What’s the role of agroforestry in restoration and carbon removal?

Agroforestry is defined as ‘agriculture with trees’. This definition by The World Agroforestry Research Center (ICRAF) may be simplified, yet describes the core idea of this concept. Agroforestry has been practiced throughout the human history of agriculture but a lot of this knowledge, traditionally held by indigenous farmers, has been lost to intensive and conventional production systems. Due to increasing soil degradation and water scarcity, the use of trees in various agricultural production systems, especially throughout the tropics, has gained ever rising attention. Agroforestry does also play a vital role in the restoration of degraded land, as it allows reconciling the reconstruction of diverse and nature oriented ecosystems with the production of seeds, fruit, fiber, biomass, etc. Techniques resulting from modern agroforestry research are also of great interest in terms of carbon removal because through constant heavy pruning of growing trees the formation of biomass is significantly accelerated. Consequently, this leads to a higher carbon removal rate as well as an increased soil carbon formation. To give you an impression, Motagnini et al. estimated in 2004 that agroforestry systems can store up to 63 tons of carbon per hectare. To deep dive we recommend this research done by the incredible Ramachandran Nair about his strategy on how to use agroforestry for carbon sequestration. The graphic at the beginning of the post shows how such an agroforestry system may look like. The one in particular was developed by our advisors from PRETATERRA, an outstanding company implementing agroforestry systems throughout the world. The focus of this design was the production of cacau in combination with palm trees, citrus and native timber in the state of Bahia, Brazil. 

Anatol and Polly in their agroforestry system, together with Cacau, the guardian of the system.

Through our work in the topics we are lucky to get in touch with projects that are a source of inspiration, knowledge and collaboration on our journey to create carbon hubs on degraded tropical land. This week our COO Niklas had the honor to visit the project „Klimaretten Selbermachen“ (Save the Climate – Do it yourself), located on the shore of chocolate of Bahia state, close to the city of Ilhéus in northeastern Brazil. Polly and Anatol do use agroforestry to inspire their community and fight against climate change. We visited their farm and had the chance to ask them about their relationship with agroforestry, where they explained to us about the many benefits agroforestry can have in addition to the high carbon sequestration potential: 

Why agroforestry? Where does the interest, the passion, and the inspiration come from?

We always had a dream of living in the middle of the forest, and eating what we grow. Agroforestry makes this feasible, because at the same time we can reforest and provide food. It’s exciting to be part of a movement that aims for regenerative agriculture, imagining possible futures.

What role does agroforestry play in restoration?

The idea of agroforestry is not new. Several indigenous peoples have already practiced and still practise an agriculture that does not devastate. So the role of agroforestry is to leave the forest standing while nourishing the land and our bodies with healthy, poison-free food. Agroforestry makes restoration feasible for those who depend on land use, as it is the case in family farming. Agroforestry reconciles restoration with social agendas.

Where do you want to go using the agroforestry technique and philosophy?

The paths are wide open, in the sense that we don’t control nature and its power. So, we want to reach the recovery of this place that we inhabit. Learning a lot and growing with the land. Here we have a small piece of devastated Atlantic Forest, which we want to reforest through agroforestry. But we have to understand this collectively, that is, together with the small farmers of the region.

How can agroforestry save the climate crisis?   

Agroforestry cannot save the climate crisis. It is already happening. Agroforestry can be one of the tools to mitigate the collapse that is coming. Demarcating indigenous and quilombola lands, decentralizing the large scale farmers (latifúndios) and breaking with the paradigms of a parasitic agriculture, can be a part of a whole that takes into consideration not only carbon capture, for example, but thinks about emissions reduction and climate justice. It’s all connected.

From right to left: Polly and Anatol from Klimaretten Selbermachen and Niklas, COO of Woonderlands in the nursery.

Big shout out to Polly and Anatol for taking the time and sharing their insights with us. To support their project you can either check out their current crowdfunding campaign or visit their website directly. By supporting them you will improve the lives of the local population, help planting trees, fight climate change and sequester carbon. 

Check out our blog post about restoration to understand how we are using agroforestry on our land. Get in touch to find out more about how productive restoration can remove great amounts of carbon on degraded land. 

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