Agroforestry: "Agriculture incorporating the cultivation and conservation of trees"
We are all aware of the current threats that climate change, poverty, intensification of food production and increasing energy demand are causing along with their effects upon land use. However, there is little integration or cohesion in practice, policy or projection;
- the rush to produce biofuels and biomass for energy has created a "food or fuel" conflict;
- the likelihood of further intensification of land use threatens the gains recently made in agricultural biodiversity;
- the need to use land for carbon sequestration could reduce capacity for food production
- whilst the fact that creating systems of land use which are adaptable and robust in the face of climate change will require radical changes is barely acknowledged in mainstream thinking.
Agroforestry is one practice that can integrate methods for food, energy and water production as well as carbon sequestration and a means to increase biodiversity. The land use system integrates trees and shrubs with crops and/or livestock production with the potential to also incorporate energy production (wind + solar). It builds on the idea of ecological design to optimise beneficial interactions between the various compartments on the land i.e. the use of nitrogen fixing tree species to aid in the nitrification of the soil which is beneficial to crop production etc.
These interactions can lead to higher productivity compared to conventional monocultural systems, and provide a wide range of ecosystem services including soil management, microclimate modification, weed control, natural fencing, carbon sequestration and nutrient recycling.
Agroforestry comes in four main types:
- Silvopasture: combines livestock grazing on forage crops or pasture within actively managed tree or shrub crops.
- Silvoarable: mixes trees amongst arable or horticultural crops
- Forest Farming: also known as 'shade systems', is the sustainable, integrated cultivation of both timber and non-timber forest products in a forest setting.
- Forest Gardening: is a food production and land management system based on woodland ecosystems, but substituting trees (such as fruit or nut trees), bushes, shrubs, herbs and vegetables which have yields directly useful to humans.
Potential impacts for humans of agroforestry can include:
- Reducing poverty through increased production of agroforestry products for home consumption and sale
- Contributing to food security by restoring farm soil fertility for food crops and production of fruits, nuts and edible oils
- Reducing deforestation and pressure on woodlands by providing fuelwood grown on farms
- Increasing diversity of on-farm tree crops and tree cover to buffer farmers against the effects of global climate change
- Improving nutrition to lessen the impacts of hunger and chronic illness associated with HIV/AIDS
- Augmenting accessibility to medicinal trees, the main source of medication for 80% of Africa's population
Agroforestry practices may also be employed to realize a number of other associated environmental aims, such as:
- Carbon sequestration
- Odour, dust, and noise reduction
- Waste water or manure management (e.g. utilizing urban waste water on intensive, short rotation forests for wood fibre production)
- Green space and visual aesthetics.
- Enhancement or maintenance of wildlife habitat.
Find below a video of a forest garden project being used as a model for resilient local food growing