Agroforestry (AF) so far is not a well-known and widespread way of agricultural production in Europe, with barriers such as legal issues, unpredictable financial outcomes, etc playing an important role here. But even for those who would opt to implement AF, it’s generally not easy to find or to have access to guidelines and tools for the design and management of such a system.

Therefore in the further promotion of effective agroforestry systems (AFS) in Europe, an increased awareness of the existence of and the development of new design and management tools for farmers would be an important step forward.

A well-organized system of tools could represent a kind of „guide” – accompanied with access to relevant information (databases, sources of structured and practical knowledge), and further tools (business plan, financial analysis, etc) -, that leads the farmers’ way through the process of decision-making and to the installation on the field.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

EIP-AGRI Focus Group
Agroforestry

 

MINIPAPER 3: Tools for Optimal Design and Management – 15 02 2017

 

 

 

Judit Csikvari, David Grandgirard, Bert Reubens, Christopher David Morhart, Ralf Pecenka, Ulrich Schmutz, Andrea Vityi Fabien Balaguer, William Considine,

 

Introduction

Agroforestry (AF) so far is not a well-known and widespread way of agricultural production in Europe, with barriers such as legal issues, unpredictable financial outcomes, etc playing an important role here. But even for those who would opt to implement AF, it’s generally not easy to find or to have access to guidelines and tools for the design and management of such a system.

Therefore in the further promotion of effective agroforestry systems (AFS) in Europe, an increased awareness of the existence of and the development of new design and management tools for farmers would be an important step forward.

A well-organized system of tools could represent a kind of „guide” – accompanied with access to relevant information (databases, sources of structured and practical knowledge), and further tools (business plan, financial analysis, etc) -, that leads the farmers’ way through the process of decision-making and to the installation on the field.

However, always keeping in mind that there is no such thing as the “universally” valid rules or guidelines, and that so many details remain case and context specific. Christian Dupraz shares with us his view on this challenge:

“To predict or not to predict ? When a stakeholder considers adopting agroforestry from scratch, endless questions arise. How many (trees, crops, animals, workers, time…), where on the farm, what design, what to be changed from usual business, aiming for money or pride, for production or carbon sequestration, for biodiversity or biomass? And the would-be agroforester turns around looking for answers from the local expert, from the landscape, from the politicians, from the elders who remember. Or why not, from the researchers and extension officers. But they usually look at their feet… or let’s say the soil… quite embarrassed. Global questions, but so many detailed answers required, difficult questions as the answers are very site-specific and address distant times. This is where the “big model of everything in agroforestry” would be so convenient. We, at INRA, are dreaming on such a model since 2002. And it is still not available. We apologize. It probably will never be. However, we learned so much by trying to incorporate all the knowledge that we gained from experiments and know-how of farmers in that model. This is probably the way to go with agroforestry: think globally, and plant locally. Don’t expect too much from tools, visit pioneers farms, and be ready to tell others about your achievements and mistakes. Agroforestry is participatory: share, compare, compete, just like farmers who managed old-times agroforestry systems did. Predicting tools are only a part of the solution, but they could spark the light.

Keep asking and take risks. And don’t believe in the models, they may be right!”

Christian Dupraz

 

  1. Optimal design and management: what to think about and how to get there?

If a practitioner decides to implement an AFS there are some issues he has to take into account before starting.

 

1.1     Goal of the AFS

First of all the farmer has to be clear about the goal of the whole system. Should the system provide a new product like timber, should it reduce erosion or increase biodiversity or is the main driver a combination of different objectivs. According to these considerations some systems are more appropriate than others.

 

1.2     Framework

In addition to the goals there is a general framework the whole system will be embedded. This includes for example the site, the local climate, market conditions but also laws and legal issues that influence the choice of system and therefore the whole planning. Beside these more external factors there is also a number of internal conditions framing the planning and management (skills of the farmer, machinery, availability of labour, etc.).

 

 

  1. The general concept of supportive tools for AFS

In general, when we talk about “tools” in the context of this MP, we talk about any model, instrument or guideline which can provide support in decision making and planning processes for AFS implementation. An individual tool or a combination of tools hence should enable us to take all the above mentioned framework conditions into account. In addition, some tools grant access to important background information (such as data about climate, soil, tree-crop/animal interaction, traditional knowledge, etc.)

