Tag Archive for: Agroforestry

Agroforestry offers sustainable alternative to worrying trend in Mekong region

Author: Kate Langford

A shift towards monoculture plantations and higher chemical use is of great concern to many in the Mekong region, particularly due to the impact this is having on food security and health.

Farmers who have resisted monoculture cropping, and opted to maintain or create mixed-species agroforestry systems, are benefiting from income and food security and reduced reliance on fertilizer and pesticides.

“Rubber trees are invading fruit orchards and watershed forest,” explains Cheardsak Kuaraska, vice-dean of the Faculty of Technology and Community Development at Thaksin University in Phattalung, Thailand. “Oil palm is invading rice paddy and lowland forests, especially peat forests.” He warns that southern Thailand is now faced with a food security problem.

Kuaraska estimates that rubber and oil palm now cover 33 per cent of the province of Phattalung in Thailand. Not only are they replacing food crops, he says, they are impacting on ecosystems; farmers are using higher amounts of fertilizer which is causing damage to the environment and health problems.

Lamphoune Xyvongsa from the Faculty of Forestry at the National University of Lao explains that it is becoming more difficult for people to gather food from the forest because many natural forests have been converted to plantations.

Kuaraska and Xyvongsa are among a group of researchers and farmers from Thailand, Lao, Cambodia and Viet Nam who appear in a series of 13 short films produced by the World Agroforestry Centre, discussing land-use problems in their countries and the role agroforests play in solving them.

Both believe agroforestry offers a sustainable alternative for farmers in the Mekong region; providing them with year-round income and a diversity of foods and other products while also offering many environmental benefits.

“How can we expand this knowledge to other farmers so that they can change their practice from monoculture to mixed-species?” asks Kuaraska. “Research is still necessary. We need to collaborate so that we can compare data on how one kind of farming practices is better than other kinds.

Farmers Chamni Yodkaewruang and Charus Kaewkong from Phattalung, Thailand and Pasith Pimpramote, from Vientiane in Laos, say agroforestry gives them different products at different times which can be consumed and or sold.


Clearing Forests May Transform Local—and Global—Climate

Author: Judith Schwartz

In the last 15 years 200,000 hectares of the Mau Forest in western Kenya have been converted to agricultural land. Previously called a “water tower” because it supplied water to the Rift Valley and Lake Victoria, the forest region has dried up; in 2009 the rainy season—from August to November—saw no rain, and since then precipitation has been modest. Whereas hydropower used to provide the bulk of Kenya’s power ongoing droughts have led investors to pull out of hydro projects; power rationing and epic blackouts are common. In a desperate move to halt environmental disaster by reducing population pressure, the Kenyan government evicted tens of thousands of people from the land.

Severe drought, temperature extremes, formerly productive land gone barren: this is climate change. Yet, says botanist Jan Pokorny of Charles University in Prague, these snippets from Kenya are not about greenhouse gases, but rather the way that land-use changes—specifically deforestation—affect climate; newly tree-free ground “represents huge amounts of solar energy changed into sensible heat, i.e. hot air.” Pokorny, who uses satellite technology to measure changes in land-surface and temperatures, has done research in western Kenya for 25 years, and watched the area grow hotter and drier. The change from forest cover to bare ground leads to more heat and drought, he says. More than half the country used to be forested; it’s now less than 2 percent.

Each year Earth loses 12 million to 15 million hectares of forest, according to the World Wildlife Fund, the equivalent of 36 football fields disappearing per minute. Although forests are ebbing throughout the world, in Africa forest-climate dynamics are easily grasped: according to the United Nations Environmental Programme, the continent is losing forests at twice the global rate. Says Pokorny, the conversion of forest to agricultural land, a change that took centuries in Europe, “happened during one generation in western Kenya.” Pokorny’s work, coupled with a controversial new theory called the “biotic pump,” suggests that transforming landscapes from forest to field has at least as big an impact on regional climate as greenhouse gas–induced global warming.

After all, de-treeing the landscape alters the way ecosystems function and self-regulate. For Pokorny, the key is evapotranspiration, whereby plants continuously absorb and emit water in the form of vapor. Evaporation consumes heat and thus has a cooling effect. He calls this “the perfect and only air-conditioning system on the planet.” On a moderately sunny day, a tree will transpire some 100 liters of water, converting 70 kilowatt-hours of solar energy into the latent heat held in water vapor. When soil is bare and dry—paved over or harvested—the process comes to a halt. The sun hits and warms the ground directly.


