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Agroforestry

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Agroforestry is a system of land management where trees are deliberately planted with agricultural crops to emulate native forestry systems. Farmers and Indigenous communities have been planting crops and trees together in food forest systems for thousands of years. In recent years agroforestry has become increasingly recognized as a way of land management that sequesters carbon and has many mutually reinforcing benefits. By integrating trees with existing agricultural activities, farmers increase economic, social and environmental benefits: one being enhanced food security.

Food security is a term that accounts for many different aspects including food availability, food accessibility, food utilization, and food stability. Agroforestry targets all of these aspects by providing food directly to increase availability, creating income to increase food accessibility, providing fuel for cooking to address food utilization and by supporting other ecosystem services to ensure food stability.

Agroforestry systems support ecosystem services that further reduce food insecurity. Planting trees along-side crops creates microclimates that shade crops from intense sun and rain and protect from pests, erosion and floods; supports animal production; and improves soil fertility.

One of the most visible ways incorporating trees into existing agricultural practices improves food security is through the food that grows on the trees themselves. By planting a mix of Indigenous and exotic fruit trees, farmers are growing nutritionally dense foods, diversifying income streams, and spreading production to ensure a year-long supply of food.

During periods of increasing food prices or harvest failures, farmers can rely on their fruit trees to act as a safety net and provide a reliable supply of food or source of income. Traditionally, these nutrient-dense foods have been collected from forests and woodlands, with the work mainly being done by women.

Another way agroforestry enhances food security is by generating income to increase access to food. Food insecurity and poverty are closely linked, as supplying a means to reduce poverty results in a parallel reduction of food insecurity.  Planting a variety of trees and crops is essential as diversity ensures consistent income while relying on income from a single commodity crop can lead to food insecurity when farmers are vulnerable to payments that are one-off, delayed, or unpredictable in value.

Agroforestry also supports populations of pollinator species such as insects and birds that are essential for many crops like integrating beekeeping with agroforestry systems in order to increase biodiversity and contribute to food security goals. Increased biodiversity that comes from integrating trees into agricultural land contributes to food and nutrition security of rural farmers. If one crop fails, biodiversity such as crop diversity on the farm or in the neighbouring landscape, offers opportunities and alternatives for food and income. 

Small-scale farmers now see agroforestry as a way to mitigate the impacts of climate change, while increasing their food security. Given this, the greatest opportunity to sequester carbon on a large scale is through innovations that simultaneously support people and the planet. 

By adopting agroforestry practices, smallholder farmers are able to increase their food security while simultaneously sequestering carbon from the atmosphere, bettering their economic opportunities, and enhancing other essential ecosystem services. Through appropriately combining plants, animals, and trees in agroforestry systems, farmers not only increase farm yields, therefore increasing food security, but also promote ecological and social resilience to change. These benefits are seen around the world where farmers are incorporating agroforestry, therefore becoming a risk reduction strategy that is recognized for its adaptation and mitigation roles.

Agroforestry works because it's farming in 3D – the roots reach deep into the ground to cycle nutrients and store carbon, while above ground, the trees protect crops and animals against the elements of erosion.

Agroforestry can further help farmers and communities to adapt to changes in climate through maintaining and enhancing environmental services. It can provide opportunities for diversification that build resilience and generate additional income. There are innumerable examples of traditional land-use practices involving the growing of trees with agricultural crops to augment food production and buffer farmers against the risks of crop failure by providing alternate sources of income. The incorporation of livestock and bioenergy also provide diversification opportunities to farmers. Agroforestry interventions are uniquely placed to achieve multiple objectives of food and environmental security.

Ecosystem Services are the direct and indirect contributions ecosystems (known as natural capital) provide for human wellbeing and quality of life. This can be in a practical sense, providing food and water and regulating the climate, as well as cultural aspects such as reducing stress and anxiety.

Below mentioned are the ecosystem services human benefit from the ecosystem;

Provisioning Services are ecosystem services that describe the material or energy outputs from ecosystems. They include food, water, and other resources.

Food: Ecosystems provide the conditions for growing food. Food comes principally from managed agro ecosystems but marine and freshwater systems or forests also provide food for human consumption. Wild foods from forests are often underestimated.

Raw materials: Ecosystems provide a great diversity of materials for construction and fuel including wood, bio fuels, and plant oils that are directly derived from wild and cultivated plant species.

Freshwater: Ecosystems play a vital role in the global hydrological cycle, as they regulate the flow and purification of water. Vegetation and forests influence the quantity of water available locally.

