, VI Conference of BRICS Initiative of Critical Agrarian Studies

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The Good, the Bad and the Ugly of Agroforestry Practices
Ossi Iivari Ollinaho

Last modified: 2018-12-13


Ideally, in agroforestry one seeks approximating agricultural systems to natural ecosystems through the integration of woody perennials––trees of various types––and increasing the functional diversity of plants in agricultural systems. Such a multistrata-pluri-intensification of agricultural production can be done in myriad ways depending also the context of such activity. In fact, the variety of empirical agroforestry systems and practices is so massive that often the definitions of agroforestry have to be very loose to accommodate all such practices, so loose that sometimes it refers to nearly everything and therefore can be used to explain nearly nothing. The literature on agroforestry is already sizeable and the concept has gained legitimacy along with the proliferation of––also––academic research that shows persistently positive impacts of agroforestry practices to the local and global ‘natural’ environment and the people carrying such practices. The concept is, however, often loosely defined and is therefore vulnerable to cooptation and misuses by the powerful. In particular, labeling such practices as agroforestry that directly or indirectly stimulate deforestation of primary forests provides a disguise of legitimacy to carry on such destructive practices. One of the aims of this paper is to specify what agroforestry may be by discussing three ideal types of agroforestry: The Good, the Bad and the Ugly. By distinguishing and categorizing agroforestry practices, this paper helps to pave the way to identify and delegitimize such agroforestry practices that are harmful to the local populations, peasants, and/or biodiversity of the ‘natural’ environments. Furthermore, such an understanding can be used to promote cooperation-seeking alternatives to the current, yet competition-based paradigm. Part and parcel of such conceptual scrutiny is addressing the social and political dimension of agroforestry, which is typically absent from the natural scientifically dominated literature on agroforestry that typically focuses on the technique. It is argued that agroecology can bring such a sociopolitical dimension to the agroforestry research. Agroforestry, for its part, could offer agroecology longevity. Agroecology aims to bring a longer term vision to agriculture to replace the current short-sighted pattern and including trees in agriculture quite naturally stretches the time span of agricultural practices to decades or even centuries.


agroforestry; agroecology; longevity; rural development; trajectories of intensification

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