Challenges of agroforestry in Suriname (DOC)

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					Agroforestry in Suriname at a glance

Robert Tjien Fooh 1 and Rudi van Kanten2
  Anton de Kom University of Suriname, Department of Agriculture; 2 Centre for
Agricultural Research Suriname, Agroforestry Department.

1. Introduction:
Agroforestry stands for an age-old agricultural practice where at least one woody tree
species is cultivated on the same land-management unit as one or more plant and/or
animal species, either in spatial or sequential array, with significant economical and
ecological interactions between the woody and non-woody components.
Agroforestry systems are defined by physical borders, bio-physical and socio-economic
components, inputs (e.g., solar energy), outputs, (e.g., agricultural products), interactions
between the different components of the system, and a hierarchy which indicates the
position of each component in relation to the others. The systems are predominantly
focusing on sustainable production and product diversification in small and medium sized
The promotion of agroforestry systems by institutions and organizations in Suriname for
the improvement of livelihoods and food security in the hinterland will be reflected in
this presentation. There are few recent documents on agroforestry systems and economic
figures still have to be created. Nevertheless, characterization of the current agroforestry
status in Suriname might indicate the challenges ahead.
Suriname (163,820 km2) is divided in four physiographic regions: young and old coastal
plains, Zanderij landscape and interior uplands (dense tropical forests). The coastal
plains (below 10 m a.s.l.) consist of heavy marine clay soils, sand ridges and swamps.
The vast majority of the agricultural activities in the country are taking place in the
coastal plains. The Zanderij landscape (10-50 m.a.s.l.), is an intermediate area between
the coastal area and the forested interior uplands, and is covered with savannas and
forests. The interior uplands (above 50 m a.s.l.) are densely covered with forests. With
over 90% of forest cover, Suriname is one of the most forested countries in the world.
Land pressure in the coastal area is sharply contrasting with that in the two other major
geographic areas (Table 1).

Table 1. Population and land pressure in the three major geographic areas of Suriname.
                        population (people)          Acreage (million ha)     ha capita-1
Coastal plains          435,000      ( 90.0%)          2.0 (12.2 %)             5
Zanderij landscape        3,010      ( 0.6%)           0.9 ( 5.5 %)           290
Interior uplands         44,000      ( 9.4%)          13.5 (82.4)%            310
Total                   482,010      (100.0%)
Source: Ir. W. Caldeira, consultant (2003)

035730dd-fb56-4d25-8d06-47354554c240.doc                                                    1
2. Agroforestry systems in Suriname
Shifting cultivation :
Shifting cultivation or slash and burn agriculture is the most common way of agricultural
production in the hinterlands. The system, which has survived for centuries, is often the
most important source for the Indigenous communities1 (Maroons and Amerindians) to
provide in their food needs. The people are often in remote areas, only accessible by
rivers, airstrips and or rudimentary roads. A low level of technology and use of external
agricultural inputs characterize shifting cultivation which can be divided in the one
practiced by the Amerindians who live mainly in the savanna areas and by the Maroons
who live close to the more fertile River terraces. Both communities complement their
food provision with hunting, fishing and collection of non-wood forest products (NWFP).
Men have to migrate temporarily to other areas for work and households rely heavily on
the women, who primarily cultivate root and tubers for a diet in which proteins, vitamins
and minerals tend to be under represented. Women are the primary workforces.
Amerindians are less in number and less susceptible than Maroons to live in areas with
high land pressure. Also Amerindian Men tend to migrate less from their villages in
search for work as compared to the Maroons.
In a typical Amerindian slash and burn system Cassave (Manihot esculentum) is the most
important crop and Pineapple (Ananas comosus) is often cultivated for commercial
purposes. Other crops are dasheen (Xanthosoma sagittifolium), Maize (Zea mays),
Plantains (Musa sp.), Watermelon (Citrullus vulgaris), Pepper (Capsicum annum) and
Pumpkin (Cucurbita maximum). Palm species are also important such as Maximiliana
maripa and Astrocaryum segregatum for their fruits and Mauritia flexuosa for its leaves
for roofing and art crafts. Cashew (Anacardium occidentale), and Calebash (Crescentia
cujete) are important fruit species. In the surroundings of the villages vegetables are
grown such as Vigna sinensis, Momordica charantia, Brassica chinensis, Tomatoes
(Lycopersicon esculentum) and fruit species such as Mango (Mangifera indica), Guava
(Psidium guajava), Lemon (Citrus aurantifolium), Cocos (Cocos nucifera), Almond
(Terminalia catappa), and Star fruit (Averrhoa carambolae). Bixa orellana is used as a
natural colorant.
Typical Maroon slash and burn systems have several roots and tuber as staple crops such
as Cassave (M esculentum), dasheen (X. sagittifolium), napi (Dioscorea trifida), yams
(Dioscorea alata) and Sweet Potatoes (Ipomoea batatas). Groundnut (Arachys hypogea),
dry land Rice (Oryza sativa) and Sugar Cane (Saccharum officinarum) are often
cultivated directly after burning, while Ginger (Zingiber officinale) and Pineapple (A

