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Agro-forestry 101


Written by Plant With Purpose on April 13, 2011 in General

By Kate Nare

During our weekly trainings here in our US office we have been reading and discussing Scott’s book, Tending to Eden: Environmental Stewardship for God’s People. Yesterday we reviewed chapter four, which goes into detail about the benefits of agro-forestry in the lives of the rural poor. Agro-forestry can be an abstract term to some people. If you’re curious to learn more, read this entry from Scott’s book:

“When Americans think of agriculture, images of large, flat expanses and big farm machinery usually come to mind. In much of the developing world, the reality couldn’t be more different. Machinery and chemicals are both expensive and ill-suited to the land farmed by many poor people throughout the world. However, there is a host of techniques that will increase yields and sustainability in these conditions.

One of the overwhelming lessons I’ve learned is the incredible diversity and provision of creation. God has given us many ways to grow food.

One alternative farming method is agro-forestry. This term includes a wide range of techniques that incorporate trees into farming systems in order to take advantage of the unique interactions that occur. Such methods have been practiced for centuries around the world, but agro-forestry has gained a great deal of attention in the past couple of decades.

Far more sustainable than many other methods of farming, agro-forestry allows a farmer to cultivate the same plot of land indefinitely. The trees on a farm can provide many of the ecosystem services of the native forest—helping the watershed function more naturally, improving soil ecology, and increasing local biodiversity. Agro-forestry is particularly well suited to steep, eroded hillsides. Trees help stabilize the soil and can be incorporated into barriers that control erosion. They also provide organic matter in the form of leaves and root dieback, which helps improve soil health and fertility. Because they send roots deeper than many annual crops, trees can access water and nutrient resources that would otherwise be unavailable, bringing them to the surface where they can be utilized by other crops. The idea is to maximize positive interactions between trees and crops, while minimizing negative interactions such as competition for sunlight, water, or nutrients.

One of the prominent interactions utilized in many agro-forestry systems involves trees or shrubs that “fix” nitrogen. Many trees, especially legumes, can, through an interaction with bacteria on their roots, “fix” the atmospheric nitrogen in the soil, thereby contributing to soil fertility. Thus the tree becomes a source of organic fertilizer for annual crops. It also provides shade, screens weaker plants from wind, and repels pests.” — from pages 35-36 in Tending to Eden: Environmental Stewardship for God’s People

You can hear Scott discuss the Biblical basis for why Christians should care for all of creation during an exclusive webinar on Thursday, April 21st (the day before Earth Day and Good Friday) at 12:00 p.m. PST / 3:00 p.m. EST. The author of Serve God, Save the Planet and the founder of Blessed Earth ministry, Dr. Matthew Sleeth will be joining Scott on this call and explaining why Christians should care for the earth every day. Click here to register and reserved your spot!


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