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Assessing farmer's interest on agroforestry systems through agricultural sustainability.


The term of agroforestry comes from a combination word of agriculture and forestry. The components of agriculture consist of trees and animal species. Meanwhile, forestry focused on the forest tree species either timber or non-timber forest trees. Given that agroforestry is a combination of agriculture and forestry sectors, agroforestry systems has been defined as an integration of forest species into existing animal husbandry and agricultural land [1]. In the simplest meaning, it is the practices of building forest through agriculture. As the systems has been developed and improved, [2] further interpreted agroforestry systems as a practice of growing trees, crops, and animals in the same unit of agricultural land to increase farm productivity by holding the principles of sustainability. Based on the term verification, the concept of agroforestry is the art and science of growing agricultural crops, plant materials, and animals in the same unit of agricultural land by considering it impacts on environment, social, and economic aspects. In social point of view, there is increasing recognition that there are important relationship between agroforestry systems and smallholder farmers. The relationship has been widely investigated by [3] and [4]. Accordingly, the systems are mostly implemented by the smallholder farmers or poor rural people in one unit of agricultural land through the integration of agricultural crops, alternative crops, and livestock as its components. The process of integrating these components are related to the agroforestry landscape which involves spatial arrangement or temporal sequence that are environmentally, socially, and economically useful for rural community [5].

The mutual interaction of agroforestry components is not only focused on maximum utilization of land [1], but also have the ability to produce multiple outputs of agricultural products [6]-[7]. In response to these interactions, agroforestry development that derived from the integration of agriculture and forestry sectors into a new system holds the principle of sustainability of environment, social, and economic. These three dimensions is measured as an indicator for the sustainable development in agriculture sector [8]. Besides, [9] defined sustainable agriculture as a "productive, competitive and efficient way to produce agricultural products, while at the same time protecting and improving the natural environment and social or economic conditions of local communities". Thus, agroforestry systems has considerable potential as sustainable agriculture practices since it holds the principles of sustainability that involve environment, social, and economic consideration. This study is designed to explain the agricultural sustainability of agroforestry systems within oil palm cultivation context. Specifically, it concentrates on the factors that need to be considered while implementing agroforestry systems in oil palm cultivation in order to increase the value and farmers' interest on the systems. This study puts forwards semi-structured interview, non-participant observation, and document analysis as the method of data collection. Oil palm smallholdings in the Paloh Township located at Kluang, Johor are selected as sites study. The findings of this study may provide useful baseline information regarding the factors that need to be considered in creating an environmentally friendly, socially acceptable, and economically viable of agroforestry systems practiced by the smallholder oil palm farmers.

Literature Review:

Agroforestry Systems in Oil Palm Cultivation:

The changing demands for self-sufficiency agricultural products among oil palm smallholder farmers are steadily increasing the farmers' interest to integrate and maximize the utilization of agricultural land. In response to these needs, agroforestry systems are seen as a systematic and efficient land use management to increase agricultural productivity, especially for small scale farmers. In micro level practices, the implementation of agroforestry systems is subjected to the enhancement of alternative agricultural production instead of focusing on the main crop production. Along this attention, [10] stressed out that the use of alternative crop and crop diversification as among the indicator for environmental aspect in micro level farming system. This agricultural enhancement acknowledged as a source for additional income for rural farmers [11]. The systems which involves organic farming practices such as decomposition of green manure for organic fertilizers are further encouraged the smallholder farmers to use the natural resources in appropriate way for their livelihood improvement. Given an important benefit of agroforestry systems for the smallholder farmers, the systems recognized as an approach that promote maximum land utilization for diverse agricultural products through sustainable practices (Figure 1).

Despite major agroforestry benefits on economic aspect through its multiple output concept, it is important to notice that most of agroforestry systems practiced by poor rural farmers due to the issues of poverty [4]. The study points out that 50% of poor rural farmers are depending on their livestock and crop production to endure their difficult lives. In the earlier work of [12], they stressed the intentionally participation of other family members include women and children in agricultural production especially during crop harvesting in order to increase and generate additional income. Continuous integration of various components in the systems is economically viable but socially intolerable by certain farmers due to lack of knowledge on the agroforestry values. Scanning the successfulness of agroforestry systems by [1], systematically planned and designated agroforestry systems are required in creating a sustainable agriculture practices. There is therefore a need to identify influential factors in creating favorable agroforestry systems and to consider these factors for its sustainability.