  "Indigenous communities are those which, having a historical continuity with pre-invasion and pre-
colonial societies that developed on their territories, consider themselves distinct from other sectors of the
societies now prevailing in those territories, or parts of them. They form at present non-dominant sectors of
society and are determined to preserve, develop, and transmit to future generations their ancestral
territories, and their ethnic identity, as the basis of their continued existence as peoples, in accordance with
their own cultural patterns, social institutions, and legal systems." Definition of The UN Economic and
Social Council (ECOSOC)'s Sub-Commission on the Prevention of Discrimination and Protection of
Minorities Working Group on Indigenous Populations.

035730dd-fb56-4d25-8d06-47354554c240.doc                                                                       2
comosus) are grown afterwards. Other crops in the plots are Maize (Z. mays), Plantains
(Musa sp.), Watermelon (Citrullus vulgaris), Pepper (Capsicum annum), Pumpkin
(Cucurbita maximum), Ocra (Hibiscus esculentus) and Cowpea (Vigna unguiculata).
Important palm species are Euterpe oleraceae and Oenocarpus bacaba used for their
fruits. In the proximity of the village, vegetables are cultivated such as
Momordica charantia, Brassica chinensis, Egg Plant (Solanum menongena) and Cestrum
latifolium. Common fruit species are Mango (M. indica), Citrus (Citrus sinensis), Coco
(Cocos nucifera), and Almonds (T. catappa).
Typically, primary or secondary forestland is allocated to the people according to cultural
and social rules of the village. The plot is felled with an axe or by chainsaw. Eventual
valuable timber is extracted and the remainder of the vegetation on the plot is burnt, and
the area is subsequently cultivated for a one to five year period. Crops are cultivated in
mixed arrays, a proven way of spreading the risk, by reducing the effects of eventual pest
and disease attacks. Levels of pest and disease control are low, which together with
declining soil fertility forces the farmers to leave the plots in fallow (originally 10–15
years) and start a new cultivation cycle. Leaf cutting ants can be identified as one of the
primary problems.
Higher concentrations of people in a village increases land pressure and hence travel by
foot and/ or boat to the agricultural plots. Children often have to accompany their
mothers to the plot, which hampers their school assistance. Due to high pressure on
agricultural “shifting cultivation” land, the interior people are forced to reduce the fallow
periods, resulting in a downward spiral of lower soil fertility, lower production and as a
consequence a shorter cropping phase. In Suriname, about 250,000 ha of primary and
savanna forest has been submitted one or more times to shifting cultivation (CELOS-GIS
and Remote sensing department, 2003), making it one of the main deforestation factors.
Further on, the system only assists the people marginally in their needs. Shifting
cultivation is rain-fed agriculture and due to the temporal character of the plots it is not
cost-effective to invest in permanent irrigation infrastructure. Additionally, elevated soil
porosity would complicate channel infrastructure.
Taungya systems :
In the sixties and seventies, Taungya systems were also common in the so-called Forestry
belt, right behind the coastal area, during forest planting activities of the governments
Suriname Forest Service (LBB). Taungya systems comprise plantation of forest species
with cultivation of agricultural crops during the first years of establishment of the trees in
order to reduce labor costs for tree treatment and weed control. Trees can take advantage
of fertilization for crops and vice versa. The transformation process during the initial
years of Suriname’s independency, and especially the armed conflict in the interior
(1986-1992) which virtually disseminated the whole infrastructure of the Forest Service,
have seriously affected the forest sector. Taungya systems and tree plantations with
pineapples in the under storey can be observed up to data
In the coastal area, home-gardens are the most common agroforestry system. Practically
every small farmer maintains a home-garden to a certain degree, where several fruit trees

