Howie Hayman

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.
Agroforest Definition

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.
What 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 sequestration.

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 forestry.


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:
  • Bioremediation
  • 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 animal grazing
  • 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.
Shade crops

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

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 harmful winds.

Fauna-based systems

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.

Boundary systems
  • 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 the water.
  • 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.

Although agroforestry systems can be advantageous, they are not widespread in the US as of 2013.

As suggested by a survey of extension programs in the United States, obstacles (ordered most critical to least critical) to agroforestry adoption include:
  • Lack of developed markets
  • Unfamiliarity with technologies
  • Lack of awareness
  • Competition between trees, crops and animals
  • Lack of financial assistance
  • Lack of apparent profit potential
  • Lack of demonstration sites
  • Expense of additional management
  • Lack of training or expertise
  • Lack of knowledge about where to market products
  • Lack of technical assistance
  • Adoption/start up costs, including costs of time
  • Unfamiliarity with alternative marketing approaches (e.g. web)
  • Unavailability of information about agroforestry
  • Apparent inconvenience
  • Lack of infrastructure (e.g. buildings, equipment)
  • Lack of equipment
  • Insufficient land
  • Lack of seed/seedling sources
  • Lack of scientific research
Some solutions to these obstacles have been suggested.
Resource - Wikipedia: Agroforestry
Additional Reading