Medicinal resources: Ecosystems and biodiversity provide many plants used as traditional medicines as well as providing the raw materials for the pharmaceutical industry. All ecosystems are a potential source of medicinal resources.

 

Regulating Services are the services that ecosystems provide by acting as regulators e.g. regulating the quality of air and soil or by providing flood and disease control.

Local climate and air quality: Trees provide shade whilst forests influence rainfall and water availability both locally and regionally. Trees or other plants also play an important role in regulating air quality by removing pollutants from the atmosphere.

Carbon sequestration and storage: Ecosystems regulate the global climate by storing and sequestering greenhouse gases. As trees and plants grow, they remove carbon dioxide from the atmosphere and effectively lock it away in their tissues. In this way, forest ecosystems are carbon stores. Biodiversity also plays an important role by improving the capacity of ecosystems to adapt to the effects of climate change.

Moderation of extreme events: Extreme weather events or natural hazards include floods, storms, tsunamis, avalanches, and landslides. Ecosystems and living organisms create buffers against natural disasters, thereby preventing possible damage. For example, wetlands can soak up flood water whilst trees can stabilize slopes. Coral reefs and mangroves help protect coastlines from storm damage.

Waste-water treatment: Ecosystems such as wetlands filter both human and animal waste and act as a natural buffer to the surrounding environment. Through the biological activity of microorganisms in the soil, most waste is broken down. Thereby pathogens (disease-causing microbes) are eliminated, and the level of nutrients and pollution is reduced.

Erosion prevention and maintenance of soil fertility: Soil erosion is a key factor in the process of land degradation and desertification. Vegetation cover provides a vital regulating service by preventing soil erosion. Soil fertility is essential for plant growth and agriculture and well-functioning ecosystems supply the soil with nutrients required to support plant growth.

Pollination: Insects and wind pollinate plants and trees which is essential for the development of fruits, vegetables, and seeds. Animal pollination is an ecosystem service mainly provided by insects but also by some birds and bats. Some 87 out of the 115 leading global food crops depend upon animal pollination including important cash crops such as cocoa and coffee.

Biological control: Ecosystems are important for regulating pests and vector-borne diseases that attack plants, animals, and people. Ecosystems regulate pests and diseases through the activities of predators and parasites. Birds, bats, flies, wasps, frogs, and fungi all act as natural controls.

 

Supporting Services underpin almost all other services. Ecosystems provide living spaces for plants or animals; they also maintain a diversity of different breeds of plants and animals.

Habitats for species: Habitats provide everything that an individual plant or animal needs to survive: food; water; and shelter. Each ecosystem provides different habitats that can be essential for a species’ life cycle. Migratory species including birds, fish, mammals, and insects all depend upon different ecosystems during their movements.

Maintenance of genetic diversity: Genetic diversity is the variety of genes between and within species populations. Genetic diversity distinguishes different breeds or races from each other thus providing the basis for locally well-adapted cultivars and a gene pool for further developing commercial crops and livestock. Some habitats have an exceptionally high number of species which makes them more genetically diverse than others and are known as ‘biodiversity hot-spots.

Cultural Services include the non-material benefits people obtain from contact with ecosystems. They include aesthetic, spiritual and psychological benefits.

Recreation and mental and physical health: Walking and playing sports in green space is not only a good form of physical exercise but also lets people relax. The role that green space plays in maintaining mental and physical health is increasingly being recognized, despite difficulties of measurement.

Tourism: Ecosystems and biodiversity play an important role in many kinds of tourism which in turn provides considerable economic benefits and is a vital source of income for many countries. In 2008 global earnings from tourism summed up to US$ 944 billion. Cultural and Eco-tourism can also educate people about the importance of biological diversity.

Aesthetic appreciation and inspiration for culture, art, and design: Language, knowledge, and the natural environment have been intimately related throughout human history. Biodiversity, ecosystems and natural landscapes have been the source of inspiration for much of our art, culture and increasingly for science.

Spiritual experience and sense of place in many parts of the world natural features such as specific forests, caves or mountains are considered sacred or have a religious meaning. Nature is a common element of all major religions and traditional knowledge, and associated customs are important for creating a sense of belonging.

How Agroforestry Production Preserves Vital Ecosystem Services from Agricultural Lands.

Agroforestry production offers a multifunctional approach to land use by combining agricultural production with environmental conservation. One of the key benefits of agroforestry is its ability to preserve vital ecosystem services from agricultural lands.