035730dd-fb56-4d25-8d06-47354554c240.doc                                                    3
and to a lesser extent service trees2 are grown. Tree presence reduces weed growth and
nitrogen-fixing trees add the element to the systems. The home-gardens are typical
production systems with a multiple, diverse output of which some products may be of
intangible value, such as, plantain leaves used as plates at certain cultural events.
Agro-silvo-pastoral systems
Agro-silvo-pastoral systems are not well developed despite their potential as fodder
banks, living fences, and shade trees. The reason for this underdevelopment may be the
extensive character of cattle farming by mostly part-time farmers

3. Institutions and organizations involved in agroforestry
Apart from documents from Forest Management Department (LBB), the Ministry of
Agriculture (MAAHF) and the Centre for Agricultural Research in Suriname (CELOS),
all in the period before the end of the eighties, few agroforestry related issues have been
published. Therefore, presently economic figures on agroforestry are lacking. Important
institutions actually engaged in agroforestry are:
    i)       i) The Anton de Kom University, with its Faculty of Technology (established
             in 1976), which includes Agricultural Sciences. From 1986-1994 scientists
             from the department of Agriculture participated in two regional OAS projects:
    -Leucaena as a source of feed, fuel and erosion control (field trails on different sites
    with several Leucaena varieties)
    - Nitrogen Fixing Tree Crops (field trails with Leucaena leucocephala and Gliricidia
 Since 2000, the agroforestry research team from the Faculty of Technology
(Departments of Agriculture and Environmental sciences) is conducting agroforestry
research in the Upper Suriname River region together with an NGO, the NVB (National
Women Movement). Experiences are presented in the case study (chapter 5).
    ii)      CELOS (Centre for Agricultural Research in Suriname) was established in
             1967 and is a Foundation linked to the Anton de Kom University. CELOS
             focuses on applied research and facilitates the University its Department of
             Agricultural Sciences. Research topics include crop cultivation of cassava (M.
             esculentum), Maize, Soy Bean and the fruit species Cashew, agroforestry,
             edible mushroom cultivation (Pleurotis sp. and Volvariela sp.), and GIS and
             Remote Sensing. The Centre runs a small UNDP/GEF project in Powakka,
             Para District, among Amerindian women. The centre is also preparing a
             project comprising three research fields (4 ha each) in three key regions in the
             hinterlands. Ready to use, alternatives will be developed together with the
             local population and CELOS. CELOS and University staff and students will
             perform research on crop, tree and soil parameters, which can be more easily
             obtained in a controlled situation than in an on-farm scenario with

 Trees used in agroforestry to offer a service to the associated crops and / or animals such as shade, adding
of biomass and nutrients, or erosion control, without producing timber.

035730dd-fb56-4d25-8d06-47354554c240.doc                                                                    4
           involvement of village people. Agroforestry systems have to be valuated as a
           whole since the output consists of multiple products.

iii) MAAHF, the Ministry of Agriculture, Animal Husbandry and Fisheries counts with
extension offices distributed along the country, including in the hinterlands. For its
specific character, the ministry established a special division “Agricultural Development
for the hinterlands” which focuses mainly on extension and cooperation with Community
based organizations and NGOs.
Of the NGOs active in the field of agroforestry, we mention NVB presented in the case
study in chapter 5, the Amazon Conservation Team (ACT) and the Pater Albrinck
Foundation (PAS).
Amazon Conservation Team (ACT), an internationally known NGO on the protection of
biodiversity, health and culture in tropical America (Brazil, Columbia and Suriname),
operates in Suriname predominantly among the Amerindian Trio tribe in the south of the
country. ACT is assisting the local population in generating incomes from Brazil nut
(Bertholletia excelsa), sold at US$ 2.10 per kg of shelled nuts. Trees may develop up to
300 fruits yr-1 containing 16-20 nuts per fruit. Although not estimated in figures yet,
exploration of the Brazil nut has a clear potential since the fruits are also used in
handicrafts. Actually ACT concentrates on the processing and packaging of these nuts.
ACT, which is strictly not engaged in bio-prospecting, is also working on the
improvement of shifting cultivation systems and the involvement of medicinal plants.
The Pater Ahlbrinck Foundation (PAS) from the Roman Catholic mission has agricultural
extension activities in a number of Amerindian and Maroon communities as part of its
rural development approach. The organization stimulated cultivation of fruit trees and
roots and tubers, within others and laid special emphasis on the combat of leaf cutting
ants, one of the primary problems in agriculture in the hinterlands.

