Agroforestry is a collective name for land-use systems and technologies where woody perennials (trees, shrubs, palms, bamboos, etc.) are deliberately used on the same land-management units as agricultural crops and/or animals, in some form of spatial arrangement or temporal sequence. In agroforestry systems there are both ecological and economical interactions between the different components. Agroforestry can also be defined as a dynamic, ecologically based, natural resource management system that, through the integration of trees on farms and in the agricultural landscape, diversifies and sustains production for increased social, economic and environmental benefits for land users at all levels. In particular, agroforestry is crucial to smallholder farmers and other rural people because it can enhance their food supply, income and health.Agroforestry systems are multifunctional systems that can provide a wide range of economic, sociocultural, and environmental benefits.

There are three main types of agroforestry systems:

  • 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.

To see examples, go to the systems section.

Because agroforestry integrates multiple natural components and is at the crossroads of tradition and modernity, it necessarily brings together people from diverse fields of knowledge: agronomists, animal care specialists, landscape planners, foresters, economists, soil analysts and many more. This diversity of disciplines is certainly a strength, but its complexity also represents a challenge, notably in terms of coordination and communication.

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Many different words are used to express realities that connect to each other. Terms like climate-smart agriculture and agroecology both incorporate a wide array of practices, and among them is agroforestry. Some practices, such as permaculture, have found a voice in grassroots organizations. In other instances, the emphasis is on integrating trees in agricultural systems, as is the case for evergreen agriculture. These systems all represent a commitment to bringing sustainable development principles to agricultural production. As trees are a fundamental component of many ecosystems, their integration in various farming practices doesn’t come as a surprise. 

last updated:  Friday, October 23, 2015