The benefits of agroforestry for our planet

Sep 15, 2020 | written by:

Planting trees is great. Planting trees in an agroforestry system is even better. Why is that, what is agroforestry, and what are its benefits? That’s what we are about to find out.


Agroforestry is often defined as ‘agriculture with trees’. Actually, it is so much more than that.


Agroforestry is the fact of cultivating a mixture of trees, shrubs, crops and in some cases livestock. It is the management of land that optimises the benefits of the interactions of trees and/or shrubs with crops and/or livestock. 

Using this type of agriculture results in more ecological and social benefits than conventional monocultural farming. Monoculture involves the growing of a single crop using the majority or whole of the land. By cultivating a single crop the farmers only need to use a single method of harvesting, thus boosting profitability for the farmer. While monoculture has its place for profitability, it also has significant negative drawbacks with potential to cause irreversible damage to the ecological system.

As trees are a fundamental component of many ecosystems, their integration in various farming practices doesn’t come as a surprise. Trees play a crucial role (see previous blog post) in almost all terrestrial ecosystems. Most trees have multiple uses and provide a range of benefits, on top of CO2 absorption. We will not get into details about this in this article as we will be focusing on the benefits of agroforestry.


Benefits of Agroforestry


The benefits created by agroforestry practices are both economic and environmental. Agroforestry can increase farm profitability in several ways:

  1. the total output per unit area of tree/ crop/livestock combinations is greater than any single component alone

  2. crops and livestock protected from the damaging effects of sun or wind are more productive

  3. new products add to the financial diversity and flexibility of the farmers

With regards to the environment, benefits are numerous:

  1. long-term carbon absorption, 

  2. soil enrichment, 

  3. biodiversity conservation, 

  4. air- and water-quality improvements.


To cite just a few.


Types of Agroforestry

There are three major types of agroforestry:

  • Agrisilvicultural systems are a combination of crops and trees

  • Silvopastoral systems combine forestry and grazing of domesticated animals on pastures, rangelands or on-farm.

  • Agrosilvopastoral systems - integrates the three elements (trees, animals and crops).


History of Agroforestry

Where does agroforestry come from? Well, although the story varies from one country to the next, the practice of maintaining or integrating trees in the agricultural landscape has existed since ancient times. It used to be the default practice in terms of land use management. Monoculture only started becoming the prominent type of agriculture during the XIX century in an effort to intensify food production.

In 1978, the International Council for Research in Agroforestry (ICRAF) was created to promote agroforestry research in developing countries in response to a study led by forester John Bene of Canada’s International Development Research Centre (IDRC) . This study coined the term "agroforestry" and called for global recognition of the key role trees play on farms.

During the 1980s the ICRAF focused on studying and documenting agroforestry in Africa. From 1991, it started explicitly linking agroforestry to the goals of CGIAR : reducing poverty, increasing food security and improving the environment. This was done through two means: overcoming land depletion in smallholder farms, and searching for alternatives to slash-and-burn agriculture. 

So while planting a tree is always amazing, now that we understand what agroforestry is, what are its benefits and where it comes from, why don’t we maximise the effects of planting a tree by planting it in an agroforestry system? Plant with us!


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