An important agroforestry project which started in November 2004 is the Guyagrofor
project. This four year project is focused on the development of sustainable agroforestry
systems based on Indigenous and Marroon knowledge in the Guyana Shield Region and
operates in areas of Brazil (Manaus and Mato Grosso), Suriname (Brokopondo and Para
District) and Venezuela (Estado de Amazonas). The project is executed by a research
consortium which consists of 10 partner institutions. These are : Alterra and Tropenbos
International (The Netherlands),Catholic University of Leuven (Belgium),Escola
Superior Agraria de Coimbra (Portugal), Centre for Agricultural Research in Suriname
(Celos) and the Anton de Kom University (Suriname),Direccion General del Recurso
Forestal and Universidad de Los Andes (Venezuela), Universidade Federal de Mato
Grosso and Instituto Nacional de Pesquisa de Amazonia (Brasil). Comparable studies
will be conducted in Amerindian and Maroon communities with the purpose of
developing the Agroforestry systems in a participatory manner and identify some key
species or products with market potential.
Within the project three sub-projects are defined with each aiming at the following
specific objectives:

035730dd-fb56-4d25-8d06-47354554c240.doc                                               5
1. Biophysical integration and innovation
 This sub project aims to integrate Indigenous and Marroon knowledge on
 environmental management with current formal agricultural and forestry practices to
 develop sustainable agro-forestry systems for cash crops and non timber forest
2. Market chain exploration
  This subproject will conduct product chain analysis on bottlenecks and opportunities
 for the production of economically viable cash crops and non-timber forest products
 under environmentally safe conditions, based on indigenous and Marroon uses.
3. Institutional/organisational support and knowledge exchange
 This sub project aims at exchanging knowledge with all stakeholders involved and
 empower where needed to increase welfare for Indigenous and Marroon communities
 through the commercialization of cash crops and non timber forest products using
 sustainable approaches.
To fulfill the project objectives six work packages have been defined:
WP 1: Farming systems analysis
WP 2: Market chain exploration
WP 3: Evaluation and priority setting with multi-stakeholder platforms
WP 4: Implementation of validation trials
WP5: In-depth study on selected product chains
WP 6: Preparation of tailor made guidelines
Actually the Suriname research team with support from Alterra and the Catholic
University of Leuven works on work packages 1 and 2.

4. Case study “Futunakaba”
Traditional farming practices and conditions
Futunakaba is a small maroon (Saramaacan tribe) village at the Upper Suriname River,
one of the few areas not damaged by gold miners and timber loggers. Within the
Saramaacan society, food production is a priority concern. Culturally, the woman is head
of the household and primary food provider and in these roles she is committed to food
crop cultivation and procession to feed the family. Men have the responsibility of
providing accommodation for the family and clearing land for food production.
Traditionally, primary attention is given to the cultivation of starchy food crops,
including upland rice (Oryza sativa), cassava (Manihot esculentum), banana (Musa sp.),
napi (Dioscorea trifida), taya (Colocasia esculentum). Little attention is given to
vegetable crops and legumes with the exception of some leafy vegetable crops. Families
rely on fresh water fish and to a decreasing extend on forest wildlife (mammals and
birds) as the principle source of meat protein. The hinterland community still remains
largely a non-market economy. Furthermore, in the absence of income earning

