Today, agroforestry is recognized as an integrated applied science that has the potential for addressing many of the land management and environmental problems found in both developing and industrialized nations. The essence of agroforestry can be expressed in four key 'I' words: intentional, intensive, interactive, and integrative. The term 'intentional' implies that systems are intentionally designed and managed as whole unit, and 'intensive' means that the systems are intensively managed for pro ductive and protective benefits. The biological and physical interactions among the system's components (tree, crop, and animal) are implied in the term 'inter active,' and 'integrative' refers to the structural and functional combinations of the components as an inte grated management unit. It is often emphasized that all agroforestry systems are characterized by three basic sets of attributes: productivity (production of preferred com modities as well as productivity of the land's resources), sustainability (conservation of the production potential of the resource base), and adoptability (acceptance of the practice by the farming community or other targeted clientele).
Fundamental to realization of the promise of agrofor estry systems is the multitude of lesser known woody species that have come to be known as 'multipurpose trees' or 'multipurpose trees and shrubs' (MPTs). The MPTs are the mainstay of most traditional tropical agro forestry systems. The contributions of MPTs and agroforestry systems in general are usually grouped under two broad categories: production of commodities and ecosystem services. The former refers to enhance ment of outputs such as food, animal fodder, fuelwood, timber, and nontimber products, whereas the latter refers to tree mediated services such as carbon storage, biodi versity conservation, and water quality enhancement. As a result of major research and development efforts in tropical agroforestry during the past three decades, a large number of indigenous MPTs have been identified and their multiple role in providing food and nutritional security, medicines, cash income, and a whole host of other products and benefits have been recognized. (Several comprehensive databases of MPTs are available, including the Agroforestree and other databases by ICRAF, various tree data bases by FAO, tropical fruits database, and Forestry Compendium and Forest Products Abstracts database by CABI.) A vast majority of MPTs, however, have not been domesticated let alone exploited commercially. Undoubtedly, a major opportunity as well as challenge in agroforestry lies in domesticating, improving, and exploiting the multitude of these indigenous MPTs.
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