What is Agroforestry?

The increasing impact of climate change is a serious problem that cannot be waved away with the swift flick of a magic wand. Melting ice caps, growing deforestation, scarcity of fresh drinking water, increasing temperatures at a global level, ozone layer depletion; the list is endless.

The road to the final solution is multifold and can be often achieved in more than one way, which is where agroforestry comes in. If we were to talk about environmental sustainability to improve the quality of life or to judiciously use our natural resources, we must do so by addressing the issue from grass root levels. Enough emphasis cannot be laid on how cutting down trees affect the climate, not only by increasing the levels of carbon dioxide but by also triggering flooding, soil degradation and eventually leading to the extinction of plant and animal species.

Agroforestry in this context serves as just the right code to tackle the situation at hand. It is a combination of agriculture and forestry systems to reduce poverty among farmers, improve habitats for wildlife, provide food security and most importantly mitigate the risk of climate change and aid in climate change adaptation. Agroforestry also paves the way for socio-economic sustainability.

What is Agroforestry?

Agroforestry is an economically and ecologically sound practice that incorporates cultivation, conservation and tree planting alongside crops or livestock farming. It is an efficient method of land utilisation by integrating unique relationships within a given ecosystem that embraces the benefits provided by trees into agriculturally productive landscapes, which can be adapted by both small as well as large-sized land-holders. The intentional combination of agriculture with forestry increases biodiversity and reduces erosion. Agroforestry also emphasises on the utilisation of various indigenous shrubs and trees to multiply output while protecting the resource base.

Benefits of Agroforestry

Agroforestry is a highly advantageous land management model that goes in line with sustainable and developmental goals of every nation aiming for holistic development. Under this model, all community members generate income from crops while keeping forests alive and healthy, which is a win-win for both the farmers and the organisations implementing environmentally sustainable projects.

Agroforestry therefore offers benefits to its stakeholders on various fronts such as- environmental, economic, and social. The aim of sustainable development is imbibed in the goals of agroforestry as it thrives to strike a balance among the socio-economic and environmental needs allowing the present and future generations to live in prosperity.

Environmental Benefits

· Agroforestry works towards protection and conservation of land through effective protection of stock, control of soil erosion, salinity, and higher quality control of water tables.

· Agroforestry also controls water and soil runoff, thereby holding on to organic matter and essential nutrients present in the soil due to the deep-rooted trees on the site.

· As a solution to climate change, carbon sequestration is employed by combining livestock maintenance and overlying net fixing wooden layer, which significantly reduces greenhouse effect. It also aids in reducing global warming.

· This method improves the soil structure by constantly adding organic matter through decomposed litter, increasing the nutrients present in the soil.

· Solar energy is more efficiently used by this procedure when compared to monoculture systems leading to reduced insect pests and associated diseases.

· Another benefit of agroforestry is the improvement of microclimate as a step to mitigate environmental change, such as reducing the temperature at the soil surface and evaporation of moisture present in the soil, through a combination of shading and mulching.

· Most importantly, agroforestry can reclaim degraded or eroded land and regain its lost soil fertility through conserving and replenishing the resources available. It also contributes to the restoration of natural capital.

Economic Benefits

· Farmers all around vouch for agroforestry as they are able to reap the benefits that tree planting yields. Farmers are benefited by the extra income generated by selling the tree products.

· Trees provide the farmers with fertilizers, timber, livestock fodder, and more, which the farmer would otherwise have to buy, consequently reducing the farmers’ overhead expenses.

· Enterprise diversity is boosted by agroforestry, thereby reducing the risk farmers bare on the labour costs.

· Farmers are also entitled to earning income throughout the year, depending on the crop variety and rotation.

· Trees used in this procedure are of good value to the farmers, as they do not demand high maintenance, yet they can be a source of income when cash is required to the farmers. They also help overcome the hunger risk by producing fruits, nuts, and oils.

· There are relatively fewer chances of failure of the entire crop as when compared to the traditional farming methods of single cropping. This, in a way, guarantees the farmers of some monetary returns for every crop cycle.

· Due to the sustainable environmental practices of productivity followed in agroforestry, the income generated on the farm increases on a regular basis.

Social benefits

· Due to the stability in employment and higher income generation, the standard of living of the farmers in rural areas is advanced.

· Health conditions are refined as they consume crops that are not exposed to harmful pesticides. Their quality of life, in turn, is improved simultaneously with the improvement of crop quality.

· Agroforestry provides the farmers with regular income eliminating their need to migrate to urban areas in search of employment, thus ensuring stabilisation and improvement of communities.

· This procedure also enables the farmers who have nil or limited access to modern medicine to cultivate medicinal plants by providing space.

Key Traits of Agroforestry Practices

What makes agroforestry stand apart from other farming practices are four key traits that it possesses, categorised as the “four I’s” of farming. Namely — intentional, intensive, interactive, and integrated, as explained below:

Intentional

The three components of agroforestry — trees, crops, and/or animals are intentionally chosen and collectively managed as a whole and never merely as individual components. However, the intention is to employ an effective and efficient method to retain nutrients, prevent soil erosion, and protect the crop against strong winds by incorporating all the member elements.

Intensive

Agroforestry is an intensive mechanism of cultivation which aims at yielding its farmers regular and periodic benefits. The production is planned in accordance with the season, availability, and other determining factors that contribute to the monetary benefits of the farmers in the short, and long term.

Interactive

Agroforestry is a scientific technique that optimally utilises the interaction between the three components. Agroforestry targets to reap benefits from more than one component at any given point of time, while subtly practicing reforestation to combat climate change.

Integrated

The integration of the three components could be of spatial arrangement or temporal sequence as long as they complement each other in using the available resources. The structural and functional integration of the components aims at the judicious utilisation of natural resources.

Conclusion

Agroforestry is economically, environmentally, socially, and culturally a viable option towards environmental sustainability. Reforestation, as agroforestry promotes is a major step in adapting towards climate change. Climate change is a grave threat, and it is high time to act now. In this regard, EcoMatcher comes as a sigh of relief in this distressful situation. EcoMatcher enables businesses to plant/gift/adopt trees or even complete forest in an initiative to give back to society and nature. By incorporating tree plantation as a business component through employee rewards or loyalty programs and customer engagement, we are not only promoting responsibility amongst people but also setting examples for others to follow.

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Bas Fransen, CEO EcoMatcher

EcoMatcher connects companies, communities, and consumers through trustworthy and transparent tree-planting.