Resilient productivity and profitability of agricultural systems with trees

The Systems theme aims for more productive and sustainably managed tree and forest cover across the tropics, contributing to people realizing better livelihood outcomes and thereby reducing hunger and poverty. Where appropriate, it seeks to embed systems research in development praxis to develop diverse and inclusive agroforestry options. These options help better manage tree and forest cover, enabling people to realise better livelihood outcomes including higher incomes and greater food and nutrition security.

This theme seeks to increase our understanding of how better management of tree and forest cover can enhance people’s livelihoods across the tropics, including consideration of socially differentiated groups of people (women, young people, different ethnicities). 

Updates 2017-2018

Systems science theme works through close collaboration with other themes, and all of our regions and countries. The Theme is also the lead center for the Livelihood Systems Flagship of the CGIAR Research Programme on Forests, Trees and Agroforestry.

Forests, Trees Agroforestry - Livelihood Systems

There is no question that 2017 was tough for the systems theme, not least because of a hiatus in FTA funding, affecting the co-financing of a number of key initiatives. Despite this, we were not only able to re-instate FTA funding but also to expand an exciting research project portfolio with the start of several new bilaterally-funded projects (see below).

We re-submitted the FTA Livelihood Systems flagship proposal in July and this was rated by the Independent Science and Partnership Council (ISPC) in the highest category of 'strong' and we now have their endorsement of key elements of our approach, which include:

  1. The ‘options by context’ framework as not only a ‘clear strategy for impact’ but also an ‘explicit way to tackle high contextual heterogeneity’
  2. A ‘robust theory of change’ that ‘carefully considers spheres of control, interest and influence’ and articulates ‘why and how it will succeed’, and that
  3. ‘Making livelihoods the focal point of the Flag ship, and providing a compelling narrative, aided by graphics’ that ‘now demonstrates how trees and plantations can add value and make a major, additional contribution on a path to intensification’. 

These are important developments that bring FTA funding back on stream for systems research and positioned us well to contribute to developing priorities for the FTA Programme of Work that are led by the flagship.

These include:

  1. Market based agroforestry
  2. Livelihood trajectories
  3. Plantation tree-crop diversification 
  4. Farm-forest interface policy
  5. Silvopastoral systems, and  
  6. Agroecology

Some New Projects in 2017


Some ongoing projects in 2017:


Some things in the pipeline:


1. Phase 2 of the ACIAR-funded Trees4FoodSecurity Project in Ethiopia, Rwanda and Uganda – for more information contact Catherine Muthuri (

12. Positive mid-term evaluation of the ACIAR-funded VIP4FS (value chain innovation platforms for food security) project in Uganda and Zambia – for more information contact Clement Okia (

23.The theme is set to contribute to the Research Methods Group (RMG)-led – International Climate Initiative (IKI) project on using trees on farms to meet national and global biodiversity targets (Honduras, Indonesia, Peru, Rwanda, Uganda) - for more information contact Anja Gassner (


2. Phase 2 of the ACIAR-funded Agroforestry for Livelihoods (AFLi) project in Vietnam – for more information contact La Nguyen (

13. Stellar performance of the DfID – funded sustainable agricultural intensification (SAIRLA) project in Ethiopia, Tanzania and Zambia – for more information contact Leigh Winowiecki (


24. Getting ready to contribute to underpinning the IFAD loan programme to Uganda on Restoration of Livelihoods in the Northern Region (PRELNOR) – for more information contact Leigh Winowiecki / Clement Okia

3. Phase 2 of the ACIAR-funded Market-based agroforestry (Kanoppi) project in Indonesia – for more information contact Aulia Perdana (

14. Breaking new ground in scaling with planned comparisons in the IFAD/EU dryland restoration project partly embedded within the Drylands Development Programme (DryDev) in Ethiopia, Kenya, Mali, Niger, Tanzania – for more information contact Leigh Winowiecki (


25. Negotiations for funding to contribute to the Participatory Small-scale Irrigation Development Programme (PASDIP 2) IFAD loan programme to Ethiopia (with IWMI and ICRISAT) are nearing completion – for more information contact Leigh Winowiecki / Niguse Hagase / Kiros Hadgu

4. New GEF (UN Global Environment Facility via IFAD) – funded integrated programme on resilient food security in sub-Saharan Africa (Burkina Faso, Burundi, Ethiopia, Ghana, Kenya, Malawi, Niger, Nigeria, Senegal, Swaziland, Tanzania and Uganda) – for more information contact Rodrigo Cianella (


15. Innovative developments in IFAD-funded (via CIFOR) agroforestry practice and policy at the forest-farm interface in Burkina Faso and Ghana (WAFFI) – for more information contact Emilie Smith Dumont (

We anticipate the AfDB TAAT (Transforming African Agriculture with Technology) planation tree-crop value chains (Cocoa, Coffee, Cashew and Oil Palm) to start coming on stream during 2018 – for more information contact Lucien Diby

5. New USAID-funded project involving a public-private partnership with Natura on oil palm diversification in Brazil – for more information contact Andrew Miccolis (

16. Extension for a further year of the Comart foundation – funded work on agroforestry adoption in Western Kenya – for more information contact Lisa Fuchs

Following an ODDG-R led scoping mission to Sri Lanka we anticipate developments around sustainable soil health and water quality management to emerge in 2018 – for more information on the systems contribution contact Fergus Sinclair / Ann Terheggen / Jim Roshetko

6. New EU (via CIFOR)-funded FORETS (Formation, Recherche, Environnement dans la Tshopo) in the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) - for more information contact Emilie Smith Dumont ( / Todd Rosenstock ( / Ann Degrande (


17. USAID-funded  Accelerating Adoption of Agroforestry in Western Kenya (Triple A) (with the International Livestock Research Institute- ILRI) – for more information contact Lisa Fuchs (

Following several ODDG-R led scoping missions to Andhra Pradesh we anticipate developments in support of scaling up Zero Balance Natural Farming - for more information on the systems contribution contact Fergus Sinclair / Leigh Winowiecki.


