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Agroforestry – combining agriculture and forestry for the good of the world

Agro forestry

I felt a bit silly after helping Greg Harrison of Sunshine and Green Organics to plant trees on his land as part of his vision to set up an agro forestry farm. I was unaware that this method of farming has been carried out worldwide for centuries and is well known to benefit biodiversity, the land, the soil and the crops. Vast monoculture farms tend to dominate the farming world and blot out the more environmentally friendly methods.

Planting trees for a new agroforestry scheme at Peacocks farm in Suffolk, England

Agroforestry is a system of land use in which harvestable trees or shrubs are grown around crops or on pastureland as a means of preserving or enhancing the productivity of the land.

It takes a variety of forms and at it’s best can incorporate many of the things we need to do to improve our landscape. This is aptly demonstrated by a research project set up by the Agroforestry Research Trust on the Dartington Estate in South Devon. There, they have developed a garden which has a whole range of trees, shrubs and ground covers all of which co-exist to provide a wide variety of fruits, nuts, edible leaves, medicinal plants, poles, fibres for tying and many other things.

It is also self-fertilising by the use of specific plants which supply nutrients, these include Alders and Elaeagnus which fix nitrogen from the air and make it available to other plants, and coltsfoot, comfrey and sorrel which tap phosphate and potash sources deep in the subsoil, bring them to the surface and make them available to the other plants. This interaction between plants means overall yields are higher with an increased economic benefit to the farmer. The whole concept is a no brainer for the environment but in many ways a non-starter for the huge mass producing farms. Their driving force is profit irrespective of the harm done to the land and wildlife.

The wide range of plants and habitats used and produced in Agroforestry means there is an increased biodiversity of animals and insects, the trees and shrubs also provide safe corridors for animals to move between different areas, thereby increasing their range. It is difficult to find any negatives when this form of farming is adopted.

There are yet more advantages of Agroforestry a few of which I will list below:

  1. the increased ground cover means less soil erosion
  2. cleaner water because less fertiliser is required and there is less soil surface runoff.
  3. Increased food security by restored soil fertility
  4. Multifunctional site use, crop production and animal grazing
  5. Reduced global warming and hunger risk by increasing the number of drought-resistant trees and the subsequent production of fruits, nuts and edible oils
  6. Reduced deforestation and pressure on woodlands by providing farm-grown fuelwood
  7. Reduced need for toxic chemicals (insecticides, herbicides etc.)
  8. Improved human nutrition through more diverse farm outputs
  9. Growing space for medicinal plants e.g., in situations where people have limited access to mainstream medicines

There are many agroforestry system adopted in different parts of the world but they are all based on the principles outlined above. Hopefully as we wake up more and more to the plight of our world this form of farming will become common place and at least to some extent take over from the huge industrial farms.

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