Influential Factors in the Implementation of Agroforestry Systems:

The practice of agroforestry systems by adding new plants, crop patterns, and its management are largely influencing the effectiveness and successfulness of the systems. This view is supported by [13] who analyzed that the implementation of agroforestry systems is based on the character of the components, high market values, and planting density. For example, teak (Tectona grandis) is suitable to be integrated with oil palm crops due to its character which is fast growing timber species, clear bole, erect growth, and small and sparse canopy. Previous study also has reported that teak has been recommended to be integrated with oil palm crops since 1990s based on its high market values on timber production [11]. More importantly, it can be integrated both during immature and mature phase of oil palm cultivation, but depending on the selection of crop patterns. In this point of view, the relationship between plant selection for the integration of alternative crops and agricultural crops as main component has been widely investigated by [6]-[11]-[13]-[14]-[15]. It is found that long-term perennial crops of commodity crops and forest trees are more suitable to be implemented using double avenue planting system instead of triangular planting system. The best way to measure the suitability of the systems is through the understanding on its management that consists of plant selection and crop patterns. Of the numerous published agroforestry research activities in oil palm cultivation, [11] again argued that the implementation of agroforestry systems among smallholder farmers are influenced by their knowledge, budget, and long-term returns. The interest of farmers to implement agroforestry systems are depending on the economic status of the farmers and the systems. In Malaysia for example, an allocation of RM297 million and RM7000 per hectare are given to smallholder farmers by the Ministry of Plantation Industries and Commodities (MPIC) and Rubber Industry Smallholders Development Authority (RISDA) [16]-[17]. This financial assistance is an initiative taken by the governmental sector to develop and improve the agricultural productivity in micro level farming system. The financial assistance is needed mostly for replanting stage as the farmers need to clear their agricultural land and later on prepare new young oil palm crops for replanting process. However, without appropriate knowledge and institutional support given to the smallholder farmers on farming techniques and strategies, they are unable to plan and design sustainable agriculture practices on reference to agroforestry systems. Several authors also have recognized that the implementation of agroforestry systems among oil palm farmers is subjected to natural factors [11]-[13]-[18]. It involves age of oil palm, topography and soil types, climate, area, and number of workforce. Alongside these factors, short-term perennial crops and annual crops such as banana (Musa spp.), pineapple (Ananas comosus), yellow sugarcane (Sipha flava), and papaya (Carica papaya) favorably planted only during the first three years of oil palm cultivation using triangular planting system. This is due to restriction of light, water, nutrient, and spaces [6], as well as its fast harvesting period than can be harvested within 1 year of cultivation [18]. In contrast, long-term perennial crops of other commodity crops, forest trees, and fruit trees only suitable to be integrated using double avenue or boundary planting system that can be applied both during immature and mature phase of oil palm cultivation [6]-[11]-[14]. [11] further explained that the integration of timber tree species in oil palm cultivation must consider the ages of oil palm in which it must be planted after the plantation of the oil palm crops. For example, average ages of sentang (Azadirachta excelsa) and teak (Tectona granais) that suit for the integration are 4.79 years, meanwhile the average age of oil palm suitable for the integration is 6.82 years. It appears that the integration of main and alternative crops in agroforestry systems have a close relationship in terms of farm management, economic factors, and natural factor (Figure 2).

The consideration on these factors is important in determining the suitability of the systems to be implemented in oil palm cultivation. It further influences farmers' interest to implement the systems in their oil palm cultivation. The most importantly, it should be emphasized that the considerations on these influential factors will not decreasing the growth performance of oil palms crops.


This study conducted to identify the influential factors of agroforestry systems in oil palm smallholdings. The data were analyzed through its agricultural sustainability that further influences farmers' interest to implement these systems in their oil palm cultivation. The application of exploratory research through qualitative approach have seldom attempted to identify the relationship between agroforestry values and farmers'

interest [19]-[20]-[21]. This study puts forward a methodology of interview and observation that supported with document analysis of previous research. Semi-structured interview with the experts and smallholder farmers, and non-participant observation in smallholdings prominently conducted in this study.

