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Publication | 29 June 2021

The impacts of agroforestry interventions on agricultural productivity, ecosystem services, and human well-being in low- and middle-income countries: A systematic review

Global Food and Nutrition Security

While a large body of literature on the impacts of agroforestry practices in LMICs is available, the social ecological impacts of agroforestry interventions is less well studied. This knowledge gap on the effectiveness of agroforestry interventions constrains possibilities for evidence based policy and investment decisions to advance sustainable development objectives. Given the low number of studies (11) and the high risk of bias of the evidence base, the results of this systematic review are limited and should be considered a baseline for future work.

The results of the meta-analysis for impacts on yields indicated that agroforestry interventions overall may lead to a large, positive impact on yield, though there was high heterogeneity in the results. There were positive yield impacts for soil fertility replenishment practices, including incorporating trees in agricultural fields and improved fallow practices in fields where there are severe soil fertility issues. The result of the meta-analysis on income suggests that agroforestry interventions overall may lead to a small, positive impact on income, with moderately high heterogeneity in the results. There was not enough comparable evidence to quantitatively synthesize the impacts of agroforestry interventions on nutrition and food security outcomes, though the results indicted positive or neutral impacts on dietary diversity and food intake were likely. Surprisingly, there was little evidence on the impacts of agroforestry interventions on environmental outcomes, and there was no consistency of environmental indicator variables used. However, what has been studied indicates that the environmental benefits are being achieved to at least some extent, consistent with the broader literature on agroforestry practices. The evidence base was insufficient to evaluate the interaction between environmental and social impacts. Several studies explicitly considered variable impacts across different population sub-groups, including differential impacts on smallholders versus large-holders, on woman-headed households versus male-headed households, and on richer groups versus poorer groups. Smallholder farmers typically experienced the most positive effect sizes due to the agroforestry interventions. Women and poorer groups had mixed outcomes relative to men and richer households, highlighting the importance of considering these groups in intervention design.

Authors' Conclusions

There is limited evidence of the impacts of agroforestry interventions, restricting our ability to draw conclusions on the effect sizes of different intervention types. The existing evidence forms a baseline for future research and highlights the importance of considering equity and socio-economic factors in determining suitable intervention design. Some key implications for practice and policy include investing in programs that include pilot programs, funding for project evaluation, and that address key equity issues, such as targeting to smallholders, women, poor, and marginalized groups. Funding should also be given to implementing RCTs and more rigorous quasi-experimental impact evaluations of agroforestry interventions over longer time-periods to collect robust evidence of the effectiveness of various schemes promoting agroforestry practices.