„Tools” can hence be broadly seen as:

  • guidelines, books, brochures comprising instructions and suggestions for design and management as well as knowledge on methods and procedures
  • computer applications and online tools that facilitate decision making and initial design
  • video tutorials
  • databases of experts, advisors, consultants on agroforestry systems
  • research results
  • trainings & courses
  • consulting services for farmers by a network of consultants (alternatively: tran staff of existing network) with a common policy and working method, diversity according to local knowledge and field of expertise
  • laws and legislative regulations influencing the design and management
  • technical books or even technical specifications
  • Examples and good practices

 

Tools being embedded in existing knowledge also means that they provide help in finding relevant information in the right place, and making use of it in the easiest possible way.

 

AFS as Dynamic Systems

The design of AFS is based on a series of considerations and (local) conditions, and it is “dynamic”, meaning nothing is fixed. Therefore, since AF is always a long term project, the management needs to be reevaluated from time to time and sometimes adjusted, depending on changes in conditions and needs.

One way to handle this is to structure information and knowledge in a way that the method/technology itself “contains” the system approach element. The other way is some kind of education or shaping of attitudes (which, however, might be beyond the scope of our actions)

Multicropping systems like AFS are more complex, therefore less predictable. Preparation for special events (eg. extreme weather, pests & diseases) new goals, new concepts, new circumstances (environmental and economic) require a flexible planning and installation process, embedded in ecological, local and traditional knowledge. The design should include different options to further develop the system according to a range of actual goals.

 

  1. From decision making to planting – concept of tools

There are (at least) three phases a farmer has to go through when introducing AFS into his or her farming system, i.e.  decision making, planning and installation of the system. The idea of the tools is to provide farmers with all kind of information, built on different, interacting modules to support decision making and help to choose the type of agroforestry to be adopted.

 

3.1     General information

Assessment questionnaire

In a first step a questionnaire is aiming to gather all the important framework conditions for the new AFS. Farmers answer to predefined questions, thus providing information on properties on the farm where agroforestry is to be designed, their goals, further plans, soil properties etc. According to input information and based on existing knowledge on the field, the system offers relevant options and assists in making adequate choices. (Eg. Input main method of farming, followed by objectives of the farmer (fruit, timber, …?), followed by will of changing machinery, working method etc.)

 

Example 1:

Farmer1 wants to keep the way of intensive, mechanized farming, though introducing woody vegetation for any reason (ie: product differentiation, environmental consciousness, preventing erosion, etc) optimize for a minimum in new technologies, need for special expertise and manpower, no big changes in machinery

 

Example 2:

Farmer 2 wants to switch to a completely new method of production (ie.: convert to high nature value farming, ecofarming, high biodiversity forest farming, etc.) new methods, need for expertise and trained manpower, business plan critical point

 

Checklist

Using checklists on predefined stage(s) of the decision making process to make sure all important questions are answered and important issues considered. Farmers should follow these step by step and in the right order.

 

Recommendations

The output of the pre-planning/decision making process would be to have a first idea on what kind of AF system is to be considered as suitable for specific situation and goals. At this point, the farmer has an idea, what kind of AF system might be ideal in his/her case.

 

Supplementary information:

Access to information (databases of practices, examples, existing knowledge on main methods of introducing AF etc) is crucial (possibly a database/ network of expert-consultants as well) at this point.

(Eg. Financial assessment, feasibility in a preliminary stage – business plan, planning with alternative income sources, plants/animals in the design that could generate income in the first years etc.) MP6

At the end of this step all the important general framework conditions influencing the establishment of an AFS are gathered.

 

3.2     Specific information

Beside the general information described in 3.1 farm-specific and local information are indispensable. The starting point of this phase is a previously defined type of agroforestry (eg. rows of trees in an arable farmland).

In this phase support tools would need specific input, such as: case-specific information (cultivated/raised crops/animals, product  use and processing) and local and specific background information (microclimate, soil properties, marketing possibilities, etc.). Several type of tools are possible, for example blocks of description/instructions or consulting service for individual assessment.

At the end of this step, the farmer has a plan and a design of the specific AF project he/she is about to realize on the farm.

