Agroforestry: A Sustainable and Regenerative Solution for the Planet
Across the globe, we can find old sayings that focus on the strength of togetherness. To be whole, you need all diverse parts acting in harmony; this is the existential pattern of nature. This is precisely what agroecology is trying to integrate into our industrialised agricultural techniques: interconnected prediction rather than controlling dictation.
According to FAO (n.d.), agroecology is a holistic approach that attempts to strike a balance between ecological concepts and principles of nature and the social concepts of agricultural management. In summary, it is the reintroduction of the natural services of the environment to agriculture by understanding and appreciating the role of biodiversity.
Although conventionally "not efficient", agroecology is a must because the approach focuses on organic and regenerative methods away from industrial solutions to create a climate-resilient food web aligned with UN SDGs. In this blog post, I will focus on one example of an agroecological movement: agroforestry.
What is Agroforestry?
To understand the propositions of agroforestry and what it stands for, we must first examine the contemporary history and the current state of how we produce our food.
Even though the arable land necessary to gain a fixed level of the crop has dropped after the third agricultural revolution (Our World in Data, 2019), the acceleration seen in the growth of global population did not allow this improvement to be enough for land conservation. Correlated expansion of the 1960s' The Green Revolution mindset led to pollution, erosion, and loss of arable land. Today's most effective use of land, and the leading reason for deforestation, comes from the ever-expanding agriculture and farming industry. The industrialisation of agriculture and farming separated these from nature and robbed nature of its diversity.
Now we can move to the term itself. Agroforestry is a particular subtype of agroecology, a technique that integrates the systems of woodlands, agriculture, and livestock to create climate-resilient management of land (Woodland Trust, n.d.). This is a good call for reforestation-focused climate mitigation projects in many regions, such as Africa (Mbow et al., 2014). It holds the potential to consolidate the competition for land between reforestation efforts and the agriculture/farming industry, breaking or at least lessening the effects of the vicious cycle of human pressure upon nature.
However, agroforestry is more than a fortification tool; it is a healer, a regenerator for the land lost due to repeated industrial damage and climate change. Above and below land, by creating a habitat for both visible and microscopic life, agroforestry allows the restoration of nutrient and water cycles. It sequesters carbon, conserves soil, safeguards crop yield, and generates cleaner water (Brown et al., 2018). Therefore, it is a solution to the damage done to our planet through monocultural agriculture.
The intersection between SDGs and Agroforestry
The intersectionality between all UN SDGs innately calls for a more environmentally secure future, as these goals recognise that we are interbeings that depend upon the health of our immediate and indirect environment (in the perceptive human case, the immediate environment is the social and artificial constructs, and the indirect one is the nature). Nature is filled with intersectionality, and agroforestry mimics this phenomenon, which intrinsically creates a parallelism between itself and UN SDGs.
To demonstrate this parallelism, here are some specific SDGs this technique supports:
SDG1 & SDG2: Agroforestry No Poverty and Zero Hunger
Malnutrition and hunger are still on the main agenda in many world regions. Due to climate change, the nations of climate-vulnerable regions are under the threat of climate impacts that may be devastating for their agricultural performance. According to the report "Climate Change, A Hunger Crisis in Making" (2021), 8 out of 10 of 35 countries are at significant risk of climate risks and are already experiencing extreme food insecurity.
In the Kenyan case, the Agricultural Carbon Project, thousands of farmers were aided by the World Bank and Vi Agroforestry to revive their degraded land with a fulfilled incentive of an increase in yield (SIANI, 2018). Biodiversity creates resilience to natural and geological phenomena that may reduce crop yield. In an interview with Guardian for the publication of "Extinction risk of Mesoamerican crop wild relatives", Dr Barbara Goettsch notes that climate change is threatening many plant species due to increased soil salinity, more frequent infestations, and new pests (Greenfield, 2021). She notes that diversity must keep our food systems intact and prevent climate-change-led famines.
SDG13 & SDG15: Agroforestry for Climate Action and Life on Land
Currently, around 23% of the GHG emissions come from a category called AFOLU: Agriculture, Forestry, and Land use; agricultural production and deforestation are the leading causes of emissions (IPCC, 2014).
According to NASA (2007) and World Wildlife Fund (n.d.), the primary cause of deforestation is agricultural expansion, certifying that there is indeed a fight over land between two sectors of reforestation and agriculture whilst there is no need for it.
Bentrup and MacFarland (2020) argue that agroforestry can aid nationwide climate action as it not only sequesters carbon emitted by GHGs through chipping into reforestation efforts while allowing farmers to keep their land and make it prosper further but also allowing wildlife to be accommodated across all land; promoting life on land to be secured. Singh and his colleagues (2020) found that although not a substitute for forests, agroforests can create shelter for generalist species and act as wildlife corridors.
Where are we off to now?
With growing academia on it, we now know that our agricultural and farming systems are a threat to the wellbeing of our planet and the human society. Agroecology, and agroforestry, are found to be solutions that can serve many SDGs and conserve the future of our planet and society.
Our priority therefore must be the embodiment of this new information in the legislature and the market, ditching business as usual practices to act now. I can only summarise this post with a very final note: We need to reach net zero ASAP for a habitable future, and for that we need to cooperate with nature!
FAO, (n.d.) Agroecology Knowledge Hub. Available at:
https://www.fao.org/agroecology/overview/en/ [Accessed 27 September 2022]
Woodland Trust, (n.d.) Agroforestry benefits nature, climate and farming. Available at:
https://www.woodlandtrust.org.uk/plant-trees/agroforestry-benefits/ [Accessed 27 September 2022]
Ritchie, Hannah & Roser, Max. (2019) Land Use. Available at:
https://ourworldindata.org/land-use [Accessed 28 September 2022]
Mbow, Cheikh et.al. (2014) Achieving mitigation and adaptation to climate change through sustainable agroforestry practices in Africa. Elsevier. 6(8), 8-11. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.cosust.2013.09.002
SIANI (2018) Achieving the Global Goals through agroforestry. [pdf] Stockholm: AGROFORESTRY NETWORK AND VI-SKOGEN. Available at: https://www.siani.se/publication/achieving-the-global-goals-through-agroforestry/ [Accessed 28 September 2022]
Action Against Hunger (2021) Climate change, A hunger crisis in the making. [pdf] Available at:
https://reliefweb.int/report/world/climate-change-hunger-crisis-making [Accessed 29 September 2022]
IPCC (2014). Agriculture, Forestry and Other Land Use (AFOLU). [pdf] Available at:
https://www.ipcc.ch/site/assets/uploads/2018/02/ipcc_wg3_ar5_chapter11.pdf [Accessed 29 September 2022]
WWF, (n.d.) Deforestation Causes. Available at: https://wwf.panda.org/discover/our_focus/forests_practice/deforestation_causes2/ [Accessed 30 September 2022]
Earth Observatory (2007) Causes of Deforestation: Direct Causes. Available at: https://earthobservatory.nasa.gov/features/Deforestation/deforestation_update3.php [Accessed 30 September 2022]
Bentrup, G. and MacFaland, K. (n.d.) Agroforestry. Available at: https://www.fs.usda.gov/ccrc/topics/agroforestry#:~:text=Based%20on%20a%20recent%20scientific,greenhouse%20gas%20emissions%20(1)
Ulman, Y. et. al. (2020) Conservation of Wildlife Diversity in Agroforestry Systems in Eastern Himalayan Biodiversity Hotspot. Springer. 74(2), 171–188.