What is Agroforestry?

Agroforestry is the intentional combination of agriculture with forestry. I.e. planting trees and bushes on farmland and pastureland. This traditional farming principle offers farmers significant ecological and economic benefits such as improved soil fertility, protection of crops from wind damage, increased yields and carbon sequestration.

Especially in developing economies, agriculture value chains suffer from inefficiencies, high losses, low yields and are disproportionately sensitive to climate change. These constraints impact some 500 million smallholder farmers across the world. As 80% of the food consumed in developing countries is produced by smallholder farmers, they play a vital role in feeding the population. Agroforestry can help them take on that role.

Different agroforestry systems can be distinguished (FAO, 2021).

  • Agrisilvicultural systems are a combination of crops and trees, such as alley cropping or homegardens.
  • Silvopastoral systems combine forestry and grazing of domesticated animals on pastures, rangelands or on-farm.
  • The three elements, namely trees, animals and crops, can be integrated in what are called agrosylvopastoral systems and are illustrated by homegardens involving animals as well as scattered trees on croplands used for grazing after harvests.

Benefits for smallholder farmers

Smallholder farmers benefit from agroforestry in a number of ways. There is a direct positive impact on income level and income stability; agroforestry brings along a new diversified revenue stream in the form of fruits or nuts from the new trees. Farming yields across the board benefit from the positive impact of agroforestry on the quality of the soil; enhanced soil fertility and biodiversity, improved soil water holding capacity, stronger nutrient cycling, as well an improved micro climate; lower air temperature, less solar radiation and less impact of wind speed.

Smallholder farmers are present everywhere and represent large shares of agricultural land in continents like Sub-Saharan Africa and East Asia and Pacific. In Sub-Saharan Africa seventy-one percent of countries have committed to using agroforestry for climate change adaptation and/or mitigation in the plans they submitted to the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change.

Figure: Average distribution of farms and farmland area by land size class

Figure: Average distribution of farms and farmland area by land size class

Contribution to Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs)

  • SDG 1.1, 1.2: Agroforestry contributes and increases the farmer income
  • SDG 1.5: Agroforestry makes farmers more resilient to market and environmental shocks
  • SDG 2.1: Agroforestry enriches the diet of rural people in emerging markets
  • SDG 2.3, 2.4, 2.5: Agroforestry contributes to the increasing agricultural production, in a resilient and diversified manner. Contributes to soil quality.
  • SDG 12.2: Agroforestry contributes to efficient use of natural resources
  • SDG 13.1: Agroforestry contributes to the resilience of climate change effects, like flooding.
  • SDG 15.1, 15.2, 15.3: Agroforestry contributes to the afforestation rates and combats desertification
  • SDG 15.5:Agroforestry contributes to biodiversity
  • SDG 17.3: Marketplace contributes to additional financial resources for developing countries

Benefits for the planet

The need to stabilize the greenhouse gas concentrations in the atmosphere is the great environmental challenge of this century. To control these concentrations, we need to reduce fossil fuel emissions and find ways to remove greenhouse gases from the air once they have been emitted. Healthy soils are recognized as a way to mitigate climate change by absorbing carbon dioxide from the air. Soil is the second largest carbon store, or ‘sink’, after the oceans. Agroforestry systems are believed to have a higher potential to sequester carbon because of their perceived ability for greater capture and utilization of growth resources (light, nutrients, and water) than single-species crop or pasture systems. Additionally agroforestry contributes to serving the growing demand to feed 9 billion people by 2050 (WRI).

From agroforestry to carbon sequestration

We aim to unlock the potential of agroforestry among smallholder farmers in developing countries. The business model that enables the introduction of agroforestry at scale are carbon sequestration credits. In partnership with Microsoft, we are developing a digital marketplace for carbon sequestration that compensates smallholder farmers for pursuing good agroforestry practices and planting trees on their farmland. Using advanced technology, the carbon captured by the trees is calculates, certified and tokenized. These tokens are subsequently sold on the marketplace to companies and individuals that want to compensate their carbon emissions.

References

  • Kuyah, S., & Whitney, C., & Jonsson, M., & Sileshi, G., & Öborn, I., & Muthuri, C., & Luedeling, E. (2019). Agroforestry delivers a win-win solution for ecosystem services in sub-Saharan Africa: A meta-analysis. https://www.sasb.org/standards-overview/materiality-map/
  • T.S. Rosenstock, A. Wilkes, C. Jallo, N. Namoi, M. Bulusu, M. Suber, D. Mboi, R. Mulia, E. Simelton, M. Richards, et al. Making trees count: measurement and reporting of agroforestry in UNFCCC national communications of non-Annex I countries. Agric. Ecosyst. Environ., 284 (2019)
  • Rosenstock, T.S., (2019). A Planetary Health Perspective on Agroforestry in Sub-Saharan Africa. One Earth, 1(3), 330-344
  • P. K. Ramachandran Nair, Vimala D. Nair, B. Mohan Kumar, Julia M. Showalter. Carbon Sequestration in Agroforestry Systems (2010)
  • FAO, Farms family farms, farmland distribution and farm labour: What do we know today? (2019)
  • IPCC, Climate Change and Land (2020)
  • WRI, Negative Emissions Technologies and Reliable Sequestration: A Research Agenda (2019)