Photo credit: Agroof
WHY INTEGRATE TREES IN AGRICULTURE?
Agroforestry, if implemented well, can benefit farms on a variety of scales. Indeed trees provide multiple “ecosystem services” that benefit both the farmer and human societies in general.
These services can be broken down into :
1. Producing food and materials
2. Regulating natural cycles
3. Supporting life
4. Enhancing landscapes
PRODUCING FOOD AND MATERIALS
The most obvious benefit that we receive from trees is everything they produce :
Food for humans (nuts, fruits, etc)
Fodder for animals
Material : Fibre, timber, energy
This is offers a possibility for farmers to diversify their production and income. It can increase production by optimising the vertical use of space and creating synergies between different enterprises.
Trees regulate ecosystems and natural cycles which are hugely important for agricultural production.
Local climate : protection both from extreme heat, frost and wind
Global climate : carbon storage + restoring the hydrological cycle
Pests : regulates populations through an increase in biodiversity
Pollution : less nutrient run-off leaching into water
Water cycle : increased infiltration in the soil + increased holding capacity of soil + decreased evaporation
For farmers, agroforestry is a tool to mitigate increasingly frequent extreme weather events. The regulating services of trees can reduce damage from wind and frost but also from drought and pest.
For everyone else it means healthier food, less floods, a cheaper water bill for consumers and a cost-effective way of tackling climate change.
Trees support other ecosystem services on the farm :
Soil : protecting and enhancing fertility through reduced erosion + increase soil organic matter
Microbiology : increase due to additional food in the soil = increase in nutrient cycling and fertility
Nutrient cycling : minerals are extracted from deep in the soil by trees then cycled back into the topsoil
Photosynthesis : more trees mean more production of primary energy… the basic energy form supporting all life
Biodiversity : habitat for insects, birds and many more
For farms this means cheaper production models since trees are a tool to reduce (costly) inputs through enhancing fertility. It's also an opportunity to combine production and conservation.
Beyond the farm, it offers the start of an answer to the big question : how can we feed human societies without depleting our soils and the living world?
Trees can also bring cultural value to the farm.
Tourism : trees contribute to creating beautiful landscapes that attract visitors to a region.
Sense of well-being for farmers, animals and visitors
Creating interesting and beautiful landscapes can open up possibilities for agro-tourism and help diversify farmers' income.
Beautiful farms make beautiful regions and everyone benefits from that, from the local tourist industry to anyone going for a walk and taking in the view.
While the many opportunities agroforestry offers are backed by science and undeniable, it doesn’t mean that the way to integrate trees in our fields is either obvious or simple.
There are many (exciting) challenges to face, from identifying appropriate crop-tree combinations and developing the appropriate knowledge to adapting business models and sales strategies. These are the focus of this podcast.