In maths 2 + 2 = 4 but in agroforestry 2 + 2 can sometimes equal 5! Agroforestry involves mixing trees with crops and/or animals in such a way that one benefits the other and overall production goes up. In southern England a farm that was 100% cereals is now 90% organic oats and 10% apple trees planted in strips across the fields and with the strips sown with wild flowers. The farmer’s income from the two crops (oats and apples) is greater than from the single cereal crop. In addition there is also honey from the bees that have fed on the wild flower strips.
It’s this increased production that organisations like the UN believe can help feed the world’s rapidly growing population and it’s why some of the best examples of agroforestry are to be found in the developing world, not ironically in the EU.
Increasing the tree cover on farms leads to improved soils with such soils holding more carbon. The trees themselves hold carbon so the combined impact is an increased level of CO2 sequestration on farms. Farmers across the EU have been struggling to reduce their carbon emissions hence agroforestry needs to become central to the Common Agriculture Policy going forward.
Agroforestry also results in greater water retention within the soil when it rains, especially heavy rain – something Europe will be getting more of due to climate change. When the rain falls it follows the tree roots down into the ground resulting in less run off. Less run off means less flooding down stream. Run off also leaches away fertilisers and pesticides off the land into the water system. Research into the benefits of agroforestry is being paid for by the local water company in the south of France because it is proving expense for them to remove fertiliser and pesticide from the drinking water. If we can keep more fertiliser and pesticide on the land where farmers want it, and its expensive for the to buy, then everyone benefits due to agroforestry.