Agroforestry is a land-use system in which farmers cultivate woody plants—such as trees and shrubs—along with crops or livestock on the same plot of land. Worldwide, an estimated 500 million smallholder farmers live on less than $1.90 per day, and agroforestry practices offer a wide range of benefits to these farmers. These practices also have a positive impact on climate change.

Investments in agroforestry enable smallholder farmers to boost crop yields and diversify income sources.1,2,3 Planting crops adjacent to trees results in higher soil fertility and improved water retention, and those outcomes in turn lead to increased crop yields. Meanwhile, tree by-products—including fruit, nuts, and branches (which can be sold as firewood)—provide farmers with new sources of income. Importantly, trees provide long-term financial security, since farmers can cut and sell them in response to a crisis (such as a bad harvest) or an opportunity (such as a chance to fund children’s education). Agroforestry enhances gender equity as well: Abundant tree planting reduces the time needed to gather firewood. As a result, girls have more time to attend school, and women have more time to spend on income-generating activities.

Agroforestry serves as a powerful tool for advancing climate adaptation and climate mitigation.4,5,6 On the adaptation side, trees retain water, reduce soil erosion, and increase soil fertility—outcomes that will become increasingly critical in the context of intensifying climate unpredictability. On the mitigation side, tree planting is a highly cost-effective method for enhancing natural carbon sinks and increasing carbon sequestration. In addition, by working with smallholder farmers to plant new trees, agroforestry efforts reduce the economic incentive to harvest old-growth forests and thereby slow the rate of deforestation.

Banner photo courtesy of One Acre Fund


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