Updated: Oct 30, 2019
As we brace ourselves for global warming and over population, one solution that scientists, farmers, non profits and governments are working on is the growth and implementation of Agroforestry. Although it's a relatively new term, Agroforestry has been practiced around the world for thousands of years to provide a more sustainable way of producing plants, timber, fruit and nuts, and maintaining healthy livestock.
Agroforestry is exactly what it sounds like- it's an agricultural system of planting trees on agricultural lands which benefit crops and livestock. It helps farmers maximize their land and resources by planting trees, vegetables and other crops. As the trees grow, they provide seeds, fruit and nuts, act as a buffer for crops and soil, and provide shade for livestock. It's a tri-fold approach to grow timber, food, and livestock, while ensuring the protection of the natural environment and retaining a higher level of CO2 in the soil.
According to the USDA, Agroforestry is defined as' the intentional integration of trees and shrubs into crop and animal farming systems to create environmental, economic, and social benefits.'
There are at least five different methods of practicing agroforestry:
Alley cropping: Farmers plant crops in alleyways between still-growing trees. This provides additional income while the trees mature by producing additional fruit, vegetables, flowers and shade. Think of Christmas tree farms, hardwood lumber forests and nut growers mixing their seasonal trees with other crops. This crop diversification leads to income diversification.
Forest farming: Also known as multi-story cropping, this is a practice of farming under the canopy of trees, utilizing both the vertical and horizontal spaces of their land.
Silvopasture: This involves growing trees suitable for livestock and their forages on one piece of land. The trees offer shade and shelter for livestock and their forages.
Riparian forest buffers: These are buffers along rivers, streams, lakes and wetlands mostly made up of trees, shrubs, and grasses. They help filter farm runoff, stabilize the roots and prevent rapid erosion and help lower water temperature. They also intercept pesticides and other materials and pollutants from running off into shallow water flow areas.
Windbreaks: Also called shelter beds, hedgerows or living snow fences, windbreaks are meant to shelter crops, animals, buildings and soil from wind, snow, dust, and odors. Windbreaks reduce wind chill for both crops and cattle. Cattle have shown to gain and maintain weight, leading to more productivity.
So how does Agroforestry affect sustainability and climate change?
Better pollination: It allows for a greater diversity in planting trees and crops that attracts different pollinators and make them more resilient to climate change.
Decreased dependency on water and pesticides: It adds and retains more nutrients and richness to the soil. Deep rooted trees allow for better access to the nutrients in the soil and water, esp. during droughts, thus lowering water needs and dependency on pesticides. By mixing and matching crops and trees, natural pest control is possible as we move towards extreme climates.
Global warming: These practices are successfully used to alter microclimates by providing more favorable conditions for crop and livestock and lower the temperature of water bodies.
Productivity: Shade and more pasture helps with weight gain and increases productivity in livestock. As population increases, agroforestry can help maximize land use and yield.
Economic stability: Farmers enjoy greater economic stability as they can grow more crops.
These benefits are enough to start implementing Agroforestry on a larger scale. Many organizations are working and collaborating across the world to research and implement best practices.
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