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Agroforestry is a collective name for land-use systems and technologies where woody perennials (trees, shrubs, palms, bamboos, etc.) are deliberately used on the same land-management units as agricultural crops and/or animals, in some form of spatial arrangement or temporal sequence. There are interactions between the many components in agroforestry systems on both an ecological and financial level. Another way to describe agroforestry is as a dynamic, ecologically based system for managing natural resources that diversifies and sustains agricultural production for greater social, economic, and environmental benefits for land users at all scales by incorporating trees into farms and agricultural landscapes. Agroforestry is especially important for smallholder farmers and other rural residents because it can improve their access to food, income, and health. Multipurpose agroforestry systems can offer a variety of economic, societal, and environmental advantages.
What is agroforestry system?
As a response to the negative social and environmental effects of high input agriculture methods on the impoverished populations, modern agroforestry has its origins in development challenges that date back to the 1970s.
Simply put, the term “agroforestry” refers to the use of trees in farming systems in a variety of methods and for a range of objectives. Agroforestry can take the form of various fruit and nut trees in orchards, strewn trees on pastures, or even tree plantations like poplars that are precisely straight for biomass production or rubber tree forests that mimic jungles. In this scenario, trees are used to produce fruit, feed, and timber goods.
In other instances, agroforestry systems are concentrated on the issues they hope to solve. These include riparian buffers that shield creeks from agricultural runoff and sediment deposition, shelterbelts and windbreaks that protect crops from severe weather, strip cropping systems that separate different crops, and soil protection systems.
As diverse as natural ecosystems are, agroforestry systems can also be. In addition to public spaces like highways, roads, and waterways, they can be found on farmlands. So, the next time you’re driving through the countryside, pay notice to the incredible variety of uses for trees. Trees exist for a reason, and those reasons make it clear why they are there.
Classification of Agroforestry System
Basis for structure: Taking into account the component composition, including the spatial admixture of the woody component, the vertical stratification of the component mix, and the temporal arrangement of the various components
Functional basis: This is based on the primary purpose or function of the various system components, particularly the woody components (these can be product, e.g., production of food, fodder, fuelwood and so on or protective, e.g., windbreak, shelterbelts, soil conservation and so on).
Socioeconomic basis: Takes into account management input levels (low input, high input), management intensity levels, management scale levels, and commercial goals (subsistence, commercial, intermediate).
Ecological basis: Considers environmental factors under the premise that specific system types may be better suited to particular ecological conditions. For arid and semi-arid environments, for example, there can be a series of AF systems.
Agroforestry System- Types
There is three prevalent types of agroforestry systems:
- Agrisilvicultural systems (Agricultural crops+Forest crops)– This system combines crops and trees, such as alley cropping or home gardens. Crops can be grown for two years, given that protective irrigation is being carried out. Crops can even be grown for four years in this system if refined farming is carried out.
- Silvopastoral systems (Silviculture+Pasture management)– It combines forestry and grazing of domesticated animals on pastures, rangelands or on-farm too. In Silvopastoral systems; Woody plants are used to grow pasture. The components of this system can also be trees or shrubs that are primarily grown for fodder, for livestock, or to improve the quality of the soil.
- Agrosilvopastoral systems (Agricultural crops+Forest crops+Pasture management)– The integration of all the three elements, namely trees, animals and crops is called Agrosilvopastoral systems. Home gardens involving animals as well as scattered trees on croplands used for grazing after harvest is an example.
Agroforestry System- Features
- The three mains components of agroforestry are animals, crops and trees, which can be combined in numerous spatial (space) and temporal (time) arrangements for different functions which names different kinds of systems.
- In agroforestry systems, there are both ecological and economical interactions between the different components, thus it enhance the functionality and sustainability of the farming system.
- It is a dynamic, ecologically based natural resource management system that, through the growing of trees around or among crops or pastureland, diversifies and sustains production for increased social, economic and environmental benefits for farm/land holders at all levels.
- Agroforestry is 6-F programme because, it provides- FOOD for people, FEED for livestock, FIBRE, FUEL for homes, FURNITURE for timbers and also FUND raising.
Advantages of Agroforestry System
Soil fertility and closed nutrient cycles
Trees do so much for water. Their role in water management is irreplaceable. Incorporating trees into the food production system is in many cases one of the best strategies we can choose to make sure that soils have optimum moisture levels to sustain crops. Trees are especially helpful for farmers without access to irrigation. By improving soil structure and increasing organic matter content in soils, trees promote water retention capacity of soils.
Stabilization of soils and microclimate
Standing tall and strong in the landscape, well-rooted in the ground, with branches swinging in the wind, trees are one of the most stabilizing elements in the landscape. Wildlife and people have instinctively been drawn to trees for safety in times of discomfort and it has always worked in our favor.
Low input of agrochemicals
Agroforestry improves soil quality, provides nutrients and modifies microclimate in a way that naturally supports many crop varieties and livestock. Tree crowns casting shade over land suppress the growth of weeds. Leaves, branches and bark create protective mulch in intercropping systems. This encourages recycling of nutrients.
Improvement of wildlife and pollinator habitat
Habitat loss due to the modern development and intensive agriculture with hectares of monoculture fields drives many species of birds, amphibians, insects and even mammals away from large areas of land. This is a problem because we cannot substitute for services these little creatures perform for the health of ecosystems where we live. In fact, in many cases we are not even aware of the function of some organism until it disappears and adverse effects following its demise take over.
Remediation of polluted soils
Trees have the ability to absorb pollutants from deeper soil layers and immobilize them in their woody parts. Through their roots creating a rich network that can reach as low as water table, trees prevent groundwater pollution from nutrient leaching and effectively remove soil contaminants.
