Investopedia / Laura Porter

What Is Agroforestry?

Agroforestry is an approach to cultivating land in which trees and shrubs are integrated alongside agricultural crops and pastureland. 

Although agroforestry has been practiced in various forms for millenia, it has seen newfound popularity in recent years as a method to increase the resilience of agricultural land to climate change.

Key Takeaways

  • Agroforestry is the practice of mixing various types of crops, flora, and fauna in order to increase agricultural yields and sustainability.
  • It has long been practiced throughout the world, but is relatively uncommon in the United States.
  • The practice has received increased attention both domestically and abroad, as a method of climate change prevention and adaptation.

How Agroforestry Works

Agroforestry can help increase the sustainability of agricultural land by making crops less vulnerable to specific pests, diseases, or climatic changes. This is achieved through factors such as increased biodiversity and improved soil stabilization. 

For example, by integrating various tree species alongside agricultural crops, farmers can benefit from the effect of those trees’ root networks on reducing soil erosion. This improved soil quality can also reduce the risk of drought, by improving the retention and distribution of water throughout the local ecosystem.

International Agroforestry

The practice of agroforestry has long been practiced in many parts of the world. In sub-Saharan Africa, for instance, tall banana trees are often planted alongside smaller oil palms which yield a valuable cooking oil. Farmers will also pair these trees plant lower-growing cassava and pineapple plants, in order to fully utilize the available ground while limiting the evaporation of moisture from the soil. 

Trees and shrubbery can also contribute to agricultural yields by providing other commodities such as fruit and nuts. This in turn can increase the diversification of the agricultural land, making its farmers less vulnerable to the kinds of devastating pests and diseases that can affect large-scale mono-crop agriculture. Agroforestry can also involve various fauna, such as deer, sheep, or hogs which can further contribute to agricultural yields and sustainability.

Despite its potential benefits, agroforestry does require more planning and ongoing management as compared to simpler land use systems. To be successful, agroforestry must take into consideration the diverse and at times contradictory needs of each component of the land base. For example, if not properly managed, grazing fauna might damage a tree’s root system or prematurely consume nascent crops.

Real World Example of Agroforestry

In the United States, agroforestry remains relatively uncommon as compared to other parts of the world. Nevertheless, the practice has gained greater attention in recent years as a means of increasing the resilience of agricultural land to climate change.

In 2011, the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) proposed the Agroforestry Strategic Framework in an attempt to develop and promote agroforestry in the United States. The program brings together scientists, landowners and other USDA partners in applying research and technology to the practice of agroforestry.

Through this program, the USDA aims to achieve various goals, such as forest conservation, increasing the prosperity of rural communities, enhancing food security, and increasing the sustainability of domestic farming practices.

Article Sources
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  1. Agroforestry Systems. "Efficacy of Oil Palm Intercropping by Smallholders. Case Study in South-West Cameroon." Accessed Dec. 22, 2020.

  2. U.S. Department of Agriculture. "USDA Agroforestry Strategic Framework, Fiscal Year 2011-2016." Accessed Dec. 22, 2020.

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