Agroforestry systems are a great way to produce food while deliberately integrating trees into farmland or bringing livestock, fruit and crop production into forests. This management practice increases food security and ecosystem resilience. But agroforestry systems have much more to offer. Learn about 7 benefits of agroforestry practices, from soil conservation to increased biodiversity.
Agroforestry is a collective term for land use systems and technologies in which woody perennials (trees, shrubs, palms, bamboo, etc.) are deliberately combined with an agricultural crop, fodder, vegetable, fruit and livestock production systems, e.g. planting trees alongside arable fields or annual crops in orchards; in some form of spatial arrangement or temporal sequence.
Agroforestry systems are dynamic, ecologically based natural resource management systems that offer excellent environmental benefits and foster ecological, economic, and social resiliency regarding climate change mitigation and food security.
However, integrated land management practices are not a new invention at all. Land management practices such as agroforestry systems and forest farming find their roots in ancient cultures such as the Roman time. They have been used, e.g., by indigenous groups worldwide, who have lived with and in forests for centuries.
Nowadays, agroforestry practices are used worldwide, across Europe, and North and South America.
As mentioned, agroforestry refers to a conscious integration of trees and shrubs in agricultural crops, fodder production, and vegetable and fruit production to positively impact the environment, the economy, and society.
There are various agroforestry practices. Find out more about five common ones:
In agroforestry systems, woody perennials act as windbreakers on and around a farmland field. As barriers, they reduce wind speeds and prevent soil degradation Windbreaks can help create a more favourable microclimate for crop growth by reducing wind damage, improving soil moisture retention, and increasing humidity.
Windbreaks provide shelter for livestock but also wildlife, enhancing biodiversity. Windbreaks can comprise various tree and shrub species, including conifers, broadleaf trees, and shrubs. Proper management of windbreaks, such as pruning, thinning and replanting as needed, is essential to ensure they continue providing the intended benefits.
River forest buffers are strips of trees and vegetation planted along the banks of rivers, streams, and other bodies of water to protect them from the impacts of agricultural activities. These buffer zones, also known as riparian buffers or streamside forests, are important to agroforestry systems.
In agroforestry, river forest buffers can serve productive and protective functions. They can help to:
Overall, river forest buffers are critical for promoting sustainable agriculture and protecting the health of our waterways, natural forests and ecosystems. They reduce environmental degradation and serve local communities with their environmental services.
Alluvial agriculture is a form of agroforestry practice in which plants and trees are grown on flood plains and other alluvial soils. This land use system increases soil fertility, improves water management and promotes the overall health of the ecosystem and the agricultural landscape.
Over centuries, alluvial soils have been formed by depositing sediments carried by rivers and other bodies of water. Often, they are subject to periodic flooding. These floods can benefit agriculture, adding new nutrients and organic matter to the soil and, consequently, helping to control pests and diseases.
This sustainable land use has been practised especially by smallholder farmers for thousands of years in many parts of the world. The land use practice is particularly common in fertile floodplains like the Nile Valley, the Mekong Delta and the Amazon Basin. It is an important strategy for promoting sustainable agriculture and protecting the health of our waterways and ecosystems.
Silvopasture is a form of agroforestry that integrates trees, fodder, and livestock in a mutually beneficial system that provides various environmental and economic benefits. Livestock grazes on pasture growing under trees.
Silvopastoral systems can take many forms, depending on the type of trees and forage used, the climate and soil conditions, and the management practices applied. Common tree species in silvopastoral systems include hardwoods such as oak and hickory, and conifers such as pine and spruce. Grasses, legumes, and other herbaceous plants are used as forage crops.
Additionally, the combination of trees and pasture increases the nutritional quality and diversity of forage while reducing environmental impact. This can prevent erosion and nutrient run-off, improve soil health and increase biodiversity. Moreover, farmers profit from an additional income source, such as timber and non-timber forest products.
Forest farming practices involve growing crops in a forest or forested area. This includes growing crops under a forest canopy, such as shade-loving plants, or planting crops between trees, such as nut and fruit trees.
The trees positively impact climate change mitigation through carbon sequestration while providing economic benefits to farmers. Altogether, this practice helps to improve soil, reduce erosion, provide habitat for wildlife and sequester carbon. Valuable crops, timber, fruits, nuts and medicinal plants can be harvested.
Agroforestry practices offer several benefits for the natural environment, landscape restoration, protection of natural resources, the economy, and society.
Learn about 7 benefits of agroforestry practices in short:
Agroforestry systems help to prevent soil erosion by improving the soil structure and increasing soil organic matter. Woody perennials help fix nitrogen, improving soil fertility and reducing the need for fertilizers.
Agroforestry systems can improve soil health by reducing soil compaction, increasing water infiltration, and reducing nutrient losses.
Agroforestry systems can filter pollutants from farm runoff, improving water quality in streams and rivers.
Trees provide shelter for livestock and wildlife, which can improve their health and reduce stress.
Agroforestry systems provide numerous ecosystem services, such as carbon sequestration, habitat creation, and biodiversity conservation.
Trees and shrubs in agroforestry systems can modify the microclimate by providing shade, reducing wind speed, and increasing humidity, which can improve crop yields sustaining agricultural production.
Agroforestry systems can improve moisture retention in the soil, reducing the need for irrigation and improving water use efficiency.
Agroforestry and conventional agriculture rely on different approaches. Conventional agriculture typically involves clearing land and cultivating crops in monocultures, often using synthetic fertilizers, pesticides and other inputs to maximize yields. In contrast, agroforestry integrates trees into the landscape with crops and/or livestock to mimic the structure and function of natural ecosystems.
One of the key differences between these two approaches is the level of biodiversity they promote. Conventional farming typically involves clearing all natural vegetation and replacing it with a single crop, which can lead to soil degradation, erosion, and loss of wildlife habitat. Conversely, agroforestry promotes biodiversity by incorporating a range of tree species, undersown crops and sometimes livestock, which can help improve soil health, prevent erosion and provide habitat for a range of wildlife.
Another difference between agroforestry and conventional agriculture is its impact on the climate. Conventional agriculture typically uses synthetic fertilizers, which contribute to greenhouse gas emissions, and grows monocultures, which are less able to sequester carbon. In contrast, agroforestry can sequester carbon in trees, soils and biomass, making it an effective strategy for mitigating climate change.
Overall, agroforestry offers a more sustainable and resilient approach to land use that benefits both the environment and the people who depend on it.
In summary, agroforestry systems involve sustainable land management practices that provide environmental, economic and social benefits through biological interactions. Agroforestry practices can improve soil health and water quality, and provide shelter for wildlife and other ecosystem services. At the same time, agroforestry systems increase resilience and regeneration capacity. Above all, farmers produce healthy food for future generations.
Date:Mar 20, 2023