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How Agroforestry could solve the climate crisis?

Published: 16th Mar, 2020

Agriculture and climate change are deeply intertwined. Agriculture is responsible for almost 30 per cent of global greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions and is the root cause of 80 per cent of tropical deforestation.


Agriculture and climate change are deeply intertwined. Agriculture is responsible for almost 30 per cent of global greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions and is the root cause of 80 per cent of tropical deforestation.  Agroforestry, an agricultural method that nurtures natural ecosystems, could reverse these disturbing trends.


  • Agroforestry is the interaction of agriculture and trees, including the agricultural use of trees.
  • This comprises trees on farms and in agricultural landscapes, farming in forests and along forest margins and tree-crop production, including cocoa, coffee, rubber and oil palm.
  • Interactions between trees and other components of agriculture may be important at a range of scales:
    • in fields (where trees and crops are grown together)
    • on farms (where trees may provide fodder for livestock, fuel, food, shelter or income from products including timber)
    • landscapes (where agricultural and forest land uses combine in determining the provision of ecosystem services)
  • It is a resilient and future-proof sustainable agricultural method that could effectively mitigate the climate crisis.
  • This climate-smart farming system enables economically-viable production while significantly restoring land, mitigating climate change, safeguarding local biodiversity and strengthening food and nutritional securities for the growing population.
  • With agroforestry, degraded land can be transformed into food-growing carbon sinks.

What is leading to CO2 emissions?

  • Animal Agriculture: Animal agriculture is responsible for 18 percent of greenhouse gas emissions, more than the combined exhaust from all transportation.
    • Intensive agriculture characterised by monocultures and aimed at feeding farm animals is one of the sectors that generate the highest amount of CO2 emissions.
  • Livestock: Livestock and their byproducts account for at least 32,000 million tons of carbon dioxide (CO2) per year or 51% of all worldwide greenhouse gas emissions.
    • The biggest single source is methane from cow burps and manure. 
    • Manure left on pasture emits nitrous oxide, a greenhouse gas with a much stronger global warming impact per ton than carbon dioxide. 
    • Enteric fermentation—a natural digestive process that occurs in ruminant animals such as cattle, sheep and goats—accounts for about 40% of agricultural production emissionsin the past 20 years.  

In the 20 years from 1996-2016, China was responsible for the most emissions from agricultural production, followed by India, Brazil and the United States. Together, these top four agricultural emitters were responsible for 37% of global agricultural production emissions.


  • Key technical challenges include getting good quality planting material for desired species, limited agronomical understanding of optimal shade management in sustainably intensive and diversified agroforestry systems and processing of products.
  • Similarly, economic and policy challenges include unclear rights to land, trees and carbon, poor market infrastructure, labour shortage and long-waiting periods for recovery of investments. Recovery of investments can sometimes take up to three years.

Benefits of Agroforestry:

  • Improving livelihood: Agroforestry can occur at a variety of spatial scales (e.g., field or woodlot, farm, watershed) in different ecosystems and cultures. When properly applied, agroforestry can improve livelihoods through enhanced health and nutrition, increased economic growth, and strengthened environmental resilience and ecosystem sustainability. 
  • Social sustainability: In turn, such improvements can contribute to increased social sustainability in which human needs are satisfied in a way that fosters environmental health. 
  • Sustainable production: Farm diversification is a growing strategy for economic competitiveness, especially throughout the industrialized temperate zone, and agroforestry offers great promise for the sustainable production of speciality nut and fruit crops, high-value medicinal, dairy and beef cattle, sheep, goats, and biomass for biofuel. 
  • Reducing stress: The benefits of agroforestry derive from the interactions between trees and shrubs and crops and livestock.  Positive interactions may reduce stress to plants and animals, enhance yields, retain soil, and capture water.
  • Environment-friendly: Agroforestry systems also yield proven strategies for long-term carbon sequestration, soil enrichment, biodiversity conservation, and air- and water-quality improvements, benefiting both the landowners and society.

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