What Is The Meaning Of Agroforestry?
Where “agriculture” meets “forestry” – Agroforestry is a land management system that incorporates trees and shrubs with crops and grazing. Basically, this method of farming has clear benefits for people and the planet, from promoting food security, to maintaining healthy soil, to providing a habitat for wildlife.
What is the meaning of agroforestry?
What does it look like in practice?
And why should you care?
Let’s get our hands dirty.
History Of Agroforestry
Agroforestry isn’t a new practice — far from it.
It’s believed agroforestry has existed for millennia, serving as the default land management practice in countries around the world.
It was only in the past few centuries that “mono-culture” farming became more prevalent — involving growing one type of crop at a time — with the intention to meet the growing demands for food.
The drawbacks to mono-culture farming are as follows: it can degrade the soil, require the use of pesticides and fertilisers, decrease biodiversity and encourage deforestation.
It’s little wonder why we’ve witnessed a re-emergence of alternative farming methods in the last century, like poly-culture systems which involve multiple species at a time.
Types Of Agroforestry
Agroforestry is a broad term with varying interpretations, but there are two common practices that are widely agreed upon:
- Silvopasture — the grazing of animals beneath trees, which can diversify a farmer’s income, provide shelter for animals and enrich the soil.
- Silvoarable — where crops are grown beneath the shade of tree canopies, which can encourage biodiversity, reduce the need for pesticides and in some cases, provide greater economic security for farmers.
Other types of agroforestry include…
- Alley cropping — planting rows of trees, with agricultural crops produced in between these rows
- Forest farming — planting crops on a small scale within a forest environment
- Windbreaks — planting trees to reduce wind and create a beneficial environment for the soil, crops, livestock or biodiversity
Benefits Of Agroforestry
In a world with a growing population and increased reliance on our precious resources, agroforestry systems can benefit both people and the planet.
Done well, agroforestry can…
Protect and increase biodiversity
Planting multiple different species in one area increases biodiversity and adds various nutrients to the soil. Furthermore, trees create more habitats for wildlife and corridors for them to move around, especially when compared with conventional farming alternatives.
Climate change mitigation
Monoculture farming methods involve regular tillage (turning over the soiling) which can degrade the soil and release carbon into the atmosphere. Agroforestry usually involves minimal tillage which can conserve the soil, while trees capture carbon and store it deep within the soil.
Enrich soil health
Crop diversity adds more nutrients to the soil, markedly increasing soil health and productivity. Having a diverse range of species in one area can increase soil carbon and organic matter.
Reduce the need for pesticides
Planting trees can encourage more wildlife, which can have flow-on effects for pest control because wildlife can prey on common pests (which would otherwise destroy crops). This reduces the need for chemicals and pesticides, which significantly benefits soil health.
Trees with deeper root systems hold the soil in place, meaning it’s less susceptible to erosion than conventional agriculture systems.
Provide economic welfare
Having a diverse range of crops means that farmers aren’t reliant on one single “cash crop”, which can provide greater economic security.
Beef and soy are two of the largest contributors to deforestation in South America.  Agroforestry farming practices reduce the need to clear land, providing a means to move away from deforestation.
Are There Challenges To Agroforestry?
The benefits of agroforestry are clear. So, the question might arise, “why aren’t we all implementing agroforestry practices?”
But with every solution comes challenges we need to overcome. For agroforestry, this includes…
- Lack of awareness
- Minimal scientific research
- Lack of financial incentives for farmers
- Lack of training
- Start-up costs
- Long wait time for trees to grow
- Initially, the set-up may be labour intensive
Agroforestry In The Ecuadorian Amazon
A case study of agroforestry can be found in Ecuador, especially where the Amazon Rainforest meets the foothills of the Andes Mountains.
Here, the Kichwa People (an ancient Andean people) cultivate, harvest and consume Guayusa (pronounced why-you-sa).
The Guayusa leaf is a source of natural energy, commonly steeped in boiling water to be enjoyed as tea. The benefits of Guayusa are plentiful, giving you an impressive boost of antioxidants, amino acids, vitamins and minerals.
The Guayusa leaf is a product of the native holly tree, which contributes to the rich biodiversity of the Ecuadorian Amazon. What’s more, it’s grown by Indigenous Kichwa farmers within traditional agroforestry systems. 
This means that Guayusa is…
- Grown without the use of fertilisers, chemicals and pesticides
- Abundant beneath the shade of tall trees, without the need for clearing
- Replenishing areas of the Amazon Rainforest that have suffered from deforestation
What’s more, Guayusa provides a steady source of income for the local people.
At Ayusa Tea, we’re proud to bring the wonders of Guayusa to Australia and support an agroforestry system.
We’ve collaborated with suppliers who pay the Kichwa farmers 15% above fair trade wage. With every purchase, we donate $1 to the Ecuadorian Foundation Conciencia Amazonica, which helps the local farmers and their families so they can continue sharing Guayusa with the world.
Discover more about the benefits of Guayusa Tea.