WHY INTEGRATE TREES IN AGRICULTURE?
Agroforestry can benefit farms on a variety of scales. Indeed trees provide multiple “ecosystem services” which are benefitial for the farmer and ecology in general.
These services can be broken down into :
1. Producing food and materials
2. Regulating natural cycles
3. Supporting life
4. Enhancing landscapes
1. PRODUCING FOOD
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 (extratification) and creating synergies between different enterprises.
2. REGULATING ECOSYSTEMS
Trees regulate ecosystems and natural cycles which are hugely important for agricultural production and for the planet.
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, the regulating services of trees can reduce damage from wind and frost but also from drought and pest.
3. SUPPORTING LIFE
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.
Also 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?
4. ENHANCING LANDSCAPES
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.