Agroforestry is an integrated approach to farming of using the benefits from combining trees and shrubs with crops and/or livestock. It combines forestry and agricultural technology to create more productive and sustainable land-useage systems.
Historically, it has been normal practice to cultivate trees and crops together with some livestock. Hunter gatherers carried out their agriculture in forested areas which provided shelter, fruits, game and seeds. Shifting cultivation also made use of the forests, slashing and burning them to create space to grow crops, then abandoning them back to their woodland state when the soil fertility declined. The problems started with increased population which meant that areas were reused before full fertility had been properly regained; this lead to deforestation, soil erosion and sometimes desertification.
Use of Western farming technology and practices in tropical agriculture produced disastrous results in some areas with declining crop yields, soil erosion and desertification.
Agroforestry offers potential solutions to damaged land. However, the ecological, social and agriculture systems that exist in the tropics are so varied, that each project has to be specifically tailored to a region.
Some practices that can help are:
- Planting trees as wind breaks
- Planting nitrogen fixing trees to assist soil fertility
- Using trees to provide protective canopy for seedlings and small crops
- Growing multi purpose trees to spread the risk
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Written by Fiona Johnson