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Thanks to Gary Bentrup and Rich Straight at the USDA National Agroforestry Center for this “heads up” about a January 23 post by former Senator Richard Lugar and Connie Veillette called “Agroforestry: Our Bet for Beating Hunger and Malnutrition.”

Although the article is focused on the value of agroforestry in reducing hunger and malnutrition in developing countries, there are some strong points made of interest to AFTA members. I have excerpted directly from the article:

A stunning 161 million of children under five are stunted, leading to lingering health issues, cognitive impairment, and reduced productivity in adulthood … but there is still reason for optimism … A recent study of 21 African countries found that children living closer to forested areas had better diets and consumed more fruits and vegetables than those who lived in deforested areas.  And that’s why our bet is on agroforestry as the best link between agriculture and nutrition.

Unfortunately, agroforestry … has not received the attention it deserves … and its role in food security has been undervalued and underfunded.

When trees do come into view, it has been almost solely around preventing deforestation and reclaiming where it has occurred, largely in the context of addressing climate change. While this is indeed a worthy project, there needs to be greater focus on the value of integrating trees into farming operations as tools to improve productivity, protect the soil, and increase farm income and resiliency.

  • They provide cover for crops requiring some shade for higher yields.
  • They work as wind breaks protecting crops and soil.
  • Some trees replenish the soil with nitrogen thereby improving soil quality and reducing the need for inorganic fertilizers.
  • Trees reduce soil erosion, help maintain soil moisture, and increase the rate of water infiltration, thereby reducing the effects of drought.

Regarding US programming, the authors say that … current U.S. programs do not provide a clear vision for the role of agroforestry in food security programs. Feed the Future has no real agroforestry component… and that there is … a lack of attention to incorporating agroforestry into extension services and food security programs such as Feed the Future. 

Here’s what needs to happen --

  • The U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID) should create a Feed the Future Innovation Lab for agroforestry.
  • USAID should review Feed the Future country strategies for ways to incorporate agroforestry.
  • The National Institute for Food and Agriculture at USDA should study what aspects of agroforestry can best contribute to food security in developing countries.
  • Universities with agroforestry programs should be encouraged to apply for research grants from the newly created Foundation for Food and Agriculture Research. (underlining is mine - JK)
  • The United States needs to increase its collaboration with foreign universities, some of which USAID helped to stand up in previous decades, in order to extend our knowledge of mixed farming systems in diverse environments.

We think that eliminating hunger and malnutrition is a bet worth making and doing it through agroforestry is a great way to get there.

The Lugar Farm in Indiana includes about 200 acres of Black Walnut trees in addition to corn and soybean. Purdue University’s forestry and natural resources farm was renamed the Richard G. Lugar Forestry Farm in November 2014.