035730dd-fb56-4d25-8d06-47354554c240.doc                                              6
opportunities, families have little cash available for the purchase of food crops, which is
not generally traded in most villages. Within the culture of the population there is a
positive consciousness of the environment and traditional shifting cultivation has been in
relative harmony with the natural resources. This balance and sustainability, however, is
threatened by population growth, increasing demand for land, and more intensive use and
poor management of the fragile land resource base. The increasing commercial activities,
in farming, mining and forestry, serve to accelerate the deterioration of the land resource
base, and threaten food security.
Farming system improvement
In slash and burn agriculture soil management and conservation, and crop management
and maintenance are poor. It was concluded that in the long-term traditional farming
system might not be compatible with sustainable agricultural production and
development. Initially, the Futunakaba village formed part of a Women’s Economic
Empowerment Project (WEEP). The following problems related to agriculture were
assessed: pests of leaf eating ants and grasshoppers (attacking cassava, napi and
watermelon (Citrullus vulgaris)), and worms and insects (attacking bananas and taro
(Xanthosoma sagittifolium)), plagues of rodents, excessive rainfall leading to water
erosion and inundation of lower grounds, extended drought periods, low soil fertility,
insufficient farmers knowledge, shortage of labor for opening and clearing new
agricultural plots, lack of planting material and adequate tools; and improper product
marketing infrastructure.
Agricultural experts from the National Women Movement (NVB) and the Anton de Kom
University of Suriname introduced improved farming methods a few years ago in
Futunakaba and a few other Saramaacan villages. In dialogue with the women the
cropping system was diversified by incorporation of groundnuts (Arachys hypogea) and
urdi (Phaseolus mungo). The latter is a bean variety, which has a market in Paramaribo.
Production was around 275 kg ha (SRD 5.40 per kg; US$ 1.00 = SRD 2.80), which is
10% higher than the average in the region. These legume crops were chosen because of
the attractive price for the products, stocking opportunities, their reduced transport
volume, and their nitrogen fixing ability and non-complicated crop management. Except
the diversification of the cropping system, the farming system was also adjusted. Alley
cropping was introduced as a sustainable alternative for the common slash and burn
Each participant was assigned a 20 x 20 m training field plot. Gliricidia sepium a native
tree legume well adapted to the poor acid soils in this area was introduced and planted at
the borders (1 m within lines) of the training fields.
The UNDP/GEF-Small Grant Agroforestry Project
The UNDP/GEF-Small Grant Agroforestry project developed by scientists from the
Anton de Kom University officially started in April 2002. The main goal of the project
was to contribute to the development of a sustainable agricultural system, both
guaranteeing biodiversity conservation and poverty alleviation. Other project goals were:
Increase food production and family income, and improving the position of women and
the communication between the villages and other villages and cities.

035730dd-fb56-4d25-8d06-47354554c240.doc                                                 7
Project results:
The benefits of agroforestry systems such as alley farming and multi storage cropping
cannot be observed in time span of a few years. It is generally advised to include at least
a 5-10 year span to be able to collect information. Despite this fact, some preliminary
results are already being observed. The need for deforestation with the intention to
produce food on the cleared land has decreased, since the women maintained for longer
periods on the same plot. Groundnut and urdi were produced commercially and
marketing in Paramaribo. A revolving credit fund was established with an initial intake
of US$ 2,500 offering the women who participate in the agriculture project the
opportunity to borrow money and pay this back from earnings from their agricultural
production at a 1% interest rate. This opportunity was used to purchase goods, such as,
gas stoves, sewing machines, freezers, plastic water tanks, and building material.
A US$ 6,000 Telecom center was established for fax, telephone and Internet
The participants were trained in operating a wood shredder with the possibility to crush
branches up to 10 mm.. The obtained mulched material was applied directly in the
plantation as well as used for compost production. The training also comprised biological
crop protection, nursery establishment and management, agricultural management, and
marketing of agricultural products. The project assisted the union in opening and
managing a bank account in Paramaribo. Compared to the base year 2001 agricultural
production in 2002 increased by 50%

5. Conclusive remark
Economic opportunities for agroforestry in Suriname are closely linked with the existing
level of agricultural technology, the organization of the community, and product
commercialization infrastructure. The agricultural sector in Suriname still needs
improvements on organization and commercialization. Since the majority of farmers in
Suriname are part-timers who have to rely on low external input systems and high
product diversification, agroforestry, which is a sustainable, multi-output land use
activity by definition, has a lot of challenges ahead. Also for identified problems of
agricultural production in the hinterlands, agroforestry is a clear option for sustainable
development. The validation of agroforestry systems depends on a large in flow of
production data and on the performance of trees, associated crops and most importantly,
the people participating in the process.

035730dd-fb56-4d25-8d06-47354554c240.doc                                                 8

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