Growing trees on farms in Kyrgyzstan faces significant obstacles but there are ways to overcome them: 1st study’s resu
Researchers suggest cooperative models and support from local governments to increase adoption of tree shelterbelts.
Small plot-sizes as well as lack of information and external support are the main obstacles to the adoption of the agroforestry practice of tree shelterbelts in Kyrgyzstan.
This is the main finding from the first study that looked at Kyrgyz farmers’ attitudes toward tree shelterbelts and at ways to encourage uptake. The study, Farmer’s perceptions of tree shelterbelts on agricultural land in rural Kyrgyzstan, co-authored by scientists from World Agroforestry (ICRAF) and Eberswalde University for Sustainable Development, was published in the journal Sustainability this February.
‘The results of this study are relevant because adopting an ecosystem approach to agro-ecological systems is ever more widely recognized,’ said Niels Thevs, scientist at World Agroforestry who co-authored the study. ‘We do not only provide new insights into the challenges to re-introducing shelterbelts into Kyrgyz agriculture; we also show clearly that farmers’ concerns have to be taken seriously when we want to develop strategies to promote environmentally friendly behaviour.’
Tree shelterbelts, that is, the planting of trees along the boundaries of agricultural cropland, were a commonly practised form of agroforestry in the Soviet Union. The large plot sizes of the ‘kolkhoz’ or collective labour system made farmland vulnerable to erosion from wind and shelterbelts helped protect the soil.
The researchers argue that restoring such shelterbelts could lead to more sustainable land use in the semi-arid environments of Central Asian countries where agriculture has to rely heavily on irrigation.
However, the move in the 1990s from the kolkhoz system to individual farming with much smaller plot sizes has made farmers reluctant to return to the former practice because they perceive more disadvantages — such as reduced crop yields because of shade from the trees — and are not sufficiently aware of the benefits.
The researchers argue that the reestablishment of agroforestry systems in Central Asia — combining crop production with protective tree shelterbelts — could increase crop yields, provide additional income from timber, and reduce soil degradation and wind erosion. Overcoming farmers’ negative perceptions of the practice is therefore crucial.
The results from their interviews with 80 farmers in the regions of Issyk Kul and Jalal Abad made the scientists confident that the predominantly negative perspective can change through three main interventions.
‘As with so many challenges related to sustainable development there are manifold obstacles for environmentally friendly behavior,’ said Martin Welp of Eberswalde University for Sustainable Development. ‘We need to understand these obstacles and overcome them by creating institutional frameworks that pave the way for the adoption of sustainable practices.’
The researchers’ first recommendation is that farmers could be convinced to adopt a more ‘collective’ system with shelterbelts not between individual farms but around several farms to mitigate concerns about loss of income through too much shade and about conflict between neighbours.
Second, the farmers will need external support from extension services and local governments which, in turn, must be better informed about the benefits of this agroforestry practice.
Third, examples of shelterbelts should be established to demonstrate that there are more benefits from them than just providing firewood and construction material.
About World Agroforestry (ICRAF)
World Agroforestry (ICRAF) is a centre of scientific and development excellence that harnesses the benefits of trees for people and the environment. Knowledge produced by ICRAF enables governments, development agencies and farmers to utilize the power of trees to make farming and livelihoods more environmentally, socially and economically sustainable at multiple scales. ICRAF is one of the 15 members of the CGIAR, a global research partnership for a food-secure future.
About Eberswalde University for Sustainable Development
Eberswalde University for Sustainable Development is the smallest university in Brandenburg with about 2200 students and 61 professors. Sustainable development is the maxim for action and is consistently implemented in all areas of the university — in teaching, research, operation and transfer — and is further developed in a participatory manner. The 20 innovative and sometimes unique study programmes at the four faculties of Forest and Environment, Landscape Use and Nature Conservation, Wood Engineering and Sustainable Economy have very independent profiles that are committed to sustainable development and the social transformation required for it, and some of them are unique in Germany. www.hnee.de/en
Prof Dr Martin Welp
Eberswalde University for Sustainable Development
Faculty of Forest and Environment
Chair of Socioeconomics and Communication
firstname.lastname@example.org; +49 3334 657-172
Head of Communications, ICRAF
email@example.com; +254 711 946327
Download the article
Ruppert D, Welp M, Spies M, Thevs N. 2020. Farmers’ perceptions of tree shelterbelts on agricultural land in rural Kyrgyzstan. Sustainability 12(3):1093. https://doi.org/10.3390/su12031093