Benjamin D. Neimark

  Agroforestry is concerned with the deliberate use, cultivation and management of trees in sequence or simultaneously with crops. Resource-poor farmers in the tropics manage and cultivate trees for the products they provide (i.e., fuelwood, construction materials, fodder, fruits, extracts, and tools) both for home-use and for sale, while also providing services (boundary demarcation, shade, soil improvement and conservation) (Simons, 1996; Fernandes, 1999). The intensification and stabilization of existing small-scale agricultural plots through innovative agroforestry systems can benefit the resource poor farmers at the environmental, social, and economic level.

Malagasy home in Beforona
region with multi-strata agro-
forestry system in background

Leakey (1996) revises the definition of agroforestry to include the roles that different systems play in the agro-ecological and succession towards a 'climax agroforests'. These climax agroforests which are described as a mixture of multi-strata and fruit and forest trees which have been shown to increase farmer income, add a vital nutritional source, and establish much needed food security while optimizing plant resource associations. . These systems include a multitude of fruit trees, livestock, annual crops, medicinal plants, and high value multipurpose forest trees.

It has been suggested that the frequently haphazard multi-strata systems may be an attempt of farmers in the tropics to mimic the natural ecosystems and in order to minimize risk (Leakey, 1999). These land-use options address both agricultural productivity and biodiversity conservation. This may be achieved through the use of models that are ecologically and biologically more productive throughout each stage of growth.

  Madagascar is characterized as having the richest diversity of flora and fauna in the world, it contains more than 12,000 plant species, of which 80% are endemic (Phillipson, 1994). Madagascar maintains the highest species richness per unit area, and lays host to 3.2 % of global endemic plants and 2.8 % of the global endemic vertebrates (Myers et al., 2000). Shifting cultivation (Tavy in Madagascar) is an agricultural practice that has been in use throughout the humid-high and montane forests of Eastern Madagascar for hundreds of years. Tavy utilizes slashed and burned forest vegetation for release of nutrients in the production of upland rice. Sparse populations and extensive forests allowed for shifting cultivation to be a sustainable agricultural practice for many centuries. Recently, increasing population demands and poor soil fertility have caused an expansion of slash-and-burn agriculture into primary and secondary forests causing alarming rates of deforestation, species extinction, soil degradation and biodiversity loss (Green and Sussman, 1990). Myers and coworkers (2000) named it one of seven 'hotspots' for global conservation priorities.

Malagasy high humid Rainforest

Slash and Burn cultivation (tavy)

  There is a need to develop strategies to slow down the speed of environmental, social, and economic degradation (Styger et al., 1999). One approach is to intensify, stabilize and improve existing small-scale agricultural plots to reduce the need to clear
  new tracts of forests via slash-and-burn. Alternatives to the traditional slash-and-burn system are increasing the demand for new agricultural techniques that may accomplish this goal. Agroforestry is such a system, and innovations in new and traditional agroforestry systems can have a major effect on farmers' adoption of these alternatives. Techniques that I have investigated for my Master's research through the Department of Horticulture at Cornell University is the improvement of low-input propagation systems to improve the direction and speed of domestication of threatened Malagasy forest and multipurpose fruit species. Species used by the resource-poor farmer to increase food security and provide added income opportunities.

Low input propagation flats
used in cutting experiments

Litchi sp. in propagation flats

Non-mist propagation tent
used in cutting experiments

Open non-mist propagation tent


Through the use of innovative moisture management techniques, and improved propagation methods, one can increase not only the genetic diversity and productivity in the farming system but help in conservation efforts to domesticate endangered and threatened species. For the successful rooting of a cutting, a primary environmental requirement is to minimize transpiration while maximizing water uptake (Mudge et al., 1995). Cuttings readily develop water deficits because they lack roots to uptake water from the media (Loach, 1988). The object of a propagation system is to maintain an atmosphere with low evaporative demand, an adequate temperature to stimulate metabolism in the base of the cutting, and high enough irradiance to generate photosynthetic activity for root growth (Loach, 1988). All these requirements must be maintained without creating excess leaf temperatures. Moisture management systems such as polyethylene enclosures and mist can ensure a higher humidity environment surrounding the cuttings, which helps maintain high leaf water potentials (Mudge et al., 1995).

In Madagascar, due to aging trees and absence of propagation knowledge there is a lack of high-quality tree germplasm, which is a major constraint to the improvement of the traditional agroforestry systems. One way to circumvent this constraint is to provide the Malagasy farmer with the skills and knowledge necessary to propagate agroforestry tree germplasm independently of any outside interventions.

  Vegetative propagation offers the advantage of colonial selection over zygotic seed formation. The ability to maintain desirable traits due to the fixing and maintaining superior genotypes which can increases yield and quality of products in the tropics (Leakey, 1987, 1999; Mudge and Brennan, 1999). Other such advantages include the shortening of the time to flower (preciousness), uniformity of populations through colonial selection, combining more then one plant into a single genotype, and the facilitation of vegetative propagation is sometimes only means to propagate (Mudge and Brennan, 1999).

