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Agroforestry: Good for Yields, Good for the Environment
April 29, 2016

Man holding clipboard standing next to rows of maize (Courtesy of Abdala Liingilie)
Abdala Liingilie checks on a test field of maize in Tanzania.(Courtesy photo)

By integrating tree crops into your farm and ranch land, you can improve your harvests, diversify your income and help fight the effects of climate change in the process.

The land use system known as agroforestry is already being used across Africa to help replenish depleted soils. By growing “fertilizer trees,” such as species of acacia, farmers are adding nitrogen to the soil and increasing their grain production by two or three times, while the trees help absorb carbon emissions contributing to climate change and provide wildlife habitats.

One of your fellow YALI Network members, Tanzania’s Abdala Liingilie, has been encouraging agroforestry among farmers in the Kongwa and Kiteto districts who usually grow maize, beans, sunflower, ground nuts and finger millet.

With support from the World Agroforestry Centre and the U.S. Agency for International Development, Liingilie ran six research trials and helped train 250 farmers during the 2013–2014 growing season. In 2015, he mobilized more than 650 farmers to work in intercropping trials. The group planted about 300,000 tree seedlings among crops and houses.

Farmers who adopt agroforestry can expand their income opportunities, Liingilie said. For example, by having both trees and crops on their land, they can raise bees and then sell their beeswax and honey. By planting trees as canopies for ground crops they can earn money by selling the trees’ high-value fruit, timber and resins.

Agroforestry can also include these other benefits:

  • Improved water quality through reduced nutrient and soil runoff.
  • An increased number of drought-resistant trees, including those that produce fruits, nuts and edible oils.
  • Home-grown wood fuel, reducing deforestation and pressure on woodlands.
  • Less need for need for insecticides, herbicides and other toxic chemicals.
  • Increased crop stability.

The type of agroforestry you pursue can depend on the land conditions and your goals:

  • Alley cropping: planting trees between rows of already grown shrubs or trees.
  • Riparian forest buffers: planting trees next to bodies of water.
  • Silvopasture: sustainable integration of grazing land and forestry.
  • Windbreaks: planting trees or shrubs to manage the effect of wind on erosion and soil moisture.

Here is a link to resources and contacts on how to get your agroforestry project underway
in different African regions.

Liigilie’s advice for other YALI Network members is simple: “Don’t give up. … Changes start with you. Be ready to handle them in positive ways.”