The (un)broken promise of agroforestry: a case study of improved fallows in Zambia

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In 1999, an article entitled Delivering on the Promise of Agroforestry in this journal showed that agroforestry, including improved fallow systems, had evolved from a collection of activities to a full-fledged recognizable science that was bringing promising results to African farmer needs. This case study specifically examines the promise of soil replenishment in Zambia. In 1999, World Agroforestry Centre (ICRAF) was extremely active in Zambia, carrying out extensive research and promotion of fertilizer trees for soil replenishment. This paper shows that improved fallows were short-lived. By 2006, it was estimated that over 61,000 farmers were “reached” with improved fallow technologies. Today, improved fallow systems are virtually nonexistent in Zambia. The departure of ICRAF left a “vacuum” and “gap” in agroforestry in Zambia, and, after decades of agroforestry research and promotion, there has not been a “sense of ownership” by the government, the farmers, or other entities to agroforestry. This study shows that the Government of Zambia’s policies toward agroforestry are opportunistic and driven by funding and donor wishes. Numerous institutional and policy factors such as fertilizer subsidies, as well as farmer characteristics, their knowledge, perceptions, and attitudes toward both the technology and its perceived returns and risks, are discussed. If agroforestry is to deliver on its promise, it needs to move away from a focus on mainly technology promotion and instead scale up and address policies and institution building that mainstream it across all sectors, dealing with poverty alleviation and food security.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)8247-8260
Number of pages14
JournalEnvironment, Development and Sustainability
Issue number8
StatePublished - Dec 1 2020

All Science Journal Classification (ASJC) codes

  • Geography, Planning and Development
  • Economics and Econometrics
  • Management, Monitoring, Policy and Law


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