Semi-Structured Interview:

Altogether 9 participants were interviewed, 7 experts from governmental institution and 2 successful smallholder farmers who are practicing agroforestry systems. A good responses and connections from governmental institution mainly the Malaysian Palm Oil Board (MPOB), this study applied purposive sampling for the selection of interview respondents. Most of the participants were selected based on their credibility in which 100% of them were involved directly and indirectly in oil palm cultivation, 78% in the application of agroforestry systems, and 33% have a knowledge and experience in sustainable agriculture practices. In details, the respondent among smallholder farmers are suggested by the MPOB based on their continuous and successful practices of agroforestry systems. The process becomes easier as the smallholder farmers can be reached since they are registered as smallholder farmers with the MPOB and fully monitored by Tunjuk Ajar dan Nasihat Sawit (TUNAS) Center.

Non-Participant Observation:

The observation of field work for the study was conducted in 10 smallholdings in the Paloh Township in Kluang District located in Johor, Malaysia. Oil palm cultivation in Peninsular Malaysia is monopolized by Johor with 13.97% (730,694 hectares) of total oil palm cultivation in Malaysia. Concurrently, Kluang District identified as the highest district of oil palm smallholdings with the total area of 46,515 hectares planted by 13,053 oil palm farmers (Table I). The observation was only conducted for the purpose of monitoring and recording on the selection of alternative crops and the arrangement that are implemented in their oil palm cultivation. The observation was further providing an explanation and understanding on the farmers' interest in practicing agroforestry systems.


The values and farmers' interest to implement agroforestry systems in oil palm cultivation are influenced by many factors include climate, topography, soil types, number of workers, knowledge, high market values, character of the components as well as planting density. It shows that the interest in agroforestry systems is simultaneously affected by the suitable integration and arrangement of the components to be integrated within oil palm crops. The relationship between influential factors and suitable integration and arrangement of the components that will influence farmers' interest can be divided into three main categories and five factors of agricultural sustainability as shown in Figure 3. The category involved farm management, natural factor, and economic factor. In details, the explanation of the factors that influencing the farmers' interest to implement agroforestry systems in oil palm cultivation context is involving oil palm crop as the main component, maturity of oil palm crop, market values and demand, belowground and aboveground interaction, and agricultural landscape planning and design.

Oil Palm Crop as the Main Component:

The implementation of agroforestry systems that focus on agricultural crop as the main component known as agrisilviculture sub-system. In this study, oil palm crops itself is the main component and other alternative crops and livestock considered as alternative components for agricultural production. The nature of oil palm crops that associate the immature (unproductive) and mature (productive) phases, it has increased the farmers' interest to practice agroforestry systems in their oil palm cultivation. The analysis on oil palm crops production revealed that smallholder farmers are facing source of income difficulties especially during the immature phase of oil palm cultivation. As there is no yield can be harvested during that phase, alternative components can be integrated within the inter rows of oil palm rows for self-sufficiency purposes [4]. In contrast, most of the smallholdings focused on the oil palm crops production and less interested to integrate alternative components as the oil palm crops reach mature phase. Since there is no more integration within the inter rows of oil palm crops, the concentration in farm management can be focused on oil palm cultivation. This farming strategy is back to the main purpose of agricultural land in which oil palm crops as the central crop production (Figure 4).

In terms of agricultural sustainability, it is subjected to the ability of the systems to maintain the oil palm crops as its central crop production instead of alternative crops production. The interest of farmers in the selection of alternative crops to be integrated within the area of oil palm rows may differ in terms of structural, functional, socioeconomic, and ecological basis. However, the integration of alternative crops must not give negative impacts on the growth performance of oil palm crops in order to be accepted as sustainable agriculture practices. This is in line with another finding that only sustainable interaction allowed to be practiced in these agroforestry systems. The suitable selection of alternative crops which resulted into positive agroforestry interaction is in the range of mutualism, facilitation, commensalism, and neutralism interaction. The interaction between oil palm crops and alternative crops must be either creates positive or neutral impacts on the growth performance of oil palm crops.

Maturity of Oil Palm Crops:

Compared to monoculture system, agroforestry systems involved three types of arrangement that suitable to be implemented in oil palm cultivation context among smallholdings. It consists of triangular, double avenue, and boundary planting systems. In most smallholdings where agroforestry systems are practiced, triangular planting system is significantly favorable and recommended by the governmental agency of the MPOB. This result may be explained by the fact that alternative crops most integrated during the immature phase of oil palm cultivation rather than mature phase. Under such conditions, the focus of the agricultural land is subjected to oil palm crops production as it reaches mature phase, resulting impractical for the farmers to applied double avenue and boundary planting systems. Understanding the role of oil palm age in the implementation of agroforestry systems is important not only for the farm management perspective, but also in natural factor perspective of growth performance and yield production for both oil palm crops and alternative crops (Figure 5).

