Methods in agroforestry research across its three paradigms

  • Methods in agroforestry research have evolved along with the paradigms and scales of interest
  • For the field-level AF1 paradigm (What?, Where?, How?, Who?) methods have been derived from soils, microclimatology, forestry, agronomy and agricultural economics research, along with social science and geographical methods to describe typologies and spatial patterns
  • Methods for the landscape-level AF2 paradigm (So what?, Who cares?, Why?) have been derived from those used in hydrology, ecology and social-ecological system analysis
  • The policy-oriented AF3 paradigm requires additional methods for interaction with public attention issue cycles and boundary work

Methods, subject to scrutiny of underlying assumptions and sources of bias, define the scientific approach to knowledge more than any other aspect, but they are driven by questions and judged by the results (data) they generate and the implications these are considered to have. Agroforestry research methods are ‘horses for courses’; there is no single method that stands out across all purposes of research. Similarly, there are no research methods that are unique to agroforestry, and few that are completely new rather than modifications of something used earlier. Agroforestry research, like all applied research, has borrowed, used and sometimes improved methods from other fields – with all the hidden assumptions and potential biases these methods may have. The borrowing has not always been easy. For examples, methods from agronomic research may not be feasible with trees that take 30 years to mature. The value of method in advancing the field of agroforestry research is judged not only on credibility of results – judged, for example, by those assumptions and biases – but also their feasibility determined by cost, practicality in field conditions or ease of learning them. In this chapter we will give examples of how research methods have evolved alongside the articulation of the second (landscape) and third (policy) agroforestry paradigm (see Chapter 1), while enriching those that are used within the first (field/farm level) paradigm.

Research questions at the AF1 scale are primarily those about what? (agroforestry typology, tree diversity), where? (spatial context, including climate, topography, soils, accessibility), how? (understanding of growth, yield and plot-level interactions between trees and crops in relation to inputs and management) and who? (farmer typology). At AF2 level three additional questions are asked: So what? (Ecosystem service consequences), Who cares? (Stakeholders and their involvement) and Why? (Drivers of change, points of leverage and intervention). At AF3 level the last two questions are further enriched with a ‘public attention issue cycle’ concept with its own dynamic and points of intervention and learning.

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