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Agroforestry: What It Is and Why It Is Essential for Sustainable and Climate-Smart Use of Land

Agroforestry is a broad category within sustainable agriculture. It has been implemented for millennia in small-scale agricultural settings and farmer cooperatives. This series of new articles will examine its role in forest restoration, its socio-economic impact, and its different applications.

What is agroforestry?

According to a popular definition by the World Agroforestry Centre, agroforestry systems are land-use systems and practices in which woody perennials (trees, shrubs, bamboos, palms, etc.) are grown in the same land management unit as crops and animals. Because agroforestry builds rather than depletes forest ecosystems, it has remarkable ecological, social, and economic advantages.

Suitable trees used for agroforestry activities should:

  • Be multipurpose trees (trees that are grown and managed for more than one result)

  • Be resilient

  • Maintain landscape integrity

  • Not be invasive

  • Be easy to prune, maintain, and grow

  • Be resistant to grazing

  • Be non-timber products (products other than timber that grow naturally and can be harvested without cutting trees)

  • Fix nitrogen in the soil

  • Have the potential to grow with mixed crops

  • Produce biomass

  • Have high-density wood, which has a high heating value

What are the benefits of agroforestry?

Our field team trains farmers in agroforestry techniques as a sustainable alternative to slash-and-burn agriculture, a destructive and unsustainable practice that is widespread in Central America and Mexico. Slash-and-burn activities involve forest clearing and burning that contribute to deforestation, soil erosion, poor crop yields, and malnutrition.

Agroforestry improves soil fertility, reduces erosion, and adds nutrients like nitrogen to the soil.

Conversely, agroforestry improves soil fertility, reduces erosion, and adds nutrients like nitrogen to the soil. In addition, by planting woody plants and trees agroforestry activities restore forest ecosystems and increase biodiversity.

Some of the most common benefits of agroforestry are:

  • Landscape restoration

  • Increased productivity and quality of crop yields

  • Increased sustainability of agricultural production systems

  • Improved soil health

  • Ecological stability

  • Food security

  • Economic development of local farmers

  • Sustainable livelihood enhancement of rural communities

Adaptive management in agroforestry

At EcoLogic, we believe that adaptive management approaches in agroforestry systems can effectively tackle some of the biggest threats to tropical ecosystems in rural Mexico and Central America.

Our team and local partners work together to choose and adapt different agroforestry strategies for each region and community where we work. Agroforestry activities must fit the local social, environmental, and economic context.

Because our definition of agroforestry is broad in scope, many traditional practices, such as live fences for grazing animals containment, are included in our management strategy. This inclusion allows our staff to fine-tune different approaches to communities' needs, priorities, and resources while incorporating agroforestry practices into local farmer activities more efficiently.

With agroforestry strategies ecological and economic benefits are not mutually exclusive: We often combine agroforestry systems to maximize their impact and benefits for communities, such as richer biodiversity, improved soil health, greater food security, and steadier income.

Frequent site visits and direct communication with community leaders and farmers are essential to match a community to the most appropriate agroforestry system.

Do you want to learn more about agroforestry and its different practices? Then, stay tuned for the next article of the series!

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