The overall responses to this influential factor support that the main objective of agroforestry systems is to accommodate and ensure continuous monthly income of the smallholder farmers both during immature and mature phases of oil palm cultivation. Income generation during immature phase can be gained from alternative crops, while continuous oil palm yields can be harvesting during mature phase that last long for more than 25 years. Result from the interview with smallholder farmers further suggested that the enjoyment in implementing agroforestry systems for additional income purposes could be more profitable for both oil palm and alternative crops through the consideration of oil palm crop maturity. This finding is in agreement with [18] findings which showed the underlying concept of agrisilviculture sub-system is referred to the integration of alternative crops mainly during the immature phase of unproductive oil palm crops for economic purposes, especially among rural smallholder farmers. In addition to oil palm crops as the main components, the maturity of the crops for integration purposes could influence the agricultural sustainability of the systems. It is promoted that alternative crops are more suitable for the integration during immature phase as the outputs can generate a source of income and followed by the oil palm crops production during mature phase.

Market Values and Demand:

The direct cash values gained from the integration of alternative crops are highly influenced the farmers' interest to implement the systems in their agricultural land. Concurrently, the selection of suitable alternative crops to be integrated into the systems includes its viability for the commercial production. The standard consideration in economic factor is on the market value of the crops and demand from the local and international market. The most striking result to emerge from the data collection is that short-term perennial crops of banana are seen to have great market values and demand from local and international market, as the species are identified as the most preferred species integrated in oil palm cultivation (Figure 6). Out of 10 smallholdings, there were seven smallholdings integrated with 5 banana species which are pisang berangan (Musa acuminata 'Dwarf Cavendish'), pisang emas (Musa acuminata 'Lady Finger'), pisang rastali (Musa sapientum Cv Rastali), pisang susu (Musa sapientum fixa lacte), and pisang tanduk (Musa paradisiaca).

Prior study that has noted the preference of banana species as the most favorable and suitable alternative crop as the species readily available at all times since it is not seasonal fruit and highly demanded both in Malaysia and other countries [6]. Another example of this is the study carried out by [15] in which tongkat Ali (Eurycoma longifolia) is suitable to be integrated with oil palm crops as additional income sources, especially during immature and replanting phase due its demand for herbal and medicinal purposes as the species are hardly can be found in the forest area. Rather than for the local market, the integration of tongkat Ali also contributes to the development of country's herbal industry and national economy. These findings showed that market perfection is indirectly influenced farmers' interest to choose the most favorable and suitable alternative crops in accordance to its profitability.

Belowground and Aboveground Interaction:

As has been explored, the integration of agricultural crops and alternative crops creates agroforestry interaction either positive, neutral, or negative interaction. These interaction leads to a subdivision of interaction include mutualism, facilitation, commensalism, neutralism, parasitism, and competition. Yet, only positive and neutral interaction on oil palm crops can be applied in these systems as the systems must consider oil palm crop as the main component. In general, therefore, the interaction are further influenced the growth performance and yield production of both components. The key of agroforestry interaction is associated with the belowground and aboveground relationship that exists in the systems. However, the nature of the interaction between oil palm crops and alternative crops should be either positive or neutral interaction in creating a sustainable agriculture practices and maintain its agricultural sustainability. Certainly, the consideration on belowground and aboveground interaction has influenced the sustainability of agricultural land both in environmental, social, and economic aspects (Figure 1). The result is that the integration of various components in an agricultural land produces diverse benefits for direct cash values as well as improving the soil quality of the agricultural land through organic farming system. This can be illustrated briefly through the integration of leguminous cover crops as ground cover management such as soybeans (Glycine max) and green beans (Vigna radiate) [22]. The species has the ability to improve soil fertility by fixing nitrogen of the oil palm crops as well as can be harvested for nuts productions.