Here's a comprehensive discussion on how agroforestry achieves this, along with examples:

Soil Conservation: Agroforestry practices such as alley cropping, windbreaks, and contour planting help prevent soil erosion by reducing the impact of wind and water on soil surfaces. For instance, in alley cropping systems, rows of trees or shrubs are planted between rows of crops, which helps to stabilize the soil and reduce erosion. This preserves soil fertility and promotes sustainable agricultural production over the long term.

Water Quality Regulation: Agroforestry systems can improve water quality by reducing sedimentation and nutrient runoff into water bodies. Trees and shrubs in agroforestry systems act as buffers, filtering pollutants and excess nutrients from runoff water before it reaches streams, rivers, and groundwater. Silvopastoral systems, where trees are integrated into pasturelands, have been shown to reduce nutrient runoff and improve water quality compared to conventional grazing systems.

Biodiversity Conservation: Agroforestry landscapes provide habitat and food resources for a wide range of plant and animal species. The presence of trees and shrubs in agroforestry systems enhances habitat diversity, supporting a greater variety of wildlife compared to monoculture agricultural systems. Agroforestry can help conserve native species and promote overall biodiversity on agricultural lands.

Climate Change Mitigation: Trees in agroforestry systems sequester carbon dioxide from the atmosphere, helping to mitigate climate change by reducing greenhouse gas emissions. Agroforestry practices such as agroforestry-based carbon offset projects, reforestation, and afforestation contribute to carbon sequestration and climate change adaptation. Additionally, agroforestry systems can enhance resilience to climate change by providing shade, reducing soil moisture loss, and protecting crops from extreme weather events.

Economic Benefits: Agroforestry enhances farm productivity and resilience, contributing to economic sustainability. Tree products diversify income sources for farmers, reducing vulnerability to market fluctuations.

Community Resilience: Agroforestry fosters community resilience by providing food security and livelihood opportunities. Agroforestry practices support local economies and strengthen social ties within communities.

Adaptation to Climate Change: Agroforestry systems enhance resilience to climate change by providing shade, conserving water, and protecting crops from extreme weather events. Agroforestry diversifies farm income and reduces dependence on single crops vulnerable to climate variability.

Examples of agroforestry systems preserving vital ecosystem services include:

Silvopastoral systems combining trees with livestock grazing to enhance biodiversity and soil conservation.

Agroforestry-based carbon offset projects in which farmers plant trees on agricultural lands to sequester carbon and mitigate climate change.

Riparian buffers: Planting trees and vegetation along riparian areas and water bodies helps to protect water quality by reducing runoff, filtering pollutants, and preventing soil erosion. This supports the overall health and functioning of the ecosystem and contributes to the preservation of essential ecosystem services such as water purification and habitat provision.

In summary, agroforestry systems contribute to the preservation of ecosystem services by protecting water quality, restoring wildlife habitats, sequestering carbon, conserving soil, regulating microclimates, and providing habitats for various species.

Overall, agroforestry production plays a crucial role in preserving vital ecosystem services from agricultural lands while promoting sustainable land management practices.

 

How the Element of Agroforestry Incorporated in the Farming System has Helped Farmers Address the Challenges that are Associated with Climate Change and Enhancing Food Security.

Incorporating agroforestry into farming systems has proven to be a valuable strategy for farmers to address the challenges associated with climate change and enhance food security. Here's a comprehensive discussion on how the element of agroforestry achieves these goals:

Diversification of Income Sources: Agroforestry allows farmers to diversify their income sources by integrating trees with crops or livestock. This diversification reduces reliance on a single crop or livestock species, thereby enhancing economic resilience to climate-related risks such as crop failures or fluctuations in market prices.

Enhanced Resilience to Climate Variability: Agroforestry systems contribute to enhancing resilience to climate variability by providing a buffer against extreme weather events such as droughts or floods. The presence of trees helps regulate microclimates, reduce soil erosion, and conserve water, thereby mitigating the impacts of climate extremes on crops and livestock.

Improved Soil Health and Fertility: Agroforestry practices such as alley cropping and agroforestry buffer strips improve soil health and fertility. Trees contribute organic matter to the soil through leaf litter and root exudates, enhancing soil structure, nutrient cycling, and moisture retention. This improves crop productivity and resilience to climate stressors such as drought.

Carbon Sequestration and Climate Change Mitigation: Trees in agroforestry systems sequester carbon dioxide from the atmosphere, helping mitigate climate change. Agroforestry contributes to carbon sequestration both above and below ground, thereby offsetting greenhouse gas emissions and enhancing climate resilience.

Improved Water Management: Agroforestry systems contribute to improved water management by reducing runoff and enhancing groundwater recharge. Trees and shrubs in agroforestry systems intercept rainfall, reducing soil erosion and enhancing water infiltration. This helps maintain soil moisture levels, especially during dry periods, thereby improving water availability for crops and livestock.

