When Farm Meets Forest

Time-worn agroforestry practices may be the future of sustainable development

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Courtesy of Trees for the Future / www.plant-trees.org

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We typically think of forestland and farmland as being mutually exclusive. But many indigenous people around the world traditionally have cultivated crops right alongside trees and shrubs, and some sustainable-development advocates believe it’s time to bring back and update these “agroforestry” practices, reports Upstream Journal (Fall-Winter 2010).  

Deliberately mixing crops and trees, instead of completely clearing and tilling land to plant a single monoculture crop, offers numerous benefits. Some types of trees can replenish soil, while others produce fruit or livestock fodder. Additionally, agroforestry allows farmers to plant diverse crops, reducing their dependence on international markets and offering them a measure of food and economic security. Finally, agroforestry technologies are cheap.  

International aid organizations and national governments are starting to realize the promise and potential of agroforestry, according to Upstream Journal. The World Bank is investing more resources in it, and advocates hope to convince more governments and public-sector institutions to do the same.  

Douglas Jack, project coordinator of the Sustainable Development Corporation, tells Upstream Journal, “The abundance of nature, when humans know how to work with it, is free and very low labor-input, compared with the kind of slavery that we create for ourselves through agriculture.”

Cover-165-thumbnailThis article first appeared in the May-June 2011 issue of Utne Reader.