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Adaptation option


The EU Commission defined agroforestry as land use systems in which trees are grown in combination with agriculture on the same land. In agroforestry, woody perennials are deliberately integrated with crops and/or animals on the same parcel or land management unit, without the intention to establish a remaining forest stand. The trees may be arranged as single stems, in rows or in groups, while grazing may also take place inside parcels (silvoarable agroforestry, silvopastoralism, grazed or intercropped orchards) or on the limits between parcels (hedges, tree lines). Agroforestry can be implemented in diverse spatial arrangements or temporal sequences, valorising ecological and economic interactions between the various components. It is possible to identify five basic spatial agroforestry practices 

  • silvopastoral agroforestry: a combination of trees and shrubs with forage and animal production; 
  • silvoarable agroforestry: trees and shrubs intercropped with annual or perennial crops; 
  • forest farming: forested areas used for the production or harvest of natural-standing specialty crops for medicinal, ornamental or culinary uses; 
  • hedgerows, windbreaks and riparian buffer strips: lines of natural or planted perennial vegetation (trees and shrubs) bordering croplands or pastures and water sources to protect livestock, crops, soil and/or water quality; 
  • home gardens or kitchen gardens: combining trees and shrubs with vegetable production. 

Agroforestry exploits the complementarity between perennial species (trees or shrubs) and crops, so that the available resources can be more effectively exploited. Efficient and modern versions of agroforestry allow the diversification of farm activity and make better use of environmental resources. The agroforestry plot remains productive for the farmer and generates continuous revenue, which is not the case when arable land is simply reforested. 

Agroforestry can be implemented in different regions, producing food and fibre for better food and nutritional security, sustaining livelihoods, alleviating poverty and promoting productive, resilient agricultural environments. Moreover, agroforestry can contribute to climate change mitigation and adaptation by increasing carbon storage, preventing deforestation, increasing biodiversity conservation, producing cleaner water and controlling soil erosion, thus enabling agricultural lands to better cope with floods and drought events. In addition, over time, agroforestry farms can become less dependent on crop subsidies, and less susceptible to crop price variations, as timber generates a significant part of their income. Within broad agroforestry systems, the service value of silvoarable parklands (open land with scattered groups of trees temporarily or permanently cultivated) may also benefit farm enterprises soon. 

According to the UN Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO), more than 1.2 billion people around the world practice agroforestry on around 1 billion hectares (ha) of land (FAO, 2017). In the EU, agroforestry is now gaining increasing popularity across the continent in view of its ecological and economic benefits. According to the Agforward project, the total area under agroforestry in the EU-27 is around 15.4 million ha (almost 9% of the utilised agricultural area), with a dominance of forms of silvopastoral agroforestry (15.1 million ha) and a smaller portion under silvoarable agroforestry (358,000 ha).  Including reindeer husbandry increases the area to 52 million ha. However, a large variability in the amount of agricultural land involving agroforestry occurs between countries, varying from about 50% in Greece and Portugal to lower values in central and northern Europe. Examples of agroforestry practices include sheep grazing beneath cork oaks (in montados and dehesas found in certain parts of Portugal and Spain for a total of 4.6 million ha), tall fruit trees under which crops are grown, or livestock grazed (Streuobst in Central Europe), or reindeer husbandry in the boreal forest.  

The potential of agroforestry to contribute to sustainable development has been recognized by international policy frameworks, including the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) and the Convention on Biological Diversity (CBD), justifying increased investment in its development. In Europe, it is supported through the first (direct payment) and second (rural development support) pillars of the Common Agricultural Policy (CAP). As a sustainable practice delivering several eco-services, agroforestry can contribute to achieving the CAP's three objectives: viable food production, sustainable management of natural resources and climate action, and balanced territorial development.  

Additional Details
Reference information

Adaptation Details

IPCC categories

Social: Behavioural, Structural and physical: Ecosystem-based adaptation options

Stakeholder participation

Successful implementation of agroforestry schemes requires the involvement of stakeholder organisations from the public and private sectors. Research and extension programmes must involve stakeholders to ensure that the programmes are relevant, applicable, and practical. Multi-stakeholder forums and inter-departmental meetings should coordinate the approach to agroforestry development and create synergies among the multiple sectors. Addressing agroforestry strategies brings local government closer to the management decision-making level. Integrated land use planning through stakeholder-based participatory approaches can provide intersectoral coordinating and negotiating platforms. Intersectoral coordination should be given to agricultural agencies since agroforestry is practised mainly on farms. Agroforestry should also bring together urban and rural areas (territorial approach) and contribute to a multifunctional production system (landscape approach). 

