In This Article Expand or collapse the "in this article" section Agroforestry Systems

  • Introduction
  • Defining Agroforestry Systems
  • Historical Perspectives of Agroforestry Systems
  • Benefits of Agroforestry Systems
  • Agroforestry Organizations and Societies

Environmental Science Agroforestry Systems
Maren Oelbermann
  • LAST REVIEWED: 25 October 2017
  • LAST MODIFIED: 25 October 2017
  • DOI: 10.1093/obo/9780199363445-0086


Agroforestry systems are land management practices in which trees and shrubs are produced on the same land area as agricultural crops or livestock. Therefore, agroforestry systems combine trees, crops, or livestock to increase diversity, productivity, profitability, and environmental stewardship. Therefore, agroforestry systems can provide a sustainable alternative to biologically simplified or low diversity cropping systems. Agroforestry systems are also suited for the rejuvenation of marginal land in both temperate and tropical biomes. Improved soil quality, through organic matter input from trees and crops lead to increased crop yield, ensuring the long-term security of food and soil. The tree and soil component of agroforestry systems can also be a long-term sink for carbon, thereby contributing to climate change mitigation. In 2013 the United Nations Federation of Agriculture Organization (UN-FAO) recommended the adoption of agroforestry practices for food security and the need for developing country governments to incorporate agroforestry into their national agricultural policies. Agroforestry systems are also of interest since they can offset the need for deforestation in tropical environments. It was estimated that for each hectare of sustainable agroforestry production, up to twenty hectares of deforestation could be prevented. Apart from enhancing soil health and crop productivity, agroforestry systems also have other environmental benefits. These include reduced nutrient leaching and soil erosion, maintenance of nutrient cycling, reduction of weeds and pests, enhanced soil water availability and enhanced biodiversity. Agroforestry provides a more diverse farming system, thereby reducing economic risks due to the production of multiple products. This also helps to stimulate the rural economy.

General Reference Works

There are several books and journal articles that provide the foundation of the relatively young field of agroforestry systems. Most of these works focus on topical environments and outline the different types of agroforestry systems specific to certain tropical regions including Nair 1993, and Nair and Garrity 2012. Huxley 1999 specifically discussed tropical agroforestry systems and their interactions. Nair 1998 provides a discussion on the future of agroforestry in the tropics after more than a decade of intense research on agroforestry systems. He outlines that the future in agroforestry systems not only lies in securing food but also its importance in mitigation global change including a changing climate. A more recent compendium of Nair 1993 is Atangana, et al. 2014, which outlines the most recent advances in tropical agroforestry. Schroth, et al. 2004 outlines the potential of agroforestry systems to maintain and enhance biodiversity. A parallel to the work on tropical agroforestry systems, Gordon and Newman 1997 focused on temperate agroforestry systems. Dixon, et al. 1993 provides an evaluation of the quantity of land area that can be prevented from deforestation if agroforestry systems are established. Batish, et al. 2007 summarizes the most recent information on tree-crop interactions in temperate and tropical environments, whereas Rapidel, et al. 2011 discusses the potential of agroforestry systems in providing ecological services.

  • Atangana, A., D. Khasa, S. Chang, and A. Degrande. 2014. Tropical agroforestry. Berlin: Springer.

    DOI: 10.1007/978-94-007-7723-1

    Follows up on Nair 1993, on tropical agroforestry. Includes information on carbon sequestration, integrated pest management, tree domestication, in addition to the latest research on various topics related to agroforestry systems that were not discussed in Nair 1993. It also provides examples of different agroforestry system designs within tropical environments.

  • Batish, D. R., R. K. Kohli, S. Jose, and H. P. Singh. 2007. Ecological basis of agroforestry. Boca Raton, FL: CRC.

    DOI: 10.1201/9781420043365

    Demonstrates how ecologically sustainable agroforestry systems can meet the challenge of enhancing crop productivity, soil fertility, and environmental sustainability. It focuses in tree-crop interactions in tropical and temperate environments. It also discusses root-mediated interactions and the socioeconomic aspects of agroforestry practices.

  • Dixon, R. K., J. K. Winjum, P. E. Schroeder. 1993. Conservation and sequestration of carbon: The potential of forest and agroforestry management practices. Global Environmental Change 3:159–173.

    DOI: 10.1016/0959-3780(93)90004-5

    Outlines the potential of agroforestry systems to offset deforestation and its potential capacity to sequester carbon. It provides an estimate of how many hectares of deforestation in the tropics can be offset by one hectare of agroforestry.

  • Gordon, A. M., and S. M. Newman. 1997. Temperate agroforestry systems. Wallingford, UK: CAB International.

    Focuses on the different types of agroforestry systems within the temperate zone. The book outlined where the greatest advances, modifications, and adoptions of agroforestry systems in temperate environments took place and exclusively focused on North and South America, Australia, New Zealand, China, United Kingdom, and Continental Europe. A second edition of this work is slated for release in early 2018, and it includes temperate regions of India, Chile, and Scandinavia previously not discussed in the first edition.

  • Huxley, P. 1999. Tropical agroforestry. Oxford: Blackwell Science.

    Explains how agroforestry can contribute to sustainable agricultural production. There is an emphasis to understand the role of multipurpose trees, including the biological interactions between trees, soil, and crops.

  • Nair, P. K. R. 1993. An introduction to agroforestry. Berlin: Springer.

    DOI: 10.1007/978-94-011-1608-4

    This book is the foundational work on agroforestry and outlines different agroforestry practices and systems in tropical ecosystems. Has one chapter dedicated to temperate agroforestry systems. This book covers agroforestry design and evaluation, systems and practices, and biophysical interactions in agroforestry systems.

  • Nair, P. K. R. 1998. Directions in tropical agroforestry research: Past, present, and future. Agroforestry Systems 38:223–245.

    DOI: 10.1023/A:1005943729654

    This work outlines the past research that has taken place in tropical agroforestry systems and focuses on future research directions that include food security and climate change mitigation by agroforestry systems.

  • Nair, P. K. R., and D. Garrity. 2012. Agroforestry: The future of global land-use. Berlin: Springer.

    DOI: 10.1007/978-94-007-4676-3

    This book is a comprehensive and authoritative account of our current state of knowledge on agroforestry within a global framework.

  • Rapidel, B., F. DeClerck, J. F. Le Coq, and J. Beer. 2011. Ecosystem services from agriculture and agroforestry: Measurement and payment. Abingdon, UK: Routledge.

    Outlines how agroforestry systems can be used for ecosystem services with respect to biodiversity conservation, water conservation, and carbon sequestration. It also provides case studies where successful programs for ecosystem services have been initiated with a focus on tropical environments.

  • Schroth, G., G. A. B. da Fonseca, C. A. Harvey, C. Gascon, H. L. Vasconcelos, and A. M. N. Izac. 2004. Agroforestry and Biodiversity Conservation in Tropical Landscapes, 2d ed. Washington, DC: Island Press.

    Agroforestry systems are one of the most biodiversity-conserving land-use management systems. This book examines the potential how agroforestry systems in tropical regions can be used for economical food production without environmental degradation and biodiversity conservation.

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