Agroforestry is the interaction of agriculture and trees, including the agricultural use of trees. This comprises trees on farms and in agricultural landscapes, farming in forests and along forest margins and tree-crop production, including cocoa, coffee, rubber and oil palm. Interactions between trees and other components of agriculture may be important at a range of scales: in fields (where trees and crops are grown together), on farms (where trees may provide fodder for livestock, fuel, food, shelter or income from products including timber) and landscapes (where agricultural and forest land uses combine in determining the provision of ecosystem services).
Generally,agroforestry includes cultivation and use of trees and shrubs with crops and livestock in agricultural systems. It seeks positive interactions between its components, aiming to achieve a more ecologically diverse and socially productive output from the land that is possible through conventional agriculture.
1. Improved nutrition and food security
Planting trees in agricultural lands can help increase food production and boost food security and their flowers become food for bees which intern make honey for human consumption. Moreover, agroforestry helps in health and nutrition improvement due to increased diversity and quality of food outputs. Tree planting, as part of agroforestry, can be used as a source of fuel, food and non-wood products that can be consumed or sold resulting in additional food and security.
Generally, trees can provide nutritious fruits, nuts, and leaves for consumption in households. Felled trees and their residues can be used as wood energy for cooking and heating while leaves can be used as forage for livestock.
In addition to food products, agroforestry also supports the production of a wide range of products such as timber, fiber, fodder and forage, craft products, medicinal products, hedging materials, and gums and resins among others.
3. Creation of resilient livelihoods
Growing trees together with crops and animals can help reduce the vulnerabilities associated with agricultural production and even improve the recovery after natural disasters, hazards, or socioeconomic downturns. Agroforestry economics, for example, helps to increase the diversity of production within the system thereby reducing the risk of economic failure.
The roots of trees can strengthen the soil structure; mitigating soil erosions, improving soil fertility, and preventing possible landslides. Furthermore, trees can help prevent desertification and its social, agricultural, and environmental consequences.
As such, improved and sustainable productivity leads to increases in levels of farm income. It is also worth noting that agroforestry can bring forth sustained employment and higher income, which leads to an improvement in rural living standards.
4. Climate change mitigation and adaptation
Growing trees in agricultural systems can reduce the impact of climate change on agriculture. Sourcing tree products from trees grown on farms reduces the need to cut trees and hence reduce the rate of deforestation that is quickly getting rid of the planet’s carbon sinks while releasing stored carbon into the environment. Trees in agroforestry systems, therefore, help to mitigate climate change through carbon sequestration.
Further, Agroforestry plays a critical role in improving climatic conditions and weather patterns by modifying microclimatic conditions such as temperature and water vapor content of air and wind speed, resulting in beneficial effects on crop growth and animal welfare.
This in general, can limit the effects of climate change and global warming on agriculture as it can help in regulating air quality, water concentration, rain cycles, and patterns, and wind erosion.
5. Environmental benefits
Careful planning and integration of agroforestry can help protect the natural resources in the environment. For example, growing trees can help improve the quality of water and its quantity by filtering and capturing of water resources.
Trees also support biodiversity by providing a suitable environment for insects, animals, and plants. If trees with nitrogen-fixation function are part of the system, agroforestry can help restore soil fertility.
Other environmental benefits of agroforestry systems include reduction of pressure on natural forests, more efficient recycling of nutrients by deep-rooted trees on the site, increment in soil nutrients, improvement of microclimate, and reduction of surface run-off. The systems also help improve soil structure and provide better protection of ecological systems.
6. Support local communities and cultures
Agroforestry is designed to help local communities and cultures thrive. With the help of agroforestry specialists, indigenous people and local communities can continue with the local beliefs and culture while ensuring long term sustainability of the traditional systems.
Furthermore, by preserving indigenous working techniques and species, agroforestry also helps to protect humankind’s agricultural heritage.
It is also worth noting that agroforestry can lead to decent rural livelihoods, cultural diversity, and maintaining local spiritual beliefs. Agroforestry also helps in the stabilization and improvement of local communities by eliminating the need to move sites of farm activities.
7. Can reduce poverty in some areas if practiced sustainably
Trees and tree products have economic value that can get agro foresters a source of livelihood and potentially reduce their poverty levels, especially in developing or emerging economies. The value addition of newly-produced tree products can be a source of employment and income for individuals.
Furthermore, farmers can take advantage of the incentives offered to support agroforestry as sources of income. It is also worth noting that growing trees can help reduce the production costs resulting in increased household income.