How Carbon Farming Could Reverse Climate Change

Author: Vera Liang Chang 

As the climate crisis heats up, agriculture is in the hot seat, not only as a contributor to climate change, but also as a potential solution. Eric Toensmeier has spent the last several years tracking both. A lecturer at Yale University, a senior fellow with Project Drawdown, and the author of several books on permaculture, Toensmeier is also the author of the newly-released book, The Carbon Farming Solution: A Global Toolkit of Perennial Crops and Regenerative Agriculture Practices for Climate Change Mitigation and Food Security.

Toensmeier argues that when combined with immense reduction in fossil fuel emissions and adaptation strategies, carbon farming has the potential to return the carbon dioxide in our atmosphere to the “magic number” of 350 parts per million, while feeding people, building more fertile soils, and contributing to ecosystem health.

We spoke with Toensmeier about his thoughts on agroforestry, what happened at the climate summit in Paris, and what strategies farmers, communities, and governments can take to launch carbon farming projects. This conversation has been edited for brevity.

When did you start working on carbon farming and why?

In 2009, I read the book Now or Never. Author Tim Flannery wrote that we need to mitigate climate change and a good way to do that is planting forests. But we can’t plant enough forests because we need land for agriculture. I thought to myself: there are trees that are agriculture; perhaps I have a contribution to make.

You note that agroforestry and perennial staple crops—strategies with immense potential to sequester carbon—have been given little attention to date. Why is that?

There are good reasons to focus on lower-sequestration strategies like no-till, organic annual cropping, and managed grazing. They don’t require farmers to make big changes to what they do, they don’t require people to change their diets, and they don’t require us to add unfamiliar foods to our food system. For example, an animal raised in a managed grazing system is raised differently than in a conventional system, but the cheese is still more or less the same. Moving into a fully perennial system would require fundamental transformation of our food system, from development to technologies. The notion that agriculture can incorporate trees—let alone the notion that agriculture be based on trees—is still new for most of us. Agroforestry produces only a tiny percentage of our food in the U.S.


Life in Syntropy

[ English | Português ]

“Life in Syntropy” is the new short film from Agenda Gotsch made specially to be presented at COP21 – Paris. This film put together some of the most remarkable experiences in Syntropic Agriculture, with brand new images and interviews.

Watch More Video’s on Agenda Gotsch’s Youtube Channel

Soil as Carbon Storehouse: New Weapon in Climate Fight?

Author: Judith D. Schwartz

The degradation of soils from unsustainable agriculture and other development has released billions of tons of carbon into the atmosphere. But new research shows how effective land restoration could play a major role in sequestering CO2 and slowing climate change.

In the 19th century, as land-hungry pioneers steered their wagon trains westward across the United States, they encountered a vast landscape of towering grasses that nurtured deep, fertile soils.

Today, just three percent of North America’s tall grass prairie remains. Its disappearance has had a dramatic impact on the landscape and ecology of the U.S., but a key consequence of that transformation has largely been overlooked: a massive loss of soil carbon into the atmosphere. The importance of soil carbon — how it is leached from the earth and how that process can be reversed — is the subject of intensifying scientific investigation, with important implications for the effort to slow the rapid rise of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere.

The world’s cultivated soils have lost 50 to 70 percent of their original carbon stock.

According to Rattan Lal, director of Ohio State University’s Carbon Management and Sequestration Center, the world’s cultivated soils have lost between 50 and 70 percent of their original carbon stock, much of which has oxidized upon exposure to air to become CO2. Now, armed with rapidly expanding knowledge about carbon sequestration in soils, researchers are studying how land restoration programs in places like the former North American prairie, the North China Plain, and even the parched interior of Australia might help put carbon back into the soil.

Absent carbon and critical microbes, soil becomes mere dirt, a process of deterioration that’s been rampant around the globe. Many scientists say that regenerative agricultural practices can turn back the carbon clock, reducing atmospheric CO2 while also boosting soil productivity and increasing resilience to floods and drought. Such regenerative techniques include planting fields year-round in crops or other cover, and agroforestry that combines crops, trees, and animal husbandry.

“CO2 cannot be reduced to safe levels in time to avoid serious long-term impacts unless the other side of atmospheric CO2 balance is included,” says Thomas J. Goreau, a biogeochemist and expert on carbon and nitrogen cycles who now serves as president of the Global Coral Reef Alliance.

Keep Reading on Yale Environment 360

A 12 Step Program to Stopping Drought and Desertification

Author: Green Prophet

Soaring temperatures and low precipitation could not occur at a worse time for many farmers in the United States, and around the world. Intensifying drought conditions are affecting corn and soybean crops throughout the Midwest, raising grain prices as well as concerns about future food prices.

