Environmental concerns and agroforestry solutions
Intensive and unsustainable agricultural practices tend to put a strain on the lands it uses. Moreover, in systems such as monocropping, animals, crops and trees are perceived as competing rather complementing each other, often leading to the large-scale felling of trees. Despite recent overall progress in reducing deforestation, the tropics and subtropics are still witnessing the highest net losses in forest area. Conversion to agriculture is the leading cause of deforestation.
Flooded crop land in Multan, Pakistan ©FAO/Asim Hafeez
As to the health of soils, the Global Assessment of Human-Induced Soil Degradation found that 15 percent of the world’s lands have degraded due to human activity. Agriculture and deforestation are two of the main causes of this degradation.
Climate change is another highly significant environmental consequence from unviable agricultural practices, such as deforestation, tillage or intensive use of fertilizers. It is estimated that agriculture and deforestation contribute to a third of greenhouse gas emissions.
There is an urgent need to recognize and use effectively the complementary ecological functions of crops, animals and trees.
How agroforestry can provide multiple solutions to environmental problems
Agroforestry contributes to climate change mitigation and adaptation
Integrating trees in agricultural systems can help to reduce impact of climate change on agriculture and, inversely, decrease agriculture’s contribution to the phenomenon:
- Sourcing wood products from on farm production decreases the need to cut forest trees, thus reducing the rate of deforestation, which is one of the main factors contributing to climate change.
- Better management of soil nutrients reduces the need to resort to fertilizers, another significant source of GHG emissions.
- Trees planted in agroforestry systems contribute to climate change mitigation through carbon sequestration.
- By using woodfuel from agroforestry systems, people can meet their energy needs in a carbon neutral way.
- By providing shade and a cooler environment to sensitive crops or animals, agroforestry can help maintain or increase yields in the face of climate change, strengthening agriculture’s resilience.
To learn more, see the learning event FAO organized on agroforestry, food security and climate change in 2013.
|Capotille, Haiti ©FAO/Luca Tommasini||Between Rajshahi and Nachole, Bangladesh ©FAO/Giulio Napolitano|
Agroforestry provides a wide range of environmental services
The careful and integrated planning of agroforestry systems protects natural resources and therefore provides many services for the local, national and global community:
- The filtering and capturing of water resources by the trees can help improve the quality of water and its quantity, with potential benefits for the entire watershed.
- As trees create suitable environments for a multitude of plants, insects and animals, agroforestry can help increase and protect local biodiversity.
- By using certain trees with nitrogen-fixation functions, agroforestry can restore soil fertility using less, if any, inputs.
- The augmentation of tree cover on agricultural land is an efficient way to do landscape restoration without sacrificing agricultural production.
- By providing shelter to natural enemies and making use of crops and trees' complementary pest resistance mechanisms, agroforestry reduces the need for pesticides.
To learn more, read the 2007 edition of FAO’s State of Food and Agriculture, which addressed the issue of payment for environmental services.