A story about an international
couple raising and home educating three young boys on a small
island in Japan, half living in buses, engaged in organic,
self-sufficient farming in the middle of a mountain forest while
dealing with climate, cultural, and personal challenges. These pages are about pretty
much anything and everything all guided by our family motto, Taking Chances, Making Changes,
Being Happy. Thank you very much for joining us on
our ongoing crazy adventure.
The following is a description and brief overview of agroforestry.
The term agroforestry is typically used to describe a standard farm which
incorporates trees in order to add biodiversity and other benefits. We are
actually engaged in forest farming which is a subcategory of agroforestry and is
defined as making space for growing crops in an already existing forest.
The word "agroforestry" is the word typically used to describe the process of
combining a forest with agriculture. Interestingly the word "agroforest" doesn't
seem to exist in the English language and is corrected if used in Google search.
For me it seems like "agroforestry" is the process while "agroforest is the
location where" agroforestry takes place. I plan to continue to use the word "agroforest"
as this makes more sense.
is an Agroforest?
The Wikipedia definition is:
An agroforest, or more specifically Agroforestry, is a land use management
system in which trees or shrubs are grown around or among crops or pastureland.
Wikipedia then goes on to say:
This diversification of the farming system initiates an agroecological
succession, like that in natural ecosystems, and so starts a chain of events
that enhance the functionality and sustainability of the farming system. Trees
also produce a wide range of useful and marketable products from fruits/nuts,
medicines, wood products, etc. This intentional combination of agriculture and
forestry has multiple benefits, such as greatly enhanced yields from staple food
crops, enhanced farmer livelihoods from income generation, increased
biodiversity, improved soil structure and health, reduced erosion, and carbon
Although I agree with this definition to some extent, it seems like adding trees
to existing farmland is nothing more than a glorified windbreak. Real
agroforestry is more in the form of transforming an existing mountain forest
into a productive, yet sustainable, ecosystem where the native trees are kept
undisturbed with crops being the new introduction....not the trees.
As a science
Agroforestry is one of the three
principal agricultural land-use sciences. The other two are agriculture and
Agroforestry systems can be advantageous over conventional agricultural and
forest production methods. They can offer increased productivity; social,
economic and environmental benefits, as well as greater diversity in the
ecological goods and services provided. It is essential to note that these
benefits are conditional on good farm management.
Biodiversity in agroforestry systems is typically higher than in conventional
agricultural systems. Two or more interacting plant species in a given area
create a more complex habitat that can support a wider variety of fauna.
Agroforestry is important for biodiversity for different reasons. It provides a
more diverse habitat than a conventional agricultural system in which the tree
component creates ecological niches for a wide range of organisms both above and
below ground. The life cycles and food chains associated with this
diversification initiates an agroecological succession that creates functional
agroecosystems that confer sustainability.
Soil and plant growth
Depleted soil can be protected from soil erosion by groundcover plants such as
naturally growing grasses in agroforestry systems. These help to stabilize the
soil as they increase cover compared to short-cycle cropping systems. Soil cover
is a crucial factor in preventing erosion. Cleaner water through reduced
nutrient and soil surface runoff can be a further advantage of agroforestry.
Trees can help reduce water runoff by decreasing water flow and evaporation and
thereby allowing for increased soil infiltration. Compared to row-cropped fields
nutrient uptake can be higher and reduce nutrient loss into streams.
Further advantages concerning plant growth:
- Drought resistance
- Increased crop stability
Contribution to sustainable agricultural systems
Agroforestry systems can provide a number of ecosystem services which can
contribute to sustainable agriculture in the following ways;
- Diversification of agricultural products, such as
fuelwood, medicinal plants, and multiple crops, increases income security
- Increased food security and nutrition by restored soil
fertility, crop diversity and resilience to weather shocks for food crops
- Land restoration through reducing soil erosion and
regulating water availability
- Multifunctional site use, e.g., crop production and
- Reduced deforestation and pressure on woodlands by
providing farm-grown fuelwood
- Possibility of reduced chemicals inputs, e.g. due to
improved use of fertilizer, increased resilience against pests, and
increased ground cover which reduces weeds
- Growing space for medicinal plants e.g., in situations
where people have limited access to mainstream medicines
Other environmental goals
Carbon sequestration is an important ecosystem service. Agroforestry practices
can increase carbon stocks in soil and woody biomass. Trees in agroforestry
systems, like in new forests, can recapture some of the carbon that was lost by
cutting existing forests. They also provide additional food and products. The
rotation age and the use of the resulting products are important factors
controlling the amount of carbon sequestered. Agroforests can reduce pressure on
primary forests by providing forest products.
Agroforestry practices may realize a number of environmental goals, such as:
- Odor, dust and noise reduction
- Green space and visual aesthetics
- Enhancement or maintenance of wildlife habitat
Adaptation to climate change
Agroforestry can significantly contribute to climate change mitigation along
with adaptation benefits. A case study in Kenya found that the adoption of
agroforestry drove carbon storage and increased livelihoods simultaneously among
small-scale farmers. In this case, maintaining the diversity of tree species,
especially land use and farm size are important factors.
With shade applications, crops are purposely raised under tree canopies within
the shady environment. The understory crops are shade tolerant or the overstory
trees have fairly open canopies. A conspicuous example is shade-grown coffee.
This practice reduces weeding costs and improves coffee quality and taste.
Crop-over-tree systems employ woody perennials in the role of a cover crop. For
this, small shrubs or trees pruned to near ground level are utilized. The
purpose is to increase in-soil nutrients and/or to reduce soil erosion.
Intercropping and alley cropping
With alley cropping, crop strips alternate with rows of closely spaced tree or
hedge species. Normally, the trees are pruned before planting the crop. The cut
leafy material is
spread over the crop area to provide nutrients. In addition to nutrients, the
hedges serve as windbreaks and reduce erosion.
Intercropping is advantageous as well.
Weed control is inherent to alley cropping, by providing mulch and shade.
Alley cropping and Strip cropping
Alley cropping (see above) can also be used in temperate climates. Strip
cropping is similar to alley cropping in that trees alternate with crops. The
difference is that, with alley cropping, the trees are in single row. With strip
cropping, the trees or shrubs are planted in a wide strip. The purpose can be, as
with alley cropping, to provide nutrients, in leaf form, to the crop. With strip
cropping, the trees can have a purely productive role, providing fruits, nuts,
etc. while, at the same time, protecting nearby crops from soil erosion and
Trees can benefit fauna. The most common examples are silvopasture where cattle,
goats, or sheep browse on grasses grown under trees. In hot climates, the
animals are less stressed and put on weight faster when grazing in a cooler,
shaded environment. The leaves of trees or shrubs can also serve as fodder.
- A living fence can be a thick hedge or fence wire strung
on living trees. In addition to restricting the movement of people and
animals, living fences offer habitat to insect-eating birds and, in the case
of a boundary hedge, slow soil erosion.
- Riparian buffers are strips of permanent vegetation
located along or near active watercourses or in ditches where water runoff
concentrates. The purpose is to keep nutrients and soil from contaminating
- Windbreaks reduce wind velocity over and around crops.
This increases yields through reduced drying of the crop and/or by
preventing the crop from toppling in strong wind gusts.