Provision of diverse products and poverty reduction
Disadvantages of Agroforestry System
Benefits of Agroforestry
1. Resilient and sustainable food production
Agroforestry mimics natural ecosystems far more closely than monocultures do, where one single crop is grown over large areas of land. It works by letting different biological systems cooperate and flourish. This can lead to a rise in productivity, as trees and plants find ways to interact and support each other symbiotically. All of this can actively improve conditions for plants, livestock and wildlife alike.
Firstly, planting trees between crops reduces soil erosion – their roots bind the soil in place so that it doesn’t wash awash during heavy rain or strong wind, which can otherwise cause huge problems for farmers. They also take up water, preventing water pollution from reaching our ponds and rivers.
2. Increased productivity
Trees add an extra crop that gives the farmer protection against poor harvests. Fruit, nuts or timber can provide an alternative income stream if the main crop fails due to unlucky circumstances such as wet summers or mild winters.
Diversified cropping through agroforestry can support farm businesses to operate throughout the year and avoid the peaks and troughs of seasonal demands and therefore providing a source of year round income.
3. More space for wildlife
Wildlife has an equal right to the landscape as we do. If farmers can get the same yield out of a smaller field through agroforestry, the rest of the space could be used to plant extra trees and hedgerows to house wildlife.
In some trials, these extra habitats have even helped with pest control, because they act as a home for “friendly predators”, who combat some of the pests that would otherwise eat or destroy crops.
Agroforestry landscapes also provide plenty of corridors for wildlife to move between habitats: crucial when it comes to foraging and breeding.
4. Better for the planet
If we are to feed a growing world population, we need to think of clever solutions that can deliver food from sustainable and resilient sources. This will become especially important in the future, when climate change might alter weather patterns and make growing conditions less predictable.
The main thing we need to do to combat climate change is to cut greenhouse gas emissions. Trees are a great way to achieve this, because they take carbon from the atmosphere and store it safely deep in the soil. They also cycle nutrients which feed other plants, animals and fungi, who go on to nourish the soil further. And healthy soils are able to store far more carbon than degraded soils.
Healthy soils can also reduce our dependence on chemical fertilizers, because they already contain all the nutrients farmers need, and can replenish themselves naturally.
- Environment Benefits: Combining trees with food crops on cropland farms yield certain important environment benefits, both general ecological benefits and specific on-site benefits. The general ecological benefits include:
- Reduction of pressure on forest.
- More efficient recycling of nutrients by deep-rooted trees on the site.
- Better protection of ecological systems.
- Reduction of surface run-off, nutrient leaching and soil erosion through impending effect of tree roots and stems of these processes.
- Improvement of microclimate, such as lowering of soil surface temperature and reduction of evaporation of soil moisture through a combination of mulching and shading.
- Increment in soil nutrients through addition and decomposition of litter-fall.
- Improvement of soil structure through the constant addition of organic matter from decomposed litter.
- Economic Benefits: Agroforestry systems on croplands/farmlands bring significant economic benefits to the farmer, the community, the region or the nation. Such benefits may include:
- Increment in an maintenance of outputs of food, fuelwood, fodder, fertilizer and timber;
- Reduction in incidence of total crop failure, common to single-cropping or monoculture system; and
- Increase in levels of farm incomes due to improved and sustained productivity.
- Social Benefits: Besides the economics benefits, social benefits occur from increase in crop and tree product yields and in the sustainability of these products. These benefits include:
- Improvement in rural living standards from sustained employment and higher incomes;
- Improvement in nutrition and health due to increased quality and diversity of food outputs; and
- Stabilization and improvement of upland communities through elimination of the need to shift sites of farm activities.
Importance of Agroforestry
- Agricultural lands, in which trees are planted, may help boost food production. Not just that, it also helps in achieving more food security, there is a more diverse availability of food that helps to increase nutrition and health around the world.
- Trees can help provide fruits, nuts, and leaves for consumption by households. Trees that have fallen can be used as wood to make energy that involves heating of housing, cooking, and for livestock. Just remember to plant another in place of the one that falls.
- Agroforestry also helps in the production of various other forest products which include fodder, fiber, timber, medicinal products, gums, and resins amongst others.
- The plantation of trees in the region where agroforestry is being practiced helps to keep the temperature maintained in that region.
- Trees also help bring torrential rainfall to the region which helps in the growth of greenery and crops in that region and also helps support animals living there.
- Trees also help to protect the crops from strong winds and soil erosion which may damage the crops and also the fertility of the soil.
- There are various medicines and herbal remedies that can be extracted from trees being planted in these regions as well, they can be used to manufacture medicines in cheap thereby allowing the provision of drugs to more people.
- Trees being grown in the region act as a safeguard for the animals living there, and also protect the crops from various natural disasters.
- The root of the trees acts as anchors for the soil protecting it from soil erosion which can be a pretty difficult problem to solve, however as there are trees in the region the soil and its fertility is protected from being harmed.
Limitations of Agroforestry System
Despite its benefits, an integrated food-tree farming system has several drawbacks.
- Food crop damage during tree harvest operations.
- potential competition between trees and food crops for space, sunlight, moisture, and nutrients that could lower food crop productivity.
- Due to their quick regeneration and propensity for taking over large fields, trees have the ability to displace food crops.
- Act as hosts to insect pests that are damaging to crops grown for human consumption.
- Demand for higher labour inputs, which occasionally may lead to shortages in other farm activities.
- Food and tree crop competition, which could result in aggregate yields that are lower than those of a single crop.
- Longer time needed for trees to reach maturity and develop economic worth.
- Farmers’ opposition to replacing food crops with trees, especially in areas with limited land.
- The distinction between agroforestry and a single-crop farm in terms of complexity, understanding, and application challenges.
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