Agricultural Landscape Planning and Design:

Despite the aggregate evidence suggesting that the consideration of farm management and natural factor on oil palm crops as the main components and its maturity, in some cases where the selection of crop composition and space arrangement has taken place as a factor that influencing the agricultural sustainability of the systems. It has encouraged the farmers' interest to implement the systems in their oil palm cultivation through appropriate planned and designed for vertical and horizontal diversification. With the current emphasis on the selection of agricultural diversification, various alternative crops have been identified suitable to be integrated with oil palm crops ranging from cash and cover crops include perennial crops, annual crops, grasses, and leguminous cover crops. In addition, an important finding of the study is the selection of short-term perennial cash crops and cover crops as the most suitable and preferred integration practiced by the smallholder farmers. This preference is mainly due to the structural character of the species that are not disturbing oil palm crops, thus successfully creating win-win situations through mutualism and neutralism interaction. Banana (Musa spp.), groundnut (Arachis hypogea), and pineapple (Ananas comosus) are among the example of alternative crops suitable to be integrated with oil palm crops. More analytically, correct planting design and techniques are among the elements that need to be considered in the farm management strategies for the agricultural landscape planning and design consideration. There are three types of arrangements that are suitable to be applied in agroforestry systems for oil palm cultivation include triangular, double avenue, and boundary planting systems. These findings of the current study are consistent with those of [6] and [11] who found that the selection of suitable alternative crops must in line with the selection of space arrangement. By way of illustration, cash and annual crops are suitable to be integrated in both immature and mature phase by using double avenue and boundary planting systems. This is due to more spaces that available for the cash crop integration. However, the crops only can be sustained for the first three years in the triangular planting system. After three years, oil palm canopy is enclosed which caused the crops unable to receive enough sunlight, water, nutrient, and space. Meanwhile, timber trees can only be planted along the borders of agricultural crops. The character of timber species which is fast growing trees may affect the growth performance of oil palm crops if the trees are integrated using triangular or double avenue planting system (Figure 7).


Agroforestry is a dynamic system which using natural resources for the development of the community. The integration of different components in one agricultural land produces and sustains multiple outputs product to improve and increase the environment, social, and economic benefits. However, the consideration on the influential factors of agroforestry systems plays an important role in creating effective, successful, and sustainable agroforestry systems. By considering 5 influential factors in determining the agricultural sustainability of agroforestry systems in oil palm cultivation, the system is successfully practicing sustainable agriculture practices. Socially, these systems have positively contributed to a positive movement in oil palm cultivation for smallholdings. As the adoption of the systems has been accepted among smallholder farmers due to its dynamic agricultural landscape planning and design, it is indirectly improve the smallholder's skill in agricultural planting design. By having updated knowledge in farming techniques and strategies, the financial assistance and scheme that are given by the governmental organization can be used effectively on practicing sustainable agriculture. Rather, the achievement of sustainable agriculture practices further encouraged and influenced the farmers' interest to implement the systems in their oil palm cultivation as the systems not only environmentally friendly, but also socially acceptable, and economically viable suitable for rural farming community.


The gratitude goes to Ministry of Higher Education (MOHE) for funding this study through Fundamental Research Grant Scheme (FRGS).


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(1) Anizah Mohd Salleh and (2) Nor Zalina Harun

(1) Master Student, Department of Landscape Architecture, Kulliyyah of Architecture and Environmental Design, International Islamic University Malaysia, Jalan Gombak, 53100 Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia.

(2) Assistant Professor, Department of Landscape Architecture, Kulliyyah of Architecture and Environmental Design, International Islamic University Malaysia, Jalan Gombak, 53100 Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia.


Article history:

Received 23 June 2015

Accepted 25 July 2015

Available online 30 August 2015

Corresponding Author: Anizah Mohd Salleh, Master Student, Department of Landscape Architecture, Kulliyyah of Architecture and Environmental Design, International Islamic University Malaysia, Jalan Gombak, 53100 KualaLumpur, Malaysia.

Table 1: Independent smallholding: number of independent
smallholder farmers and oil palm planted area in Johor
districts as of December 2013

District      Farmer             Oil palm planted area (hectares)
Mature        Immature           Total

Batu Pahat    15,504   36,897    216     37,114
Johor Baru    3,483    13,049    97      13,146
Kluang        13,053   46,043    471     46,515
Kota Tinggi   2,356    10,537    128     10,666
Kulaijaya     224      538       110     649
Ledang        2,316    5,604     83      5,688
Mersing       1,550    4,969     37      5,007
Muar          14,654   39,413    149     39,562
Pontian       9,335    26,532    235     26,768
Segamat       3,322    11,517    228     11,746
Total         65,797   195,103   1,761
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Author:Salleh, Anizah Mohd; Harun, Nor Zalina
Publication:Advances in Environmental Biology
Article Type:Report
Geographic Code:9MALA
Date:Aug 1, 2015
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