Trees on Farms

An introduction to agroforestry

By The CGIAR Research Program on Forests, Trees and Agroforestry (FTA)

Coconut water (2015-05-29) by Juan Carlos Huayllapuma/CIFORThe CGIAR Research Program on Forests, Trees and Agroforestry (FTA)

Did you know?...

Maize fields and forests (2018-06-12) by Axel Fassio/CIFORThe CGIAR Research Program on Forests, Trees and Agroforestry (FTA)

Agriculture creates 26% of all greenhouse gas emissions

Global food systems rely on chemical fertilizers, hormones and a limited number of crops and livestock to mass-produce food for nearly 8 billion people around the world. 

Fallow fields (2019-09-30) by Ahtziri Gonzalez/CIFORThe CGIAR Research Program on Forests, Trees and Agroforestry (FTA)

These practices have harmed the environment

Intensive, chemical-based agriculture degrades landscapes, reduces biodiversity and accelerates climate change. Three quarters of agricultural genetic diversity has already been lost. This lack of diversity puts existing crops at greater risk of disease and die-off.

Cabbage agroforestry (2013-10-20) by Ricky Martin/CIFORThe CGIAR Research Program on Forests, Trees and Agroforestry (FTA)

Trees can help transform the way we produce food

Transitioning to sustainable food production means re-designing agricultural systems to work with nature, not against it.  Such a shift would allow humans to co-exist with natural ecosystems, plants and animals while also feeding themselves.    

Rubber-based agroforestry (2014-04-04) by Julius Atia/ICRAFThe CGIAR Research Program on Forests, Trees and Agroforestry (FTA)

Agroforestry is one practice that can help make the change

Agroforestry happens when trees are intentionally planted on farmland. For example, farmers may plant poplar trees in their rice paddies or apple trees in their cow pasture. The farm pictured here is growing rubber trees and bananas together. 

Village scenery (2008-05-20) by Aulia Erlangga/CIFORThe CGIAR Research Program on Forests, Trees and Agroforestry (FTA)

Trees on farms help mitigate and adapt to climate change

Planting trees in agroforestry systems stores carbon and regulates the water cycle. Native tree species also promote biodiversity, making the farm and its surrounding ecosystem healthier and more resilient to climate change.

Agroforestry isn't only about "being sustainable." Farmers also receive many benefits from agroforestry...

Pilot agroforestry farm in Yangambi (2020-06-26) by Fiston Wasanga/CIFORThe CGIAR Research Program on Forests, Trees and Agroforestry (FTA)

Shade

Shade is vital to cultivate and harvest crops and livestock. It protects young plants and farm animals from harsh sunlight and helps some species to ripen correctly. In hot climates, shade from trees also keeps the ground from drying out too fast. 

Soil

Trees are natural fertilizers. The leaves and branches they shed throughout the year decompose, creating rich soil. Tree roots can also prevent erosion and house nitrogen-fixing bacteria, which further help process nutrients in the earth, making them available for crops.

Forests, food security and nutrition in Luwingu (2017-05-12) by Joe Nkadaani/CIFORThe CGIAR Research Program on Forests, Trees and Agroforestry (FTA)

Food, feed and nutrition

About 500 million farmers rely on fruits and vegetables grown from agroforestry systems to meet their daily nutrition needs. Tree leaves, fruits, nuts and occasionally bark can also be used as feed for livestock such as cows and sheep. 

One Health smallholder pig systems (2015-01-14) by Georgina Smith/CIATThe CGIAR Research Program on Forests, Trees and Agroforestry (FTA)

Additional income

In addition to ecosystem services that improve crop yields such as shade and soil improvement, many trees produce valuable products. More than 1.2 billion farmers earn additional income from tree products like wood and nuts. The woman pictured grows fruits on her pig farm. 

Mulu Kidanu, a smallholder farmer in Abraha Atsbeha, Ethiopia, has first-hand experience with agroforestry benefits.

Her family began growing fruit trees in addition to raising cows as part of the USAID-funded Africa RISING initiative.

A Tale of Two Villages (2014-08-04) by ICRAFThe CGIAR Research Program on Forests, Trees and Agroforestry (FTA)

Alder-tea mixed agroforestry (2011-04-12) by Unknown/ICRAFThe CGIAR Research Program on Forests, Trees and Agroforestry (FTA)

Of course, there is no one-size-fits all for agroforestry

Alder trees and tea plants like those pictured would require very different conditions than a coffee tree and soybean agroforestry farm. 

Garden of Sanfo Karim (2013-03-14) by Ollivier Girard/CIFORThe CGIAR Research Program on Forests, Trees and Agroforestry (FTA)

But when managed with care, agroforestry is a powerful tool

...in supporting rural communities and accelerating the transition to more sustainable global food supply chains. 

Test your knowledge!

CASE STUDY: Twenty-one-year-old Giàng Ti Hoa and her family are smallholder farmers in Vietnam. For years, they have struggled to make enough money from their maize (corn) and rice harvests. This meant there wasn't enough money for Hoa pay for university tuition. Recently, they joined an agroforestry initiative and began cultivating native H’mong apple trees and forage grass in addition to their farm's corn and rice.

QUESTION: Which agroforestry benefits will Hoa and her family receive from the H'mong apples (left) and forage grass (right)? And what ecosystem benefits will the trees provide?

H'mong apple, Lua Hoang Thi/ICRAF, 2015-07-01, From the collection of: The CGIAR Research Program on Forests, Trees and Agroforestry (FTA)
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Forage grass, Vietnam, Georgina Smith/CIAT, 2014-07-07, From the collection of: The CGIAR Research Program on Forests, Trees and Agroforestry (FTA)
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Agroforestry with fodder grass (2014-10-24) by Unknown/ICRAFThe CGIAR Research Program on Forests, Trees and Agroforestry (FTA)

Answers:

H'mong apples:  additional income (the fruits are sold to make tea, syrup, vinegar and wine), diet diversification and nutrition.
Forage grass: cow fodder, income and soil improvement.
Ecosystem services: erosion prevention, soil improvement, water cycle and biodiversity.

After five years, the additional income from the apples and forage grass was enough to send Hoa to university, like she’d always dreamed!

Dreams come true: the benefits of agroforestry (2017-04-06) by ICRAFThe CGIAR Research Program on Forests, Trees and Agroforestry (FTA)

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