Editorial Feature

The Environmental Benefits of Agroforestry

The combination of performing annual agricultural activities and delayed long- term production of trees on the same plot of land is described as agro forestry. Achieved by cropping on forested land or planting trees on agricultural land, research has confirmed that agro forestry can be profitable, biologically productive and sustainable.

Types of Agro Forestry

There are various types of agro forestry that are categorized:

  • Silvopasture agro forestry
  • Silvoarable agro forestry
  • Forest forming
  • Forest gardening
  • Riparian forest buffers
  • Windbreaks

Silvopasture Agro Forestry

Silvopasture is a combination of trees with farage and livestock production. Trees provide shelter for livestock and farage which can increase farage production.

Silvoarable Agro Forestry

This combines crop cultivation and forest land. Using this type of agro forestry, farmers can benefit from consistent revenue as well as the aesthetic and environmental benefits.

Forest Farming

Capitalizing on the rainfall amount in the forest and the soil being highly fertile, forest farming is using the natural environment of the forest for the cultivation of crops.

Forest Gardening

Forest gardening is the replacement of wild plants with vegetables, herbs, shrubs and fruit plants.

Riparian Forest Buffers

Vegetation is established along waterways to ensure there is a structurally sound bank. Nutrients and sediments runoff from adjacent fields and can be filtered, protecting the quality of water. The broader the buffer, the better; however, striking a balance between growing a healthy buffer and reserving land for harvesting crops is essential.

Windbreaks

Windbreaks are another way to make use of agro forestry. Forests are established in the modification of windflow and microclimate to the surrounding land and harvest fields. These look like borders along land plots and can act as snow fences, pesticide barriers and even odor-drift barriers.

Environmental Benefits of Agro forestry

The environmental benefits of agro forestry are:

  • Improving natural resource development: The total crop and wood production from an agro forestry plot is more than the separate production on the same piece of land. This is because the trees and crops complement each other’s growth. Weeds in young forestry plantations are substituted by harvested pasture or crops. Maintenance is less expensive and environmental resources are used effectively.
  • Original open landscapes are created and are aesthetically pleasing and favor recreational activities. Agro forestry plots have landscaping potential and can enhance the public image of farmers in society.
  • The greenhouse effect is countered by the constitution of an efficient system for carbon sequestration, by integrating the stock maintenance of organic material in the soil and superimposing a net fixing wooded layer.
  • Enables the protection of soil and water especially in sensitive areas
  • Enhance biodiversity in the sense that crops are protected by their association with trees stimulating the hyper parasite (parasite of parasites) population of crops
  • Off-site benefits from water-table control - An agro forestry system helps decrease the water table and helps reduce the off-site impacts from dry land salinity and water logging.
  • Flood mitigation - The risk of flooding in large areas is increased by rising water tables. By lowering water tables, this can be reduced and downstream towns can benefit.
  • Soil erosion and runoff can be controlled by reducing water loss, soil material, nutrients and organic matter
  • Biological activity and soil organic matter can be maintained at satisfactory levels for soil fertility.
  • Through organic matter maintenance and the impact of tree roots, physical properties of soil can be maintained.
  • The development of soil toxicities can be checked or reduced – soil acidification and salination can be monitored and trees can be employed to reclaim polluted soils.
  • Solar energy is used more effectively than monocultural systems; a range of leaf shapes, alignments and plants of different heights all contribute to this.
  • Agro forestry may result in a reduction in insect pests and related diseases. It can also reclaim degraded or eroded land.
  • Trees and shrubs that aid in nitrogen fixing increase nitrogen inputs to agro forestry systems.
  • Agro forestry is capable of creating a diverse farm economy and stimulating the entire rural economy resulting in more stable communities and farms. When systems produce a number of products, economic risks are reduced.

Other Advantages of Agro forestry

When compared to conventional forestry systems, agro forestry offers a different land use option. Since trees and crops complement each other, this setup is ideal and available resources are effectively used.

Agro forestry has environmental benefits and also has a landscape benefit. Modern versions of agro forestry have adapted to the restrictions imposed from mechanization.

The agro forestry plot constantly generates revenue for the farmer, enabling the diversification of farm activity and a better use of environmental resources. The benefits of agro forestry can be seen from three different perspectives:

From the Arable Perspective

The benefits from the arable perspective are:

  • The activities of arable farmers are diversified by building an inheritance of valuable trees and at the same time, continuing to generate revenue from the plants that have been planted.
  • Animals and intercrops are protected by the trees that shield from wind offering shelter from the rain, wind and sun, keeping the soil in place and stimulating soil microflora and fauna.
  • The deep tree roots recover the drained or leached nutrients; the soil is enriched by tree litter and the dead roots of the trees.
  • This is an alternative to full reforestation as the continuance of arable activity is permitted.

From the Forestry Perspective

The benefits of agro forestry from the forestry perspective are:

  • Wide spacing results in the acceleration of the diameter growth of the trees
  • The number of trees that have no commercial future are considerably less therefore, the capital cost of the plantation is reduced.
  • Maintenance costs of the plantation - The presence of intercrops are largely reduced and the quality of wood produced is enhanced since trees are not subject to thinning and competition.
  • Guaranteed tree care and follow-up - The arable intercropping activity protects against the risk of fire in susceptible areas.
  • Agro forestry plantations on arable land enable the development of quality wood resources that compliment products from conventionally exploited forests.

Conclusion

Agro forestry is a combination of forest trees, row crops and livestock and it is surprising that it was not implemented since the agricultural revolution began. In order to adopt agro forestry on a large scale, it needs to overcome the drawbacks.

One challenge of agro forestry is land management. Since the use of land is diverse, day-to-day farming issues are more complicated than in a monocultural farm or straight forestry operation. Furthermore, agro forests see reduced yields as the small crops compete with trees for water, nutrients and light from soil.

Use of farming technology is tough in the confined forest space. If these challenges are overcome, it would be possible to reap the environmental benefits of agro forestry.

Sources and Further Reading

Kris Walker

Written by

Kris Walker

Kris has a BA(hons) in Media & Performance from the University of Salford. Aside from overseeing the editorial and video teams, Kris can be found in far flung corners of the world capturing the story behind the science on behalf of our clients. Outside of work, Kris is finally seeing a return on 25 years of hurt supporting Manchester City.

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