015) in Bangladesh has some limitations. Most notable is that, although it vaguely commits to ‘extend the scope of poverty alleviation and forest-based rural development’, it does not say anything about how it can actually be achieved,” Rahman said.
Nonetheless, he says, what we have learned from the Bangladeshi examples can still be spread around the world to improve livelihoods and food security.
“It is important to think about how we can apply this to other tropical countries, where local people are still stuck with monoculture agriculture and facing food insufficiencies,” he said.