PlantVillage University Seminar - Agroforestry

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Agroforestry for Food Security and Climate Change in Africa


Agroforestry refers to growing woody perennials and crops and rearing animals in the same environment for ecological and economical benefit. Farmers practice agroforestry for optimal food, fiber and livestock production. Agroforestry provides multiple ecological and environmental benefits that helps communities not only adapt to climate change but also produce food sustainably. There are three broad groupings for agroforestry systems: agrisilviculture (growing both trees and crops), silvopastoralism (growing trees with pasture and keeping animals), and agrosilva pastoralism (growing trees alongside crops and rearing animals) [1]. 


A definition of Regenerative Agroforestry | reNature

                                                      Benefits from Agroforestry System (Image from


According to Dr. Phokele Maponya, the senior researcher for Agriculture Research Council in South Africa, agroforestry systems are area- and climate-specific. They must therefore be locally relevant. Farmers must consider the biophysical and socioeconomic conditions of their fields to ensure long term success of agroforestry systems. 


Biophysical and climate factors like precipitation, temperature, and humidity determine whether an area is suitable for growing trees with crops/animals. Consequently, agroforestry planning must factor in rainfall, temperature, humidity and other climatic condition predictions. For example, farmers should consider agroforestry as an option only in areas which meet the minimum rainfall requirement of 750mm. 


Climate is not the only condition that influences the success of agroforestry systems. Soil constitution also determines a land’s agroforestry suitability. According to Dr. Phokele, it is good practice to collect and analyze soil samples from a potential area before settling on a suitable agroforestry plan. Information about the pH, clay content, K (mg/kg), P(mg/kg), Mg(mg/kg), Na(mg/kg) of the soil can help establish how to properly manage the agroforestry system as well as what tree species would perform best in the area. Nematode populations in the soil also pose a threat to trees, so determining their presence in advance can help with mitigation strategies. Using trial and error to determine which agroforestry method is suited to your climate and soil conditions can be costly, so a good option is always to consult an expert to find out what trees and crops are suitable for you before embarking on an agroforestry project. 


Paying attention to climate when choosing an agroforestry system is important, but so is considering the socioeconomics of neighboring communities. Keep in mind that agroforestry systems should contribute directly and indirectly to reducing food insecurity and improving the livelihoods of communities around them. An agroforestry system suited to a pastoralist community may be unsuitable for an agricultural community and vice-versa. Dr. Phokele proposes a checklist of 3I’s when evaluating the socioeconomic suitability of a given system: intent, interconnection, and interaction. What is your intent? Intent refers to the goals you want to achieve through agroforestry. What do you want to do? Can you achieve those goals by integrating trees with crops or animals or both? Interconnection relies on the relationship between the agroforestry system and neighboring communities. Is the system useful to the community? In what ways can modifying the system optimize communal benefits? Finally, agroforestry systems must be intensive within the given area, that is, they must produce maximum output with the resources at hand. Good agroforestry systems also comply with the 4F’s. The trees provide firewood for the surrounding community, fertilizer for the crops in the system, and fodder for animals. The system also improves the community’s food security.


After evaluating whether the climate of an area is suitable for agroforestry and whether the surrounding community benefits from it, it is critical to consider agroforestry system design.  Not every combination of trees and crops/animals can be considered an agroforestry system. For a combination to be an agroforestry system, there needs to be integration between trees and the crops or animals within the system. For instance, trees can be planted between rows of crops or around the border of a farm or a combination of both. A design that uses trees planted around the border and in rows within the farm is called a Taungya agroforestry design. In this design, the trees can be planted (3 x 3) meters apart from each other. Another agroforestry system is the alley agroforestry cropping design. In this design, trees are mostly planted at the border, with fewer tree rows and wider crop rows within the farm. Trees in alley agroforestry cropping design can be planted (3 x 6) or (3 x 12) meters apart. Finally, in a border planting agroforestry design, the trees are only planted around the borders of the farm. The trees can be planted roughly 8 meters apart. 


The benefits of agroforestry are numerous. In a case study Dr. Phokele conducted in South Africa, the majority of the participants saw a significant increase in food availability after practicing intervention with agroforestry. Before the intervention, the 182 families participating in the study were categorized into food secure or insecure based on the availability, accessibility, and diversity of their food as well as the stability of their food production. The families were then provided with the resources to establish an agroforestry system. Some systems consisted of Eucalyptus trees and groundnuts, maize, dry beans, or sweet potatoes. Other community growers integrated the Moringa tree and other staple crops. After one growing season, the families were re-evaluated based on the initial criteria. The families considered food secured increased by about 70% after the studies. This case study demonstrates how agroforestry can help flatten the food insecurity curve. 



     Study shows positive correlation between food security and Agroforestry 


Dr. Phokele’s study brought to light a major issue that must be addressed if agroforestry is to become a mainstream agricultural practice in Africa. The study highlighted the inadequacy of hard labor to carry out agroforestry. In Africa, the majority who practice agroforestry are old women above the age of 60. In Dr. Phokele's study alone, more than 80% of the participants were women and about 62% of the participants were above the age of 60. Strong investment in agriculture is necessary to attract African youth to agroforestry. 


There are many problems today that agroforestry can resolve. One of them is the extreme weather events that we now consider “normal”, from the fires in California and Australia to the severe droughts and flooding in East Africa [2]. Agroforestry provides a great opportunity to address the issue of climate change and food security in Africa [3].  Invest in agroforestry today to fight climate change and prevent even one more person from starving.



[1] Combe, Jean. "Agroforestry techniques in tropical countries: Potential and limitations." Agroforestry systems 1.1 (1982): 13-27.

[2] Huber, Daniel, and Jay Gulledge. "Extreme weather and climate change." Center for Climate and Energy Solutions (2011).

[3] Mbow, Cheikh, et al. "Agroforestry solutions to address food security and climate change challenges in Africa." Current Opinion in Environmental Sustainability 6 (2014): 61-67.


Written By; Edward Idun Amoah

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