Agroforestry is a type of agriculture that incorporates the planting, cultivation, and conservation of trees alongside crops or livestock farming. It’s a model of land management that integrates the unique relationships within a given ecosystem, and offers benefits on many fronts – environmental, economic, and/or social.
According to the USDA, for a management practice to be called agroforestry, it must usually satisfy the four "i"s:
This means that you’re not simply planting crops in an area that is naturally surrounded by trees, but fully leveraging the impact of each growth component in a holistic system.
Here are some examples of agroforestry at work:
Healthy crops support healthy trees. Our partners in Guatemala, The New Roots Foundation, shared a fun fact with us about how a recent batch of saplings will be planted on farms near coffee and cacao plants, which will help keep the soil and trees fertilized and free from pests. When crops are kept fairly small and rotated, they help to nourish and enrich the surrounding land, which helps trees grow strong and resilient.
Trees provide shelter and food for livestock. The presence of trees in areas of livestock grazing benefits the animals by giving them fruit and bark to eat, shade to keep cool in the heat, and wind/rain protection when the weather cools down or the rainy season sets in. Trees also help reduce the animals’ stress, helping them feel more at ease in their environment. While livestock was often considered a part of forest farming early on, animals becoming less common in the practice of agroforestry.
River maintenance. Trees and shrubs planted along rivers and streams helps filter farm runoff, prevent erosion, and create better moisture balance in the area. This is called a riparian forest buffer, and it is common practice around the world.
Forest farming. This is a method that cultivates specialty crops (such as ginseng, shiitake mushrooms, or medicinal herbs) under the protection of a forest canopy that has been modified to provide optimal shade level. The forest serves as a complex natural environment for the edible, floral, or medicinal crops harvested, while soil erosion is prevented and trees can mature.
Eco-stability. Agroforestry practices often focus on the preservation of natural forests while also cultivating a productive agriculture system. It has the potential to regenerate soil and ground water supply, prevent droughts, and provide financial value for farmers. With a forest managed through natural cycles of conservation, harvesting, and replenishment, the result is a win-win for both people and the planet.
Agroforestry is a great model of sustainable land use where community members need incentive and value in keeping forests standing, and it’s one used by a growing number of our planting project partners. Many struggling communities resort to cutting down trees simply to survive from the profits of logging. With agroforestry, they generate income from crops while keeping healthy forests alive!
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