The US Drought Monitor reports that 88 percent of this year’s corn crop and 77 percent of the soybean crop are now affected by the most severe drought since 1988. In response the Worldwatch Institute launched a 12 step guide to combatting drought and desertification. These tips can be used by policy makers around the world and in dry climates in the Middle East. Read on for the list.

1. Agroforestry: Planting trees in and around farms reduces soil erosion by providing a natural barrier against strong winds and rainfall. Tree roots also stabilize and nourish soils. The 1990 Farm Bill established the USDA National Agroforestry Center with the expressed aim of encouraging farmers to grow trees as windbreaks or as part of combined forage and livestock production, among other uses. See Green Prophet’s feature on the Nabateans to see how this idea can be applied in the Middle East.

2. Soil management: Alternating crop species allows soil periods of rest, restores nutrients, and also controls pests. Soil amendments, such as biochar, help soils retain moisture near the surface by providing a direct source of water and nutrients to plant roots, even in times of drought.

Keep Reading on Green Prophet

Mitigating Climate Change Through Food and Land Use

Authors: Sara J. Scherr and Sajal Sthapit


Land makes up a quarter of Earth’s surface, and its soil and plants hold three times as much carbon as the atmosphere. More than 30 percent of all greenhouse gas emissions arise from the land use sector. Thus, no strategy for mitigating global climate change can be complete or successful without reducing emissions from agriculture, forestry, and other land uses. Moreover, only land-based or “terrestrial” carbon sequestration offers the possibility today of large-scale removal of greenhouse gases from the atmosphere, through plant photosynthesis.

Five major strategies for reducing and sequestering terrestrial greenhouse gas emissions are:

Enriching soil carbon. Soil is the third largest carbon pool on Earth’s surface. Agricultural soils can be managed to reduce emissions by minimizing tillage, reducing use of nitrogen fertilizers, and preventing erosion. Soils can store the carbon captured by plants from the atmosphere by building up soil organic matter, which also has benefits for crop production. Adding biochar (biomass burned in a low-oxygen environment) can further enhance carbon storage in soil.

Farming with perennials. Perennial crops, grasses, palms, and trees constantly maintain and develop their root and woody biomass and associated carbon, while providing vegetative cover for soils. There is large potential to substitute annual tilled crops with perennials, particularly for animal feed and vegetable oils, as well as to incorporate woody perennials into annual cropping systems in agroforestry systems.

Climate-friendly livestock production. Rapid growth in demand for livestock products has triggered a huge rise in the number of animals, the concentration of wastes in feedlots and dairies, and the clearing of natural grasslands and forests for grazing. Livestock-related emissions of carbon and methane now account for 14.5 percent of total greenhouse gas emissions—more than the transport sector. A reduction in livestock numbers may be needed but production innovations can help, including rotational grazing systems, manure management, methane capture for biogas production, and improved feeds and feed additives.

Protecting natural habitat. The planet’s 4 billion hectares of forests and 5 billion hectares of natural grasslands are a massive reservoir of carbon—both in vegetation above ground and in root systems below ground. As forests and grasslands grow, they remove carbon from the atmosphere. Deforestation, land clearing, and forest and grassland fires are major sources of greenhouse gas emissions. Incentives are needed to encourage farmers and land users to maintain natural vegetation through product certification, payments for climate services, securing tenure rights, and community fire control. The conservation of natural habitat will benefit biodiversity in the face of climate change.

Restoring degraded watersheds and rangelands. Extensive areas of the world have been denuded of vegetation through land clearing for crops or grazing and from overuse and poor management. Degradation has not only generated a huge amount of greenhouse gas emissions, but local people have lost a valuable livelihood asset as well as essential watershed functions. Restoring vegetative cover on degraded lands can be a win-win-win strategy for addressing climate change, rural poverty, and water scarcity.

Agricultural communities can play a central role in fighting climate change. Even at a relatively low price for mitigating carbon emissions, improved land management could offset a quarter of global emissions from fossil fuel use in a year. In contrast, solutions for reducing emissions by carbon capture in the energy sector are unlikely to be widely utilized for decades and do not remove the greenhouse gases already in the atmosphere. To tackle the climate challenge, we need to pursue land use solutions in addition to efforts to improve energy efficiency and speed the transition to renewable energy.

