agroforestry is a collective name for “land-use systems and technologies where woody perennials (trees, shrubs, palms, bamboos, etc.) are deliberately used on the same land-management units as agricultural crops and / or animals, in some form of spatial arrangement or temporal sequence .”
Agroforestry is the third land-use method after agriculture and forestry and combines the technologies from the two other methods for more sustainable and productive land-use. Different variations of agroforestry systems are centered around problems they aim to address and include parks, shelterbelts and wind breaks, shade systems, crop-over-trees systems, alley cropping, strip cropping, fauna-based systems, boundary systems, taungyas, physical support systems, agroforests .
Agroforestry may take place on private farmlands or in public areas, for example, along highways and roads or along rivers.
Brief history of agroforestry
The practice of agroforestry goes back to ancient times. While particular practices of agroforestry differed from place to place, there are records indicating that some elements of the system go as far back as 4,500 years ago .
In some cases agroforestry manifested itself in trees on pasture lands, in others as home gardens or covering ground crops. Modern agroforestry finds its roots in development issues stemming from 1970s, particularly as a response to social and environmental downsides of high input agricultural practices on the poor populations.
Many countries now have established policies supporting agroforestry practice and research . Since then, most countries have recognized undeniable advantages of agroforestry, which are numerous.
Advantages of agroforestry
This land-use system places emphasis on interaction between different plants (crops and trees or bushes), which helps maintain soil fertility at satisfactory levels . This generally helps produce better yields at reduced operational costs and create more drought resistant systems.
Agroforestry is also recognized to help in reclamation of polluted soils, particularly salinized and acidified soils .
Less chemicals and cleaner groundwater
On this point, trees and bushes play an important role in preventing soil erosion, which is an important factor in producing agricultural runoff in the first place. Reduced agricultural runoff means saved water and avoided pollution of drinking water in rivers and lakes.
Vital habitat for animals
Agroforestry systems offer a much better natural habitat to a variety of animals, birds, and insects than agricultural lands. Trees also serve as a protection to livestock from the sun and the wind in warmer months.
Moreover, agroforestry systems are claimed to reduce the amount of agricultural insect pests and reduce associated diseases .
On a more general level, agroforestry contributes to several globally relevant developmental issues. Thus, it has a positive effect on poverty reduction through increased production of wood for home consumption and sale .
While wood may be used in the household for heating purposes, some studies also illustrated high energy savings from yard shelterbelts protecting houses from the wind and snow in cold months .
Climate change mitigation
In the recent decades, the role of agroforestry in climate change mitigation and adaptation received particularly strong attention. Trees are extremely useful in sequestering greenhouse gases , and agroforestry is a way to combat deforestation that plagued the planet.
Since agriculture and deforestation contribute to as much as one third of global greenhouse gas emissions, agroforestry has a great potential to offsetting released carbon dioxide .
According to FAO, agroforestry addresses climate change through a number of solutions:
- It reduces or eliminates the need for deforestation because it provides wood products from the farmland.
- It also reduces the need to use soil nutrients and fertilizers by improving soil quality and maintaining good nutritional balance and fertility.
- Finally, agroforestry strengthens agricultural resilience by increasing crop yields and offering better environment for farm animals .
Disadvantages of agroforestry
Long waiting time for payback
There are very few downsides to agroforestry. However, the main disadvantage for those trying to grow trees and shrubs for profit is time . It is never a quick “fix” because trees, unlike crops, take a long time to grow and mature to really fulfill their purpose in the system.
Knowledge and technology intensive method
Finally, successful agroforestry systems require proper knowledge of technology (methods of combining different plants, their compatibility and effects on each other, etc.). Sometimes, agroforestry technologies may fail miserably when applied to the wrong situation .