JUN 16, 2020 10:02 AM PDT

The pros and cons of agroforestry

Research published in the journal Conservation Letters highlights the importance of considering land-use history when evaluating the role that agroforestry plays in sustainability and conservation management. The study, conducted by scientists from the University of Göttingen, analyzed how the cultivation of coffee, cocoa, and vanilla impacts changes in land-use throughout time. 

Many small-holder farmers in the tropics depend on these three crops for their livelihoods. Cultivation of these crops often utilizes agroforestry systems, meaning that crops are combined with trees that provide shade in order to create more diverse and resistant cultivation.

But agroforestry systems cannot be confused with native forests - the presence of crop cultivation greatly changes land-uses, which in turn directly affects habitats. For example, an agroforest with its undergrowth removed and planted with vanilla vines, coffee or cocoa bushes loses many plant and animal species as well as crucial ecosystem services. 

But agroforests can also look quite different, with the intentional planting of forest species to inhabit an open space that had been previously cleared for farming, such as a pasture or cornfield. With this type of agroforestry scenario, reforestation provides previously-lost benefits to the system, storing carbon, cooling the area, and recreating habitat for wildlife. 

This clear distinction between types of agroforestry systems was what researcher Dominic Martin wanted to investigate in his research. "Our results show that agroforestry systems can only lead to a significant enhancement of the landscape for biodiversity if they are established on open land," says Dominic Martin, who is the first author of the study. "The conversion of the remaining species-rich tropical forests into coffee, cocoa or vanilla plantations should, however, be avoided." 

Photo: Pixabay

To conserve these tropical forests when people are desperate for income-generating agriculture will require strong incentives. Professor Holger Kreft, Head of the Biodiversity, Macroecology and Biogeography Group at the University of Göttingen comments, "Sustainability labels should take this into account and avoid giving certification to plantations that were previously forest. It is really only in this way that the ecological advantages of cultivation in agroforestry systems can be achieved. This can then help to ensure that our morning coffee can be enjoyed without a bitter aftertaste." 

Sources: Conservation Letters, Science Daily

About the Author
  • Kathryn is a curious world-traveller interested in the intersection between nature, culture, history, and people. She has worked for environmental education non-profits and is a Spanish/English interpreter.
You May Also Like
JUL 26, 2020
Earth & The Environment
What Antarctica's first-discovered methane seep can teach us
JUL 26, 2020
What Antarctica's first-discovered methane seep can teach us
The first active methane seep in Antarctica has been found in the Ross Sea. This geological finding provides a crucial o ...
AUG 21, 2020
Earth & The Environment
The megadrought that ended the Green Sahara
AUG 21, 2020
The megadrought that ended the Green Sahara
Imagine Northern Africa, now inhabited by the desiccated Sahara desert, as a green oasis, covered by plants and trees. T ...
SEP 04, 2020
Microbiology
Researchers Discover a Way to Use Microbes to Help Make Plastic
SEP 04, 2020
Researchers Discover a Way to Use Microbes to Help Make Plastic
Researchers have discovered that some bacteria can make ethylene in a way we never knew about; microbes that metabolize ...
SEP 13, 2020
Earth & The Environment
Soil erosion exacerbates global phosphorus shortage
SEP 13, 2020
Soil erosion exacerbates global phosphorus shortage
New research published in the journal Nature Communications reports on the global phosphorus shortage that the planet is ...
SEP 29, 2020
Earth & The Environment
Using native wild species to improve crop breeding and production
SEP 29, 2020
Using native wild species to improve crop breeding and production
New research from the University of Portsmouth and Royal Botanic Gardens, Kew, highlights the concern that global farmin ...
OCT 01, 2020
Earth & The Environment
Global energy consumption in 2050: some good news
OCT 01, 2020
Global energy consumption in 2050: some good news
A study published in the journal Global Environmental Change finds hope for the future with the revelation that it ...
Loading Comments...