Importance of the Agroforestry Unit and the actions they implement

The Agroforestry Unit is a long-term collaborative space, where key actors of the Latin American agroforestry sector are involved, such as ministries, universities, teaching centers, national and regional research centers, and NGOs.

This Unit evaluates the socio-economic, environmental (emphasis on climate change and a single health) and biological conditions of agroforestry systems to improve the living conditions of producer families, the sustainability of agricultural production and respond to the global agendas. In addition, it investigates from the producers' plot to the landscape, to create changes in the behavior of the use of natural resources.

Currently, it has 5 regional and international partners, 42 researchers, 17 regional or international projects, 15 graduate students (master's and doctorate) and 59 publications in 2020.


Importance of agroforestry worldwide

Agroforestry covers agricultural and forestry issues in an ambitious and transversal way. It addresses issues of global importance (deforestation, global health, biodiversity, economic resources of producers and climate change, among others). Likewise, it influences the management of complex, multifunctional and multi-actor systems.

In 2010, more than 800 million people lived on 9.5 million km² of agricultural areas with tree cover greater than 10%. Of these people, about 180 million live on agricultural land (3.5 million km²) with more than 30% tree cover.

Furthermore, in Latin America agroforestry covers between 200 and 360 million hectares of silvopastoral systems or crops in the shade of trees, such as coffee or cocoa.

In relation to this, it is essential to point out that at CATIE we have 40 years of experience and track record in complex and innovative agroforestry designs with international recognition. We also collaborate closely with other regional and international partners involved in agroforestry systems and we have several units that support research for development and teaching in agroforestry in its various categories (perennial crops, silvopastoralism, forests). The unit combines different agroforestry techniques and trains technicians, postgraduate students and producers (530 people trained in 2020 on issues related to agroforestry).

The research for development we have done at CATIE in agroforestry is innovative and recognized worldwide, with impacts mainly in Mesoamerica and South America. Highlighting:

  • Integration of trees in perennial crops: Methodology for optimal shade designs and spatial planning tools based on commodity interventions.
  • Management of agricultural landscapes: Free access software for shade pattern analysis.
  • Knowledge of the evolution of land use and management: With several sentinel observatories of change in the landscape (with a total of more than 100,000 ha).

Among the profiles of CATIE researchers working in these areas are forest agronomists, agroecologists, plant pathologists, specialists in social sciences and product quality, geographers, economists, and plant breeders.

Results of the Nicaragua-Honduras Sentinel Landscape

The Nicaragua-Honduras Sentinel Landscape (NHSL) is a mosaic of forests, agricultural lands, pastures and multilayer agroforestry systems, covering 68,000 km2, including two biosphere reserves and 13 protected areas. This landscape transect is an excellent example of a forest transition curve, as it characterizes tree cover patterns on farms and in the landscape, and the changes that occur (or have occurred) between these different types of land use, which provides a better understanding of why changes occurred, what are the consequences of these at various scales (plot, farm and landscape) and the trade-offs between socio-ecological vulnerability and system efficiency.

Additionally, a field school program has been implemented to stimulate the adoption of science-based agroforestry and agroecological innovations on 1,000 farms. These schools have also developed nutrition education sessions and alternative food preparation practices.

In addition, there are reports on agroecological and agroforestry practices as options to modernize agroforestry systems.

It should also be noted that 38 locally based groups have included gender elements for the division and roles of labor.

Finally, in the NHSL territory, 39 master's theses were developed, by students from CATIE's Graduate School, which contribute to the understanding of the temporal and spatial dynamics of trees and forests in the sentinel landscape, as well as governance models and management to optimize the use of natural resources.

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