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What is Agroforestry?

Caitlin Espejo

Author

What is agroforestry? Have  you ever heard this word and wondered what people are talking about? In this article we will talk about what agroforestry is, some of the different types of agroforestry and its benefits.

Let’s break down the word “agroforestry”. “Agro” = agriculture, farming. “Forestry” = forest. The simplest definition of agroforestry is creating farming systems that mimic a naturally abundant forest. Forests are fully self-sufficient and we can learn from their success and abundance. Agroforestry strives to raise productivity, encourage environmental protection, and increase the ecosystem’s overall resilience.

With agroforestry, vegetation is grown in different stratas and may include livestock. An overstory, an understory, a shrub layer, a herbaceous layer, a vine layer, a ground cover layer, and a root layer. For example an overstory could be eucalyptus to shade smaller fruit tress and provide chop and drop. Understory: Mango Tree, Rolinia, Atemoya, Soursop, Canistel, ect. Shrub: Guava, Jaboticaba, different varieties of berries, legumes etc.. Herbaceous: basil, mint, hibiscus, etc.. Vine: Yams, muscadine grapes, blue butterfly pea, luffa vine, etc.. Ground cover: perennial peanut, sunshine mimosa, clover, etc.. Root: sweet potatoes, yuca (also can be in the shrub layer), etc.

Here are some types of agroforestry systems:

Alley Cropping: 
In alley cropping, rows of trees or shrubs are planted in between rows of crops. This arrangement helps control soil erosion, reduces competition for nutrients and sunlight between crops, and provides various products such as fruits, nuts, vegetables, grains, flowers, bioenergy crops or timber.

Silvopasture: 
In this system, grazing livestock and trees coexist. The trees offer shade to the animals, help control soil erosion, and provide additional forage resources. Livestock also contribute to soil fertilization through their manure.

Forest Gardens or Homegardens: 
These are more complex systems that simulate natural ecosystems by mixing various trees, bushes, and crops together. The high productivity of forest gardens is intended to produce a variety of foods, medications, and other resources.
 
Agrisilviculture:
This involves growing trees alongside agricultural crops. The trees can provide shade, windbreaks, and contribute to soil fertility through their leaf litter and root systems. The crops benefit from reduced evaporation and improved microclimatic conditions.

 

Riparian buffers:
This involves maintaining wild or planted strips of trees, shrubs and other plants along a river or stream. Buffers are a crucial conservation technique that produce berries, nuts, ornamental and biofuel crops, give wildlife habitat, and minimize erosion and nutrient runoff.

Windbreaks and Shelterbelts:
These are linear plantings of trees and shrubs designed to protect crops and livestock from wind and reduce soil erosion. They also contribute to biodiversity and wildlife habitat.

Now that we’ve discussed the types of agroforestry, let’s talk about the benefits. Agroforestry offers a wide range of benefits, making it a sustainable and environmentally friendly land management practice. Some of the benefits are as follows:

  1. Biodiversity conservation – providing habitats for various plant and animal species
  2. Soil improvement – it contributes to improved soil quality and fertility
  3. Carbon sequestration – trees in agroforestry systems absorb and store carbon dioxide from the atmosphere, mitigating the effects of climate change. This helps to reduce greenhouse gas concentrations and their impact on the planet’s climate.
  4. Microclimate regulation – Shade from trees aids in regulating humidity and temperature. This can create a more favorable microclimate for crops and livestock, reducing stress and improving overall productivity.
  5. Diversified Income – These systems often yield a variety of products, such as fruits, nuts, timber, and medicinal plants which can provide multiple sources of income for farmers and reduce economic vulnerability.
  6. Water Management: The presence of trees in agroforestry systems helps to regulate water cycles. Trees reduce evaporation, increase water infiltration, and stabilize water bodies, contributing to more efficient water use and reduced risk of flooding.

 

Agroforestry systems can be tailored to local conditions and needs, making them a valuable approach in sustainable land management and food production.
 
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