Biodiversity Conservation: Agroforestry systems enhance biodiversity by providing habitat and food resources for a variety of plant and animal species. The presence of trees and shrubs in agroforestry landscapes supports diverse ecological communities, including beneficial insects, birds, and microorganisms, which contribute to ecosystem resilience and agricultural productivity.

Food Security Enhancement: Agroforestry contributes to food security by diversifying food production and increasing resilience to climate-related shocks. Agroforestry systems produce a variety of food products, including fruits, nuts, and fodder, which supplement staple crop production and provide nutritious food sources year-round.

Adaptation to Changing Conditions: Agroforestry systems enable farmers to adapt to changing climatic conditions by providing flexible land use options. Farmers can adjust the composition and management of agroforestry systems in response to changing climate patterns, ensuring continued productivity and livelihood resilience.

Social and Economic Benefits: Agroforestry contributes to social and economic development by providing employment opportunities, improving rural livelihoods, and strengthening community resilience. Agroforestry-based enterprises such as agroforestry nurseries, fruit processing, and eco-tourism generate income and promote sustainable development in rural areas.

Knowledge Sharing and Capacity Building: Agroforestry promotes knowledge sharing and capacity building among farmers, extension agents, researchers, and policymakers. Collaborative approaches to agroforestry research, extension, and policy development facilitate the adoption of innovative practices and strategies for climate change adaptation and food security enhancement.

In summary, the incorporation of agroforestry into farming systems offers a multifaceted approach to addressing the challenges of climate change and enhancing food security, providing numerous environmental, social, and economic benefits for farmers and communities.

 

Examples of agroforestry systems that contribute to enhanced food security.

Alley cropping: This system involves growing food crops alongside rows of trees or shrubs. The crops benefit from the shade provided by the trees, while the trees benefit from the nutrients produced by the crops. This integrated system enhances food production and helps maintain soil fertility.

Silvopasture: Silvopasture combines trees, forage crops, and livestock in a single system. The trees provide shade for the livestock, which helps improve their welfare and productivity. Additionally, the trees contribute to soil fertility and nutrient cycling, benefiting the forage crops and overall food production.

Forest garden: In a forest garden, a diverse range of edible plants, including fruits, nuts, vegetables, and herbs, are grown together in a replication of a natural forest ecosystem. The different plant species interact and support each other, resulting in a sustainable and abundant food supply.

Windbreaks and hedgerows: Planting rows of trees or shrubs as windbreaks or hedgerows on agricultural land can protect crops from wind damage, protect soil from erosion, and provide habitat for beneficial insects. This leads to improved crop yields and overall food security.

Multistrata agroforestry: This system involves growing multiple layers of crops and trees together, mimicking a natural forest structure. The different layers make efficient use of sunlight, water, and nutrients, resulting in higher production of a variety of foods and increased food security.

Home gardens: Home gardens are small-scale agroforestry systems typically practiced in urban or peri-urban areas. They often combine food crops, fruit trees, and medicinal plants, providing households with a diverse and sustainable source of nutritious food.

These examples demonstrate how agroforestry systems can enhance food security by diversifying production, improving soil fertility and water management, protecting crops, and promoting sustainable farming practices.

References:

Sharma, N., Bohra, B., Pragya, N., Ciannella, R., Dobie, P. and Lehmann, S., 2016. Bioenergy from agroforestry can lead to improved food security, climate change, soil quality, and rural development. Food and Energy Security, 5(3), pp.165-183.

Sekaran, U., Lai, L., Ussiri, D.A., Kumar, S. and Clay, S., 2021. Role of integrated crop-livestock systems in improving agriculture production and addressing food security–A review. Journal of Agriculture and Food Research, 5, p.100190.

Raj, A., Jhariya, M.K., Yadav, D.K., Banerjee, A. and Meena, R.S., 2019. Agroforestry: a holistic approach for agricultural sustainability. Sustainable agriculture, forest and environmental management, pp.101-131.

Sunderland, T., Powell, B., Ickowitz, A., Foli, S., Pinedo-Vasquez, M., Nasi, R. and Padoch, C., 2013. Food security and nutrition. Center for International Forestry Research (CIFOR), Bogor, Indonesia.

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Chaturvedi, O. P., Bhuju, D. R., & Tamrakar, R. K. (2007). Agroforestry for soil and water conservation in a middle hill watershed of central Nepal. Agroforestry Systems, 71(2), 131-143.

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