Quick summary: Agroforestry is a land management system that has trees and shrubs thriving alongside crops and livestock within a system. It restores the ecological balance in farmlands, prevents soil erosion, water run-off and helps farmers to realize alternate income options and mitigates climate changes. Carbon offsetting with agroforestry has the potential to provide a financial incentive to sequester carbon using this land management strategy and creating a financial diversification and security to the farmer.
Do you know that the humid zones of India have the highest potential for carbon sequestration with Agroforestry?
The shift from agriculture to agroforestry can increase soil organic carbon by 34% on an average, while the conversion from grassland to agroforestry can increase the soil organic carbon by 10%.
The agrosilvopastoral systems that combine crops with trees and livestock have the highest potential to store carbon. According to a study, expanding the land area under agroforestry by integrating trees alongside crops is a good strategy to reduce greenhouse gas emissions and could help in delivering the UN’s Sustainable Development Goals.
Today, agroforestry not only has the ability to sequester carbon helping to tackle climate crisis but has also helped in providing a diversified income opportunities for farmers and enhance food security, biodiversity, soil fertility and community empowerment. Let us see what agroforestry is all about, the challenges faced in adoption and the various benefits it delivers.
Agroforestry is a land management system that has trees and shrubs thriving alongside crops and livestock within a system. It is seen as a more sustainable approach to manage lands where trees, plants and animals co-exist in an ecosystem similar to natural landscapes. It restores the ecological balance in farmlands, prevents soil erosion, water run-off and helps farmers to realize alternate income options and mitigates climate changes.
Agroforestry is a combination of traditional and modern use of land where the trees, crops and animals are holistically managed
The objective of agroforestry is to increase crop production as much as possible while maintaining the local biodiversity of that region. This could result in sustainable use of that land for plantation of crops and trees Carbon offsetting with agroforestry has the potential to provide a financial incentive to sequester carbon using this land management strategy and creating a financial diversification and security to the farmer. The people who follow these agroforestry practices are smallholder farmers and carbon offsetting can have a significant social impact for these impoverished communities.
Agroforestry is the interaction of agriculture and trees which includes the agriculture use of trees. This encompasses trees on farms, farming in forests and tree-crop production including cocoa, coffee, rubber and palm oil. The interactions could be different like trees and crops grown in fields, trees may provide fodder for livestock, fuel, or income from timber on farms and the landscapes where both forestry and agriculture are combined.
The forestry elements can be accommodated in certain ways to cater to the needs of the land.
The trees and crops are integrated into the agricultural land. Crops are intercropped between trees. Farmers should give wider spacing for their crops to achieve the best yield, whereby they get the best nourishment possible.
Trees and shrubs are used to grow pasture. They are primarily grown for fodder for livestock and can also improve the quality of soil. It is essentially the integration of trees with a livestock grazing system.
Agrosilvopastoral systems combine annuals with woody perennials. They could be hedgerows, home gardens and riparian buffers. In hedgerows, trees or shrubs are planted around the agriculture land to form a protective fence. Home gardens are a combination of trees and food production close to homes. Riparian buffer strips involve planting trees or shrubs around water bodies like ponds or streams.
This involves growing and protecting high value speciality crops under the forest canopy adjusting to the correct shade level the crops prefer. The forest is thinned to leave the best canopy trees for continued timber production. The non-timber forest products grown provide an additional source of income and also conserves wildlife habitat.
Trees and plants differ in their requirements and with the sharing of resources, agroforestry systems can promote mutual benefits.
The deep-rooted perennials make use of nutrients and water below where the crops take root and the presence of roots at different soil levels improves water retention and improves soil fertility by trapping the soil organic matter. The roots of trees act as anchors for the soil, protecting it from soil erosion and enhancing soil fertility. Efficient recycling of nutrients and nitrogen fixation in the soil enriches soil fertility and provides adequate growth for profitable crops.
Deforestation and fragmentation of natural habitats for conventional agriculture practices has to a large extent displaced the natural habitat of wildlife. Agroforestry systems can create a thriving habitat for a number of species.
Bees play an important role in agroforestry systems by doing the job of pollinators for increasing crop yields. These habitats also attract seed -dispersing birds and ants that allow plants to take root and add to the nutrients in soil.
Monocropping increases incidence of pest infections and hence adding vegetation helps in reducing use of pesticides.
Leguminous trees aid in nitrogen fixation. The nutrients get cycled and enhances the productivity of land. Growing trees along with crops helps in production of additional varieties of food. Trees can be planted for fuel, fodder, fibre and medicine. Hence a number of raw products can be produced which find a lot of uses.
The trees that bear fruits and nuts add to the source of income besides the crops for the farmer. Certain trees are harvested for fodder, medicine and other useful products. There is reduction in operational costs due to the reduced chemical inputs. The increased carbon stocks in the soil and tree biomass also helps farmers to join Carbon programs and earn an additional source of revenue. Agroforestry provides jobs and employment opportunities to people living in the region.
There are a few challenges in integrating carbon offsetting into agroforestry systems.
All these challenges need to be addressed with equitable and community based projects. The approaches should make the integration of carbon offsets into agroforestry worthwhile and carry out successful implementation of projects that can sustain. They do hold a compelling reason for climate change mitigation.
Agroforestry provides a holistic management of crops, trees, plants and livestock to form a self-sustaining production system. It improves the resilience of food production against the impacts of climate change. Healthy soils form the basis of our food supply chains. The plant diversity boosts soil fertility by preventing soil erosion, regulates water cycles, controls pests and diseases and sequesters carbon. Increasing agriculture productivity can improve the efficiency of land use and help in protecting biodiversity.
Farming systems relying on single incomes are vulnerable which could impact farmer livelihoods. The diversity of agroforestry increases economic resilience through creating different income streams. The world today is looking into investing in ancient systems of agroforestry to create sustainable solutions for the environment. This could provide better access to nutritional and food security and better livelihoods of millions of farmers.
Farmers in Central America have planted more than 20 different species of plants on plots of no more than one-tenth of a hectare with different forms. These plots contain coconut or papaya with a lower layer of banana or citrus, a shrub layer of coffee or cacao and tall annuals like maize and finally a spreading squash. These systems provide food diversity with trees providing shade and preventing soil erosion and excess evaporation.
The impact is being felt with increased awareness to build climate resilient systems which is seeing governments, non-governmental organizations and farmers coming together to seek knowledge to expand the scale of agroforestry for food security and climate resilience.
Agroforestry is a low hanging fruit for achieving SDGs.
SDG1 – Integrating trees with agriculture increases income and production by reducing costs of inputs and production.
SDG2 – Agroforestry provides food and increased incomes, almost a lifeline to the poor people.
SDG5 – Growing trees nearby gives easy access to firewood which is beneficial for the women who can get more productive elsewhere.
SDG12 – The production of agriculture commodities without depleting the natural resources and minimal use of chemicals and pesticides helps in sustainable production.
SDG13 – The potential to sequester carbon helps to combat climate change.
SDG15 – Agroforestry contributes to conservation of flora and fauna and preserves land ecosystems.
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Agroforestry focuses on balancing the preservation of natural forests with productive agriculture. Amidst deforestation threats, sustainable agroforestry offers a powerful medium to sustain feeding communities and protecting the environment from further degradation. Agroforestry is a model of sustainable land use where communities are empowered to generate income from crops while keeping forests healthy and sound.