 

3.3     Installation

Specific, practical knowledge on the installation of the system organized in a way easily useable for farmers. This part is the „heart” of the system: knowledge and information structured in a way that it becomes an immediate help for the actual work on the field.

  • Modules of practical knowledge (detailed instructions for each steps of the realization)
  • Consulting service /training /demonstration of practicess and procedures on the spot

Here the main challenge is organize existing knowledge in an easy-to-use way. The structure of each module could follow the steps of specific parts of the installation project of a specific type of agroforestry; the content would come in the form of instructions and descriptions set up by experts of the field.

 

As the „final output” of the tool the farmer is able to realise his/her specific project on the field.

 

3.4     Being practical: Example 1

The right tool at the right moment. An example from the „Agroforestry in Flanders” project (Bert Reubens)

 

The objective of the Belgian project „Agroforestry in Flanders”, of which a short English summary is to be found here, is to create a breakthrough in a relatively short time of feasible, profitable and effective agroforestry systems in Flanders.

In the framework of this project, not only research activities take place, but a lot of attention goes to practical guidance of farmers engaging in agroforestry. This happens in different ways, such as a personal on-farm advisory system for individual farmers, but also through providing information and guidelines via an online knowledge platform (in Dutch: „kennisloket”). This knowledge platform, which is to be considered as a continous „work in progress” is currently organised as a set of files, topic-wise archived under different categories such as: what is agroforestry about?, establishment, management, introduction of and protection against animals, tree-specific information (all under „practical approach”), regulations, subsidy opportunities, economics, added value, and research results.

Continuously, new files are being added. In the future, the idea is to organise all this in a more chronological order, allowing users to follow a stepwise approach. Farmers can be at different phases of their agroforestry implementation, such as:

  • „You are in the phase of thinking whether AF could be something for your farm”
  • „You have taken the decision to implement AF and you are in the phase of planning/design/making choices”
  • „You have established your AF system and you are in the phase of managing it”

 

For every phase, users should be able to follow a kind of checklist and will have the opportunity to go in depth as much as they like, following links to more in-depth information, other tools, etc.

 

 

3.5     Being practical: Example 2

The AF project “TIMELAPSE” (David Grandgirard)

 

Agroforestry is quite new for farmers. It is even strange for them as they contributed for decades to hedges clearance partly in response to mechanisation as well as for administrative and economic reasons; the reintroduction of trees as a single matrix or as a production mean is most of the case unusual for them. Therefore, when thinking to adopt AF, farmers and other project initiators have progressively to rediscover every single components of an AF system and challenges it could address. They have to remember why and how tree could be useful to their farm or even for them.

For that, we have compiled evidences and experiences from different experienced experts accompanying farmers or land owners towards the set-up of AF systems. The main goal was to identify and organized the different steps a project initiator has to realise to finally set-up and follow-up an AF project. If steps are numerous (around 60 steps were identified), a very simplified view of the main moment of an AF history are presented in figure 2. All these steps correspond to an AF project time-lapse.

 

Figure 1: A very simple view of the successive steps towards the set-up and the follow-up of an agroforestry project (AF project) along time (Sources: Marin, Liagre & Grandgirard, RMT AgroforesterieS, 2014-16)

 

3.6     Being practical: Example 3

The AF T&R needs evolution along time (David Grandgirard)

 

For the same reasons, famers or AF initiators see their individual needs concerning agroforestry Tools & Resources (AF T&R) evolve along the process of deciding if AF is a real opportunity, is adapted to their farm/parcel characteristics and is meeting the expected economic or social valuation they’re targeting. This AF T&R needs evolution has been explored during the French 2014-17 Agroforestry RMT project together with 29 AF project initiators (Figure 1). Primary results showed that, according to the age of the farmer reflection, AF T&R needs change progressively from : 1- needs concern networking and identification tools, economic or again technical tree references to judge of the realism and of the feasibility of AF, 2- then, needs concern AF project design and management technics when the AF project has been recently setup, towards 3- needs concerning the will to exchange with other AF farmers by visiting demonstration sites, confronting experiences in order to start to understand and assess the performances of their own AF system.