Yet so far, the international science and policy communities have been slow to embrace terrestrial climate action. Some fear that investments in land use will not produce “real” climate benefits, or that land use action would distract attention from investment in energy alternatives. There is also a concern that land management changes cannot be implemented quickly enough and at a scale that would make a difference to the climate.

Download the Full Report on Worldwatch Institute

Carbon Sequestration in Agricultural Soils

The purpose of this report is to improve the knowledge base for facilitating investments in land management technologies that sequester soil organic carbon. While there are many studies on soil carbon sequestration, there is no single unifying volume that synthesizes knowledge on the impact of different land management practices on soil carbon sequestration rates across the world. A meta-analysis was carried out to provide soil carbon sequestration rates in Africa, Asia, and Latin America. This is one important element in decision-making for sustainable agricultural intensification, agro-ecosystems resilience, and comprehensive assessments of greenhouse mitigation potentials of Sustainable Land Management (SLM) practices. Furthermore, the ecosystem simulation modeling technique was used to predict future carbon storage in global cropland soils. Last, marginal abatement cost curves and trade-off graphs were used to assess the cost-effectiveness of the technologies in carbon sequestration. The remainder of the report is organized as follows. Chapter two provides a brief review of soil organic carbon dynamics and the methods for soil carbon assessment. The chapter concludes with brief information on carbon assessment in The World Bank’s sustainable land management projects portfolio. Chapter three reports the increase in soil carbon for selected sustainable land management practices in Africa, Asia, and Latin America. Chapter four reports the estimates from ecosystem simulation, while chapter five concludes with the benefits and costs of adopting carbon sequestering practices and a discussion of policy options to support climate smart agriculture in developing countries. The report will provide a broad perspective to natural resource managers and other professionals involved in scaling up Climate-Smart Agriculture (CSA).

Download the Report from the Open Knowledge Repository

Regenerative Agriculture: Sowing Health, Sustainability and Climate Stability

[ English | Español ]

Authors: Sarah Streat and Katherine Paul

“A nation that destroys its soil destroys itself.” – Franklin D. Roosevelt

In his opening address to the Savory Institute global conference in London on August 1, Alan Savory said that while agriculture is the foundation of civilization and of any stable economy, it is also, when poorly practiced, the most destructive industry—even more so than coal mining.

The World Wildlife Fund estimates that since 1960, a third of the world’s arable land has been lost through erosion and other degradation. Much of the destruction is caused by increased demand for GMO corn, soy, cotton, canola, sugar beet and alfalfa crops, used to feed factory farm animals, to produce highly-subsidized yet inefficient biofuels and to make processed foods.

The perpetual cycle of planting mono-crops, saturating the crops and fields with toxic chemicals, tilling them under and replanting them destroys the soil and degrades the land by depleting soil nutrients and causing erosion. Overgrazing pastures instead of managing livestock herds holistically, using a system of planned rotational grazing, is equally destructive.

Destruction of land and soil by poor farming isn’t inevitable, said John Liu, who also spoke at the Savory conference. Liu told the audience we have to connect economic growth to ecological restoration—and “restoring ecological function is the only way we will survive.”

How do we do it? In large part through “regenerative agriculture,” in combination with reducing fossil fuel emissions and reversing global deforestation.

Can we do it? By all accounts, yes. But as Savory cautioned, regenerative agriculture represents a small minority, probably 3 – 5 percent, of today’s global agriculture. Sadly, 90 percent of farmers, policy-makers and the public still believe in an agricultural model based on chemistry, technology and faulty policy. “We’re not even at the table,” Savory said.

But we could be. One of the key ways to do that, Savory said, is to convince consumers, who far outnumber producers, that agriculture has to change. Organic Consumers Association recommends consumers do that by boycotting GMOs and factory-farmed foods, in keeping with the advice on our popular bumper sticker: “Cook Organic not the Planet.”

Our failure to do so will not only lead to hunger and poverty, but it will represent a huge missed opportunity to reverse global warming.

Beyond ‘sustainable’

Let’s face it. “Sustainable” is not a sexy word. It suggests a relationship that is merely maintained—plodding along on an existing plane.

It’s time to move beyond the notion of “sustainable” agriculture to a model of agriculture that restores and rejuvenates soils, farms, economies and communities.

So what is “Regenerative agriculture”? Dr. Christine Jones, who founded Amazing Carbon, describes regenerative agriculture as a diverse set of farming practices that replenish and reactivate the soil. “When agriculture is regenerative, soils, water, vegetation and productivity continually improve rather than staying the same or slowly getting worse.”

