Pacific Islanders were once among the most self-sufficient and well-nourished peoples in the world, building their agricultural systems around a diverse base of local tree species. As traditional tree-based agroforestry systems were cut down and replaced with cash crops from colonial times onward, much of the knowledge of local tree species and their many products and uses has been lost. At the same time, the conservation benefits of the trees were also lost. There is now a critical shortage of information about local tree species and their applications in sustainable economic development, resource conservation, and food security.
Protection and planting of these species is critical to supporting the genetic, species, and ecosystem diversity of the region. At the same time, native and traditional trees are essential in meeting human needs in sustainable agriculture and economic development. Agroforestry is a vital aspect of sustainable agriculture in the Pacific. Farmers, ranchers, landholders, and producers increasingly require information on tree species to use for windbreaks, crop shade, soil improvement, water conservation, ornamental uses, livestock fodder, potential niche crops, and other applications. Integrating trees can diversify products and enhance the economic and ecological viability of farm systems. Producers are seeking trees to support and protect crops including tropical fruits, coffee, root crops, medicinals, and livestock.
However, efforts to conserve and plant native trees across the landscape are hamstrung by a shortage of information on native and local tree species. Instead, producers and extension agents are often forced to turn to newly introduced exotic species whose applications and products are well-documented in international literature. Many of these exotics are often untested in the region, unfamiliar to local growers, and difficult to acquire. Emphasizing exotics also poses serious threats to Pacific Island ecosystems through the introduction of potentially invasive plants.
Extension agents in the Pacific Islands stressed in interviews that public interest in agroforestry and tree crops is high or increasing, but needed information on tree species for the region is very scarce. What little information is available is mostly scattered amongst obscure references, mainly of a botanical nature. These fail to provide the kind of detail producers and land users need to make informed decisions about integrating local tree species effectively.
The Traditional Tree Initiative will provide vital information needed to advance sustainable agriculture and economic development while protecting genetic and species diversity. By expanding the planting and conservation of native and traditional trees across the landscape, the Traditional Tree Initiative will:
- Support sustainable agriculture through the promotion of time-tested, locally-appropriate trees for windbreaks, soil conservation, crop shade etc.
- Strengthen traditional tree-based land use practices
- Promote sustainable economic development by providing information on underutilized species and their potential crops
- Enhance the diversity of products and species on agricultural land
- Protect and expand wildlife habitat in agricultural and residential zones
- Enhance knowledge of how to use tree resources sustainably
- Protect the unique culture and ecology of the region
- Counter risks of bioinvasions from introduced exotics by promoting local species
- Conserve the genetic wealth and species diversity of the region by integrating native trees with production
This project will meet the needs of extension agents, producers, and land users by creating a concise, practical, user-friendly information resource for traditional Pacific Island tree species. Traditional Tree Initiative will produce a series of 6–12 page fact sheets covering fifty of the most important species in the region. Each fact sheet will provide detailed, practical information on products, uses, interplanting applications, environmental requirements, and propagation methods. The fact sheets will be freely available in electronic form via the internet, both in HTML and PDF formats. The fact sheets will also be disseminated in reproducible form and as a searchable CD (with live internet links) to 200 agricultural offices, libraries, and schools in the region
Twenty experts in Pacific Island agroforestry are authoring the species fact sheets, representing expertise from throughout the Pacific. In addition, a panel of fifteen extension agents, producers and other professionals will review the species profiles. Many others will give feedback through an innovative e-mail review process.
Agroforestry Guides for
The Project Coordinators have been educators in and practitioners of Pacific Island agroforestry since 1990. Their field experience in a variety of environments coupled with their longstanding commitment to agroforestry extension makes them uniquely qualified to coordinate this project. They recently produced the USDA/SARE-funded publication, Agroforestry Guides for Pacific Islands, which provides planning information for a number of agroforestry practices. They also publish The Overstory, an electronic information resource for reforestation, conservation, and agroforestry, with subscribers in over 170 countries. The Traditional Tree Initiative’s species fact sheets will be a unique and vital resource for sustainable development in the Pacific Islands.
A solid foundation of locally appropriate, time-tested tree species is essential to sustainable land use in the Pacific Islands. Promoting a diverse array of proven native and traditional species will support the conservation of the unique culture and ecology of the region, instead of threatening these with new and risky introductions. The Traditional Tree Initiative will put vital information for the conservation and expansion of Pacific Island trees at the fingertips of the people who need it most.
Species Profiles for Pacific Island Agroforestry are distributed by agroforestry.net with support from:
- U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Western Region Sustainable Agriculture Research and Education (WSARE) Program;
- SPC/GTZ Pacific-German Regional Forestry Project;
- USDA Natural Resources Conservation Service (USDA NRCS);
- State of Hawai‘i Department of Land & Natural Resources Division of Forestry & Wildlife;
- USDA Forest Service Forest Lands Enhancement Program;
- Kaulunani, an Urban Forestry Program of the Hawai'i DLNR Division of Forestry & Wildlife
- USDA Forest Service;
- Muriel and Kent Lighter