Central American jungle with mountains in background
In Central America, over half of the farmland has more than 30% tree cover. Here, in the highlands of Nicaragua, coffee is grown under a canopy of shade.

Improved Accounting for Agroforestry is Needed Immediately; May Attract Climate Finance

By Julianna White

Many governments recognize agroforestry’s contributions to farmers’ food security and livelihoods, and to climate change adaptation and mitigation, but face challenges in attracting climate finance to expand agroforestry. A critical requirement for climate finance is a robust and scientifically sound monitoring, reporting, and verification (MRV) system.

Agroforestry offers a range of benefits, from shade to fuel and fodder to income. Trees on farms buffer rising temperatures, filter rainwater, decrease soil erosion, conserve soil moisture and increase soil health and fertility. Furthermore, they sequester carbon. The practice of agroforestry thus helps farmers be more resilient and adaptable to changes in growing conditions while also mitigating climate change.


“Funding for MRV of agroforestry is needed to catalyze finance to support farmers to increase resilience and adaptation to climate change and to help countries meet their national ambitions and international commitments... If agroforestry can’t be or isn’t counted, programs will put money elsewhere.”  Todd Rosenstock, World Agroforestry Centre (ICRAF)

As of June 2018, over one-third of developing countries (59 of 147) had proposed agroforestry as a climate change mitigation activity to the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC). However, despite intentions to expand agroforestry, countries’ capabilities to measure, report and verify agroforestry actions lag far behind these ambitions, according to the recent report, Making trees count: Measurement, reporting and verification of agroforestry under the UNFCCC. “Not even one country systematically includes agroforestry in all of its relevant MRV systems,” said Todd Rosenstock, scientist with the World Agroforestry Centre and lead author of the report.

Inadequate MRV for agroforestry has real consequences. “If accounting systems for trees on farms are not science-based and effective, countries will not be able to count agroforestry actions against goals for addressing climate change,” Rosenstock said. That, in turn, could reduce incentive to invest in agroforestry because MRV is necessary to access finance and other support needed to expand trees on farms, whether for climate action, food security or economic growth.

Problems and potential solutions

What, specifically, is getting in the way of strong agroforestry MRV, and what can we do about it? The nature of agroforestry presents challenges (see Figure 1). It occurs on multiple land uses and is not defined by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) as a land-use category in and of itself. It is unclear which government offices have mandates to oversee agroforestry. Typically, agroforestry occurs in relatively small parcels (although they cover a large area when aggregated), making it technically challenging to measure. And, unlike forestry and REDD+, agroforestry does not have an international initiative that directs attention and resources toward addressing technical and capacity challenges.


Agroforestry MRV figure representing MRV systems in forested and non-forest land.
Figure 1: Agroforestry includes both forest land and non-forest land. The challenge is to develop MRV systems that can capture emissions and sequestration from agroforestry and agroforestry actions that include all of these categories.

This working paper from CGIAR Research Program on Climate Change, Agriculture and Food Security (CCAFS) describes hurdles that countries need to clear in order to apply MRV to agroforestry. They include:

  • Deciding which ministry is responsible for trees in forests and on agricultural lands (e.g., environmental or agricultural departments);
  • Finding financing and technical capacity to compile, process and store data;
  • Accessing new technology to measure trees outside of forests
  • Clarifying circumstances under which countries’ unique definitions of “forest” should include agroforestry; and
  • Deciding when agroforestry should be counted in agriculture.

In Vietnam, for example, perennial crops (including trees) on agricultural land are categorized as a form of cropland.

A few advances in MRV would benefit countries across the globe:

  • Cost-effective and relatively low-cost mapping technologies that can show trees on farms, including approaches such as Collect Earth, which leverages freely available high-resolution imagery and local knowledge.
  • ‘Reporting guidelines for improved transparency across countries and projects. Agroforestry has not been visible in 60 percent of countries’ inventories due to the way inventories and national communications are structured.
  • Practical methods for linking national and project-level MRV.

Analyses in Africa and Latin America reveal region-specific opportunities

The prevalence of agroforestry in countries’ climate change plans is especially pronounced in Africa, where 71 percent of countries identified it as a climate change adaptation and mitigation solution. But no African country is currently able to systematically track changes in agroforestry. Across the continent, there is a need to strengthen technical capacity to represent agroforestry in national inventories; develop and utilize Africa-specific data to quantify carbon storage from agroforestry; and use the Koronivia Platform to advocate for agroforestry implementation and MRV.

But there are many roads to improved accounting and implementation of agroforestry. Authors of the Info Note on Agroforestry MRV in Africa describe how national context is important to choosing an appropriate approach. According to their research, technical and institutional leverage points are likely to be different in each country. For example, Ghana has developed distinct MRV systems for large-scale programs focusing on cocoa and shea that are designed to link to national UNFCCC-related systems. Other countries could employ similar planning and design processes. In all cases, ministries with mandates for climate change, forestry, agroforestry and agriculture must coordinate to ensure that agroforestry does not fall through the cracks.

In Latin America, agroforestry is core to shaded high-value perennial crops such as coffee and to cattle production systems. However, most national accounting and inventories do not address the cross-sectoral nature of agroforestry MRV, and expansion or improvements in agroforestry cannot be rigorously quantified in many current systems, according to the Info Note on agroforestry MRV in Latin America.

Experts in multiple countries said that increased use of high-resolution satellite imagery would make it easier to include agroforestry in national inventories. Colombia is doing just that. By creating a time series for land-use transitions, Colombia moved from simple reporting of annual land-use classes to a matrix that shows how land use has changed from one year to the next. Analysis of the imagery also highlighted limitations to agroforestry MRV, even using state-of-the-art technology. Several countries cited the cost as an obstacle to using high-resolution images, pointing to the need for increased and sustained funding for MRV activities.

Read more:

Research was conducted through a collaboration among USAID, the CGIAR Research Program for Climate Change, Agriculture and Food Security (CCAFS) and ICRAF and in partnership with multiple experts. Please see reports for co-authors and affiliations.

CCAFS is supported by the CGIAR Trust Fund and bilateral donors. For more information, please visit the CCAFS homepage.

Strategic Objective
Adaptation, Forestry, Land Use, Monitoring and Evaluation

Julianna White

Julianna White is a communications officer and program manager for CCAFS Low Emissions Development research.

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