7. New cluster of projects (Darwin Initiative UK via Bangor University; EU and FAO) on the development of agroforestry options and policy for Comoros. For more information contact Emilie Smith Dumont (


18. Extension of research on cocoa and climate change in West Africa, Climate smart cocoa systems for Ghana (CLIMCOCOA) – for more information contact Philippe Vaast (

8. FAO contract to develop agroforestry policy for Rwanda – for more information contact Athanase Mukuralinda (


19. Towards concluding the East Africa Dairy Development project in Uganda, Kenya and Tanzania – for more information contact Steve Franzel (

9. Cluster of projects on the development of agroforestry options and forest policy in Peru - for more information contact Valentina Robiglio (

20. A cluster of research initiatives on development of cocoa production systems in West Africa (initiated by Herve Bisseleau, now with the World Cocoa Foundation but still collaborating with ICRAF) – for more information contact Lucien Diby (

10. EMBRAPA-funded research on co-developing best-bet options for integrated soil fertility management in Brazil –  for more information contact Edmundo Barrios (now with FAO but still collaborating with ICRAF)


21. IDH-funded (via Wageningen) research on cocoa fertilization in Côte d’Ivoire – for more information contact Philippe Vaast (

11. EU-funded research on coffee breeding that connects to AFLi (see 1 above) – for more information contact Philippe Vaast (


22. Wrapping up of the Valorizing African Agriculture in Kenya VALOR project on geographical indications for smallholder products in Africa – for more information contact Judith Oduol (

Also, the theme contributed to the institution-wide: EU-funded Evergreening Africa project - for more information contact Susan Chomba( and participated in Research scoping missions on integrated soil and water health in Sri Lanka and Zero Balance Natural Farming in Andhra Pradesh (see the pipeline).

You might like to get a flavour of the results emerging from systems work by taking a look at some of these selected publications that appeared over the last year, several of which have generated rich debate:

  1. Join the debate on how to measure the performance of agroforestry options on farms (Malawi)
  2. Join the debate on the likelihood of achieving a 0.4 % increase in soil carbon to offset emissions (20 regions in the world (New Zealand, Chile, South Africa, Australia, Tanzania, Indonesia, Kenya, Nigeria, India, China Taiwan, South Korea, China Mainland, United States of America, France, Canada, Belgium, England & Wales, Ireland, Scotland, and Russia)
  3.  Join the debate on impacts of REDD+ on equity for smallholders   (Kenya)
  4. Read about how structured stakeholder engagement leads to diverse and inclusive agroforestry options (Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC)
  5. Get up to speed with an overview of systems research at the scale of impact required to meet the first two SDGs to end world poverty and hunger. (Regions Africa; Africa South of Sahara; Asia; Latin America; Southeast Asia)
  6. Learn about how to incorporate trees in rice production landscapes (Southeast Asia)
  7. Learn about how to use planned comparisons in scaling up agroforestry (Global)
  8. Read about how a new approach to tree-crop modelling can accurately predict staple crop yields  (Kenya, Malawi)
  9. Read about how climate smart agriculture options can be designed to match local context, be prioritized and can be related to smallholder’s attitudes towards adaptation. (Ethiopia, Tanzania, Uganda)
  10. Read about more efficient use of light by shaded coffee maintaining productivity, how large sap-exuding trees can reduce black coffee twig borer infestation and the use of local knowledge in shade tree selection for coffee (Costa Rica, Uganda)
  11. Join the debate on the importance of species choice when integrating trees with cocoa where climate is drying (Ghana), and see different perspectives on this as well as on the role of local knowledge about tree-cocoa interaction across agroecological gradients and limits to the extent that agroforestry can mitigate soil degradation following forest conversion to cocoa farming (Tropics)
  12. Read about how tree diversity in crop fields sustains soil macrofauna and how charcoal making from trees influences soil macrofaunal populations. (Kenya)
  13. Read about how tree rings reveal: an increasing frequency of extreme dry events in the upper blue Nile catchmentchange in minimum winter temperature over the last couple of centuries in Southwestern China and the potential of Boswelia neglecta (that produces frankincense) to contribute to restoration of dry woodland in the Horn of Africa.
  14. Read about the need to move beyond focusing on a forest / non-forest land classification to understand the diversity of social-ecological systems that determine land cover across scales in Latin America
  15. Read about the extent to which agroforestry as an alternative to swidden agriculture can improve livelihood options and how smallholder tree farming can be facilitated in fragmented landscapes(Indonesia, Bangladesh)
  16. Read about how farmer to farmer communication can boost dissemination of agroforestry innovations in Sulawesi and how to overcome constraints to adoption of fodder trees in Malawi
  17. Learn about how to agroforestry options for restoration can reconcile livelihood improvements with conservation goals in Brazil
  18. Read about how farmers enhance crop production by managing competition with trees in Kenya
  19. Read about the Impact of Termites on Cocoa Yield under Different Cocoa
  20. Cultivation Systems in Cameroon

This is just the tip of the iceberg and, these initiatives and outputs are cross cutting in terms of themes and regions, so please do follow what is happening and get involved in line with your interests and let us know about what you are doing.

Fergus Sinclair,

Systems Science Leader, World Agroforestry Centre (ICRAF), Nairobi, Kenya

School of the Environment, Natural Resources and Geography, Bangor University, Wales, UK

Honorary Professor, Centre for Agricultural Research and Higher Education (CATIE), Costa Rica