 

Figure 2 : Progressive evolution of the AF T&R needs for a AF project initiator  (Sources : Falampin & Grandgirard, RMT AgroforesterieS, 2014-16)

 

As explained previously, for every AF project initiator, to be able to find the good references and answers at the good moment is crucial as doubt and the absence of references are by far the first reasons for which farmers decide to drop out or have set-up an non-realistic AF system. To be “helped” individually all along the AF project time-lapse (see figure 0), agroforestry-dedicated T&R have to be censed and provided through a single transparent and open web platform where to make a well informed choice. We effectively assume that diversity of T&R would be large and competitive enough in the next decade that AF project initiator would need help to save time and avoid lack of clarity risks.

This type of applied web platforms is emerging and is very often used by “technicians or experts” of one given subject. We can for instance list the GlobAllomeTree platform a simple platform censing where to find the best model to assess the potential growth of your AF trees on your parcel, or again the PLAGE platform where to decide of the most relevant Indicator-based assessment tool to judge of the agro-environmental performances of your cropping system.

This example is promising as it proposes to decide of the finality of the assessment (references acquisition, simulation of the set-up of innovative practices, administrative audit preparation, etc.) and of the conditions of usage the user can envisage with. For that, a ID form for every single tool has to be provided before to be audited and registered within the platform; this tool ID presents elements such as  the tool conditions of usage, its assessment limits and validity, the targeted users, the details of the training session dedicated to the obtaining and use of the tool, etc. It also includes tool characteristics such as the “targeted crops or cropping system”, the central “challenge to be address”, the “spatial and temporal scales” at which to obtain results, the “finality of the assessment” … or again the “tool training session duration”.

Figure 3: Example of results obtained from the tools ranking process within the RMT ERYTAGE – PLAGE Evaluation web platform

By specifying these characteristics, the user is progressively fine-tuning its needs and is obtaining in response the ranking of the different tools censed and described within the web platform. Finally, without any commercial influence, he can choose among the most appropriate tools by referring to the ranking obtained. In our example, Xpert Environnement or Cassiopée performance would fit best to our expectations.

To dispose of the same king of platform, AF actors over Europe have to enumerate and describe (respecting a T&R ID form) all AF-dedicated tools and resources already existing, but they also have to confirm that every AF-dedicated T&R is performing well and based on up-to-date references. So that, the advent of an AF web platform would have to be accompanied by the emergence of an experts’ group enable to evaluate of the relevance of the AF T&R.

 

In this framework, during the preparation of this MP, we have started to list some of the tools and resources actually used (see annex 1) in order to illustrate the dynamics that could be of primary importance for every one of the agroforestry actors. Please be aware that this is a non-exhaustive list.

 

  1. Conclusion

The existing and missing tools we focus on in this minipaper are largely knowledge-based tools – it can be stated that in the process of promoting agroforestry the main task is to make knowledge available for farmers (including knowledge about the existence of agroforestry systems and their ecological and economic benefits).

 

There are different diagnosis and design tools existing, so a well planned project should start with censing national and sometimes international tools and resources which can be useful solutions to the needs of farmers and advisers. Afterwards it would be possible to develop tools and resources according to needs and demands which are not addressed by existing tools. (E.g. a close cooperation between farmers and experts could lead to the development of an assessment questionnaire / decision supporting tool for the very first phase of establishing an agroforestry system.)

Beyond making knowledge available, it is crucial that tools and resources are interconnected within a system in a way that farmers/advisors moving from one step to another can easily reach them. Therefore finding the proper, technically elaborated ways of connections is also an area to focus on. Operational groups – beyond gaining experience in design and installation of AF systems, thus develop on the material (instructions, descriptions) of different modules of practical knowledge – could further develop the idea and structure of tools, and the ways of connecting them with one another.

During the process we must consider the question of who the end-user of these tools would be. Farmers are the primary and foremost user group, but in practice it is often intermediaries such as advisors, consultants, support services, trainers, etc who actually make use of this. So, when discussing tools and resources of AF systems, we also have to consider the challenge of reaching these people, making them aware of tools and guidelines existing, and convincing them of talking with farmers about agroforestry. This problematic probably can be addressed in two ways: one is to create tools that farmers can use by themselves; the other is to work on establishing a network of advisors and/or train advisors who already work with farmers in other projects. Even if this is not the main focus of this MP, we have to keep in mind that the outcome and results of the work on tools and resources depends very much on how advisor-networks could be involved.

 

 

Share This