International Day of Forests – Student Agroforestry Research

International Day of Forests – Student Agroforestry Research

International Day of Forests is celebrated on March 21st and is an awareness raising platform acknowledging the importance of forests in their contribution to environmental conservation and livelihoods. For International Day of Forests this year, we are highlighting the work of one of our students, an aspiring agricultural economist from Ohio State University, Privata Simon, a Cohort IV student. Privata’s MSc thesis is on Economics of Agroforestry and Monocrop Systems in Tanzania. Through her research, she is analyzing the impact of intercropping maize with fruit trees versus other methods on the productivity of farmers in Morogoro Region.

In a recent interview with Privata, she explains how she made the link between statistics, agriculture, and forestry in her research. “I never thought of studying agriculture. I completed my studies in applied statistics. After finishing my BSc I had already studied economics, mathematics, and geography. I thought, maybe I can study something that would help others. My uncle wanted me to study agribusiness for my undergraduate degree. At the time, I didn’t realize I could apply my math skills to agricultural economics. When I heard about the scholarship, I realized I could put everything together. Now I can see the applicability of economics in real life more than math, especially agricultural economics.”

Privata was accepted for the iAGRI scholarship to study at Ohio State University in the Department of AEDE with 20 other iAGRI students. “It was my first time going outside of Tanzania. At least in Africa, somehow the cultures are similar. But Ohio was completely different. Having people from Tanzania helped me a lot to cope with studies, the environment, and the people.” While at OSU, Privata enrolled in coursework in international economics and policy, cost-benefit analysis, applied quantitative methods, and econometrics. “The courses were so interesting. When you are studying, you actually forget about examinations and assignments. The topics are so interesting, you just want to immerse yourself in studying.”

Privata interviews farmers in monocropping and intercropping techniques in use in Morogoro, Tanzania.

Privata interviews farmers in monocropping and intercropping techniques in use in Morogoro, Tanzania.

“I didn’t know about agroforestry until I came across that word while studying. I thought I could tie agroforestry with economics so I can see what is taking place in Tanzania. I did some initial research and saw that most studies were pure agroforestry focused on the sciences, but not social science.” Privata carried out her research in nearby Morogoro District working with 100 farmers and surveying them on their agricultural production practices. “I chose Morogoro because I wanted to focus on fruit trees. Most of the research on agroforestry is done in Kilimanjaro, Moshi, and Tanga. But in Morogoro and Tanga, they produce fruit more. I decided on Morogoro because there were so few studies, so I thought I could add something new to the existing body of literature.”

Privata applied linear regression and cost benefit analysis to find that mono-cropping maize contributes only 2% in terms of benefits. Intercropping maize and coconut in an agroforestry system contributes 8% while a practice called “twinning” actually confers 22% benefit. Twinning is a term she has adopted from the word kupacha in Swahili that describes a practice where farmers cultivate crops and trees at the same time, but not at the same farm. “Farmers told me about the practice and then I calculated benefits using cost and revenues.”

Roughly 30% of the farmers included in Privata’s research did not own land and paid an annual fee to lease an acre of land.  The average farm size of farmers included in her study ranged between 0-3 acres. “Through my research, I have a better understanding of food security issues. Most farmers have very small pieces of land. They would like to cultivate more. There are farmers who don’t own land at all. It is always a challenge for them.” When asked about precision agriculture and new advances in ICT in farming systems, Privata stated, “My focus was on smallholders. High tech solutions will only work if someone is there to provide them with funds. NGOs can’t provide every farmer with equipment. Twinning does not require anything much. You can even use it on 1 acre and still benefit.”


A smallholder farm intercropped with maize and mango trees in Morogoro, Tanzania.

As an iAGRI student, Privata was paired with Prof. Eugene Jones from the Department of Agricultural, Environmental, and Development Economics at Ohio State University and with Prof. Emmanuel Nzunda from the Forestry Department at Sokoine University of Agriculture (SUA). “In economics if I have to do a lot of analysis, I focus on Prof. Jones. On trees, I concentrate on Prof. Nzunga. In that way, I can combine the knowledge of both of my supervisors.” Prof. Jones recently visited iAGRI to deliver a seminar as part of his engagement with iAGRI. During the seminar, David Kraybill, iAGRI Director described the mentoring provided by the iAGRI system of co-supervision. “I’d like to thank Privata’s supervisors for their role in shaping her research and for all they have done for iAGRI students. This is something they will remember all of their lives. iAGRI initiates these relationships, but the intention is for these linkages to go on as a way for scholars to exchange ideas and open their horizons. For Eugene, I’m sure he also learned a lot about challenges in Tanzania. This is meant to be a two-way exchange.”

In the future, Privata plans to complete her MSc in July and pursue a PhD. In the meantime, she plans to use her research to benefit smallholder farmers in Tanzania. “Farmers can obtain a high profit if they choose to adopt this type of twinning system of agroforestry. I would like to do seminars with farmers about the benefits of this system. I know that if I give the information to farmers and to extension officers, it would help. Research has to benefit society.”

To read more about Prof. Jones’ work, access the following:

Eugene Jones, Anabela Mabota and Donald Larson, (2008). “Farmers’ Knowledge of Health Risks and Protective Gear Associated with Pesticide Use on Cotton in Mozambique.” Journal of Developing Areas, 42(2): 267-282.




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March 19, 2016