Vegetative propagation experiments conducted in Madagascar explored the comparison of rooting success of three moisture-management systems, including two-low input polyethylene enclosures and the traditional practice of open propagation on the tropical agroforestry tree Inga feuillei. Also investigated was the effect of hormone on the rooting success of the tropical medicinal tree Prunus Africana and the first know experiment concerning the air layering (marcottage) of high quality forest tree Dalbergia monticola. The use of innovations in low-input propagation such as polyethylene enclosures contributes to providing the Malagasy farmer with the tools necessary to succeed in this challenging task of vegetative propagation via cuttings. Furthermore, under the current pace of exploitation, it would be beneficial to find an adequate low-input cutting propagation method for the conservation of the endangered species Prunus africana. Bark extracts from P. africana are useful in the treatment of benign prostatic hyperplasis (BPH) and prostrate gland hypertrophy (Tchoundjeu, 2000). The commercial value of its bark and bark extracts is estimated at over US $200 million annually.

Other Malagasy species used in cutting experiments were chosen after conducting 45 rural farmer surveys on characterization and use for products and services they provide in the household. Such species included: Dalbergia baronii (LEGUMINOSAE), Evodia belahe (RUTACEAE), Weinmania humbolotii (CLUSIACEAE), Salacia madagascariensis (HIPPOCRATEACEAE), Ravansara aromaticia (LAURACEAE), Disporious sp. (EBEBACEAE), Calophyllum spp..

Rooted air layer of
Dalbergia monticola

Juvenile Prunus africana tree


As primary and secondary forests becomes more scarce in Madagascar, farmers are going to be more dependent on domesticated trees growing within their farming system. A better understanding of how to manage the already existing perennial gardens and fallow systems can lead to much-needed improvements in yield and human nutrition. Such improvements can be achieved through the documentation of botanical inventories, exploring the biophysical interactions of species, and characterizing social-economic factors that drive farmer needs and adoption of agroforestry trees.


The reduction of deforestation and the conservation of the unique ecosystems of Madagascar is a top priority of the Landscape Development Interventions (LDI) and the Cornell International Institute for Food Agriculture and Development (CIIFAD). One way to accomplish this goal is to improve and stabilize existing agricultural systems to reduce the

Malagasy farmers building
propagation materials

Field technicians applying air
layers on high-value forest tree

  practice of slash and burn. The collecting, gathering, and diffusion of this information through farmer/research associations such as the Center of Diffusion of Agricultural Intensification and university counterparts University of Antananarivo/Cornell University is an important step to combating the related issues of poverty, food security, and improving nutritional status.
  • The explorations of the wide range of indigenous and endemic trees species in
    different ecological niches in the Malagasy farming system.
  • Selection of superior germplasm of high-priority trees.
  • Promotion of timely and sufficient multiplication through clonal propagation.
  • Contribution to an understanding and evaluation of the complex agroforestry systems
    with respect to environmental and biodiversity functions at a landscape level.
  • Quantification of farming systems in regard to the impact of diversification of high-
    priority forest trees for agriculture stabilization and ecosystem restoration.
  • Provide innovative and appropriate methods of propagation and access to high-
    quality germplasm that may provide for better and more sustainable economic returns.

Farmers reading new techniques
at the Center for Diffusion of
Agricultural Intensification
Beforona, Madagascar (CDIA)
  Methods, results, and discussion are currently being prepared for publication. This webpage will be updated periodically. This research was conducted under the thoughtful guidance of Dr. Kenneth Mudge and Dr. Norman Uphoff, whom I thank dearly for their academic support and friendship throughout my tenure at Cornell.

Questions can be emailed to

Link to Malagasy Farmer Traditional Air Layering Technique of a Litchi Tree (A Quicktime Animation-4.5 Mb)

Link to Benjamin Neimark's Resume

  Literature cited

Fernandes, E. C. M. 1999. Integrated farming systems to increase and sustain food production in the tropics. In: A. J. Fairclough. (Eds.) Sustainable Agriculture Solutions. Novello Press Ltd., London, UK. P.p. 268-275.

Green, G. W., and Sussman, R.W. 1990. Deforestation history of the eastern rain forests of Madagascar from satellite images. Science. 248:212-215.

Leakey R.R.B., and Newton, A.C. (eds.), 1994. Tropical Trees: the Potential for Domestication and the Rebuilding of Forest Resources. HMSO, London.

Leakey, R.R.B., Mesen, J.F., Tchoundjeu, Z., Longman, K.A., Dick. J.M., Newton, A., Matin, A,. Grace, J., Munro, R.C. and Muthoka, P.N. 1990. Low-technology techniques for the vegetative propagation of tropical trees. Commonw. For. Rev. 69:247-257.

Mudge, K.W., Mwaja, V.N. Itulya, F.M. and Ochieng, J. 1995. Comparison of four Moisture management systems for cutting propagation of Bougainvillea, Hibiscus, and Kei Apple. Journal of American Society of Horticultural Science. 120:366-373.

Simons, A. J. QFRI-IUFRO. Conference, Caloundra, Queensland, Australia, Volume; Vol. 2, p 391-400.

Styger, E., Rakotoarimanana, J.E.M., Rabevohitra R., and Fernandes, E.C.M. 1999. Indigenous fruit trees of Madagascar: potential components of agroforestry systems to improve human nutrition and restore biological diversity. Agroforestry Systems. 46:289-310.

Turk, D. 1995. A guide to the trees of Ranomafana National Park and Central Eastern Madagascar.USAID. Antananarivo, Madagascar.