The key to regenerative agriculture is that it not only “does no harm” to the land but actually improves it, using technologies that regenerate and revitalize the soil and the environment. Regenerative agriculture is dynamic and holistic, incorporating permaculture and organic farming practices, including conservation tillage, cover crops, crop rotation, composting, mobile animal shelters and pasture cropping, to increase food production, farmers’ income and especially, topsoil.

Regenerative agriculture leads to healthy soil, capable of producing high quality, nutrient dense food while simultaneously improving, rather than degrading land, and ultimately leading to productive farms and healthy communities and economies.

What makes up healthy soil? According to Jones, healthy topsoil is composed of weathered rock minerals, air, water and living things such as plant roots, microorganisms, insects and worms and the organic materials they produce.

There are six essential ingredients for soil formation, Jones says:
1.    Minerals
2.    Air
3.    Water
4.    Living things in the soil (plants and animals) and their by-products
5.    Living things on the soil (plants and animals) and their by-products
6.    Intermittent and patchy disturbance regimes (such as planned grazing or slashing)

Unlike mono-crop agriculture which relies heavily on chemical fertilizers, pesticides and herbicides, erodes the soil through excessive tilling, and doesn’t protect the with cover crops, regenerative agriculture produces healthy soil, while at the same time producing food (both plant and animal-based). Because regenerative agriculture doesn’t strip the soil of nutrients and leave it depleted, food grown in that soil tastes better, and has a higher nutrient content.

Can regenerative agriculture save the climate?

Healthy soils not only produce healthy food, healthy economies and healthy communities, but as it turns out, healthy soil just may be the best tool we have to reverse global warming.

According to a recent study by the Rodale Institute, if regenerative agriculture were practiced globally, 100 percent of current, annual carbon dioxide (CO2) emissions would be sequestered.

The Rodale Institute has been conducting its Farming Systems Trial (FST) since1981. It’s the longest-running test comparing organic and conventional cropping systems. Data from the test shows that organic, regenerative agriculture reduces CO2 by taking advantage of natural ecological systems to extract carbon from the atmosphere and sink it into the soil. According to the data, soil managed organically can accumulate about 1,000 pounds of carbon-per-acre foot of soil each year—equal to about 3,500 pounds of carbon dioxide-per-acre taken from the air and sequestered into soil organic matter.

While commercial agricultural practices are some of the largest contributors to global warming, regenerative agriculture practices are carbon neutral and actually reverse climate change. Carbon-rich soil doesn’t need synthetic fertilizers. This leads to further reduction of greenhouse gas emissions, as both the production and use of fertilizers generate CO2.

Transitioning on a global scale

Regenerative agriculture practices rely on knowledge and care, rather than expensive farming equipment, seeds, fertilizers and pesticides. While in the short term, they may produce slightly lower yields than conventional, chemical-intensive crops, over time they produce higher yields which lead to greater financial security for farmers, especially in communities that are economically dependent on agriculture.

More and more small-scale farmers are using regenerative practices to cultivate land and grow food. The movement has a strong collaborative voice in places like Australia and the UK, where innovative farmers are sharing their knowledge both informally, and in structured courses and workshops.

Regenerative farming is also practiced widely across the U.S. by many local, small-scale farms, though they may not be using the term “regenerative agriculture.” Farms like Polyface Farms in Virginia, Jubilee Farm in Washington State, and the Marin Carbon Project in California provide good models for how organic, regenerative farming can lead to prosperous and healthy communities.

But if we’re going to restore the world’s vast tracts of degraded lands, and avert a climate disaster, we’re going to need to transition on a global scale from today’s dominant chemical-intensive, mono-crop system to a regenerative model of agriculture. And that will require the support of political systems that currently favor and promote the destructive models of farming over the regenerative model.

Consumers can, and must, play a role in pushing governments to make this transition. We have the power to reverse the trend toward chemically grown, biotech crops by creating demand for healthy foods produced using regenerative practices. We do that by choosing locally, organically grown foods until the market for highly processed packaged foods, and foods that are produced on factory farms—foods that support unhealthy farming practices—shrinks and farms practicing regenerative agriculture fill the void.


Rodale Institute

Regenerative Agriculture United Kingdom https://www.regenerativeagriculture.co.uk/

Department of Land & Water Conservation, New South Wales Government https://www.amazingcarbon.com/PDF/JONES-RecogniseRelateInnovate.pdf

Soils for Life

Polyface Farms

Sarah Streat is a contributing freelance writer and researcher for the Organic Consumers Association.

Katherine Paul is associate director of the Organic Consumers Association.