How can agroforestry be part of disaster risk management?

  • Agroforestry and wise use of trees in rural and urban landscapes can reduce human vulnerability to disasters
  • Separate hypotheses relate to reduced exposure to and increasing resilience in the face of natural and partially anthropogenic disasters
  • Examples from Asian landscapes in the past two decades provide nuance to the hypotheses

A common definition of a disaster is: “a sudden, calamitous event that seriously disrupts the functioning of a community or society and causes human, material, and economic or environmental losses that exceed the community’s or society’s ability to cope using its own resources. Though often caused by nature, disasters can have human origins.” Disasters can be of many types, based on the elements (Earth, Water, Wind, Fire and Biota) involved, the spatial and temporal scale affected and the degree to which they are natural or (partially) manmade.

The human response can be understood on a before/during/after timescale. Awareness, prevention and avoidance of risky times and places is a strategic, long-term response. The tactics of fleeing, hiding and surviving form the immediate responses, while the resilience or bouncing back afterwards has both material and immaterial (motivational) dimensions. With current understanding of the human causation of as part of global climate change, the categorization into ‘natural’ and ‘manmade’ disasters is further blurred, but such distinctions still play a role in policy responses and insurance coverage. The recent Lombok earthquakes show that the negative repercussions for international tourism of declaring the damage to be a ‘national disaster’ are an argument against such designation and in fact delay the recovery process.

Agroforestry as a concept has evolved from a focus on specific technologies for using trees on farm, towards an understanding of multifunctional landscapes with trees in multiple roles, and more recently efforts to harmonise agricultural and forestry policies in a holistic approach to land use for achieving sustainable development goals (SDGs).Our key hypotheses here are that:

  1. Agroforestry, or the wise use of trees, can play a role in reducing exposure in risk-aware land use planning.
  2. It can also help to retain or restore buffer and filter functions in the landscape that reduce and localize disturbances, such as surface flows of soil particles derived from erosion or volcanic debris.
  3. Through its mitigating effects on global climate change, agroforestry also contributes to countering the current increasing trend in disaster prevalence due to climate change.

A number of studies will be briefly reviewed here that have quantified the positive and negative aspects of trees in landscapes affected by natural disasters and/or considered to be at risk:

  •  Tsunami (W. Aceh)
  • Volcanic ash (Kelud)
  • Shallow landslides (W. Java)
  • Kebun lindung, protective agroforests on sloping land
  • Flood risks in headwater catchments
  • Haze prevention through peatland paludiculture
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