Meet our guest on #TweetChatWithEdenWorld  Cathy H. Watson @CWatsonICRAF

Cathy H. Watson @CWatsonICRAF is chief of program development at the World Agroforestry Centre in Nairobi…. Read more at

Question 1: Can you share what Agroforestry is in your own terms?

Cathy: Agroforestry is a name for what societies have done for millennia -combine trees with agriculture – crops and/or livestock. The cover of PK Nair’s classic text shows how agroforestry might look.

Cover of book

Agroforestry is the deliberate growing of woody perennials on the same unit of land as crops/animals with significant interaction between woody + non-woody components, ecological and/or economical. See this photo of an AF system in Nigeria with rubber trees, maize, yams, indigenous fruit trees, snails

Rubber agroforestry

For me, agroforestry is win-win-win! Trees on farms provide SERVICES like shade, better + more moist soil, and GOODS like woodfuel, fruit, fodder. Your farm improves. You get more from the land + it is better for the land! This young man is transporting the leaves of Ficus spp to market in Cote d’Ivoire. It is fodder for livestock. This is an agroforestry practice. A livelihood for him. This is part of what agroforestry means to me.

Photo young man in CDI

Question 2 : What does it mean for a forest to be sustainable? 

Cathy: Usually, people talk about ‘sustainable forestry’. This the @RnfrstAlliance says ‘mimics natural patterns of disturbance + regeneration + balances needs of the environment, wildlife + people while conserving forests’. Sustainable forests have trees of all ages. I hope that helps!

But to me ‘sustainable’ means a forest retains its natural diversity + abundance of tree + other species, including mammals, insects + birds, + continues to produce new “recruits” – young ones – of its tree + other species + also ecosystem services like clean water. But many forests are struggling + degraded! L

Photo degraded forest in CDI

What you don’t want is for a forest to be handled in such a way as to destroy “natural regeneration & increase forest susceptibility to soil loss, wildfires, & weed infestations” says @CIFOR. Forests are more than trees, and dry woodlands like this one in #TheGambia are forests too.

Gambia shot.

Question 3: What can you say about agroforestry and healthy diets?

Cathy: A lot! Trees are hugely important to nutrition. A study by Rasolofoson et al. found that children in 27 developing countries who live near forests have better diets than those who live further away. More pollinators from the forest is one reason. Read here

Photo South Sudanese refugees

Fruit, leaves + other tree products are vital to diets. Here agroforestry is huge winner. @ICRAF Stepha McMullin has pioneered bringing food trees on to farms. You need something fruiting almost every month. Don’t just plant mangoes. Plant diversity. Here’s a journal article on it

Photo of fruit baskets

Question 4: What makes Agroforestry a good and sustainable practice? 

Cathy: Agroforestry is good for many reasons. It makes farms carbon-rich. That’s good for capturing carbon to slow global heating + good for farmers too. Carbon-rich soil holds water like a sponge. The carbon comes from tree roots, leaf mulch + micro-organisms that live around trees.

Diagram of tree roots

Question 5: Do you think sustainable agriculture could be achieved through agroforestry

Cathy: Yes, agriculture with trees is far more stable than a big field with nothing but maize, that is bare much of the year. Biodiversity is collapsing. Trees are homes for birds and bats that disperse seed and prey on pests. COVID-19 came because we upset the natural balance. See here:

Question 6: Can you share some of the threats to agroforestry in in Africa

Cathy: A HUGE threat is charcoal, which is taking trees off farmland across SS Africa. We need to make woodfuel sustainable because people need it and agroforestry can help. Listen to my colleague @icraf Dr Sola Phosiso on how we can do this.

We also have a problem that conventional agricultural training often suggests removing trees. We now know that is old fashioned and very risky for rain, rivers, soil, dietary diversity and so much more.

I would say we have a mindset problem. Imagine removing shea trees to plant sunflowers for oil. What a pity. In this photo from Uganda You can see researchers from Ngetta raising shea (karate) seedlings. Way to go, along with grafting and FMNR.

Photo of nursery

Question 7 : Can you share some agroforestry practices success in some of your work?

Cathy: Working with farmers, successes are so many at ICRAF. One stunning model is integrating the shrub pigeon pea (Cajanus cajans) with other crops. You get higher yields of the crop and you get food for humans, fodder for livestock and stems to burn for cooking.

In some countries, like Ethiopia, we believe that agroforestry and landscape restoration has created livelihoods so that some young people do not need to make the dangerous journey to another country in search of work. It’s a big claim but we see water returning, creating jobs. If this could be done at scale, what might the impact be? Read here

I am also very proud of work we have done with refugees in Uganda. Agroforestry is very important where refugees raise their own food. We work with the host community too. Read about it here.

Question 8: Your Advice to Agriculturists

Cathy: My advice to agriculturalists is to think deeply about trees and to foresters to think about trees as more than timber. To both, remember how entirely dependent we are on trees for rain. I studied agroforestry at University of Missouri.

Question 9 : Final words

Cathy: Time has run out. We see that with the fires, COVID-19, natural hazards becoming disasters, the locusts. We are not going to go back to ‘normal’, and normal was destructive of the natural systems that keep us alive. Let’s find nature-based solutions + rebuild nature as we farm.

A huge youth environment movement is building with groups like Eden World, Youth in Landscapes, Salina Abraham. ICRAF and CIFOR we are with you. Thanks for having me. It’s been great. Here I am on the bypass in Nairobi that I am restoring. Make your own project if you do not have one.

Photo of me on bypass

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