A network for agroforestry (the European Agroforestry Federation, EURAF) is active in Europe and counts around 280 members from 20 European countries. It promotes adopting agroforestry practices throughout Europe and manages a dedicated website to share information, scientific results and policy issues on agroforestry. It also organises a biannual conference and participates in major research projects.

Success and Limiting Factors

Public policy promoting agroforestry development should be viewed as a set of actions and tools that create favourable conditions for developing such systems. In these policies, stakeholder input, access to information, appropriate technologies and extension services, private and public partnerships, and rewards for environmental services and good governance are more important than the regulation itself. Policies and government interventions should promote short and long-term benefits and create favourable conditions for agroforestry systems development. 

Agroforestry faces challenges such as unfavourable policy incentives, inadequate knowledge dissemination, legal constraints and poor coordination among the multiple sectors it contributes to. It is not sufficiently addressed in national policymaking, land-use planning and rural development programmes. As a result, its potential contribution to the economy and sustainable development goals has yet to be fully recognized or exploited, and the expected results are so far not achieved.  

Potential limiting factors included the administrative burden and the forest ownership structure, which could be addressed with additional exchange and promotion of good practices across and within Member States. Within the CAP, more than 25 measures are designed to enhance the five considered agroforestry practices (silvopastoral, silvoarable, forest farming, riparian buffer strips, and home gardens), but complexity of rules for agroforestry implementation and a lack of consistency between Pillar I and Pillar II of CAP are not supporting agroforestry activities. A simplification of the rules for agroforestry implementation is, therefore, desired. 

Agroforestry schemes are a long-term investment. It takes some time until trees mature and provide the functions and benefits expected, which implies that several years are needed for agroforestry systems to become profitable. At the same time, farmers can face some initial net income losses before benefiting from their investment, which can reduce their desire to invest in agroforestry. However, medium-term benefits are relevant and can encourage agroforestry implementation. 

Finally, many farmers lack knowledge about agroforestry and education/training programmes are needed to promote this approach through the CAP. Therefore, the integration of agroforestry within school and college education is essential to making future farmers and end-users aware of the many benefits of this practice. 

Costs and Benefits

The combination of trees, crops and livestock mitigates environmental risks, helps create a permanent soil cover against erosion, minimizes damage from flooding and enhances water storage, increasing productivity. In addition, trees bring nutrients from deeper soil layers, or in the case of leguminous trees, through nitrogen fixation, which can convert leaf litter into fertilizer for crops. More in detail, agroforestry: 

  • helps to protect and sustain agricultural productive capacity; 
  • increases agricultural productivity since the combination of tree and crop systems can lead to a more efficient capture of resources, such as solar radiation or water, and reduces the need for external inputs, such as fertilisers or pesticides; 
  • provides a diversification of farm products, which can increase economic profits by providing annual and periodic revenues from multiple outputs and by reducing the risks associated with producing a single commodity; 
  • improves soil and water quality, reduces (wind) erosion and prevents damage due to flooding; 
  • reduces vulnerability to high temperatures, as trees provide shelter to crops and reduce related damages; 
  • enhances biodiversity due to the creation of a diversified habitat where wildlife species can live; 
  • acts in controlling pests, enhancing pollination, and maintaining land for future generation; 
  • provides recreational opportunities – such as horse-riding, mountain biking, wildlife watching and rural tourism – that benefit the general public, provide landowners with income diversification, and enhance the landscape's diversity and attractiveness; 
  • increases carbon sequestration in permanent/annual crop production, soils and landscape, thus contrasting climate change; 

The CAP financially supports agroforestry. Farmers can receive direct payments per hectare of land under agroforestry, as well as support for establishing or maintaining agroforestry systems under the rural development strand of the CAP. The three eligible types of land to receive funds through CAP (Pillar I) are arable land (with a tree density below 100 trees per hectare), permanent grassland (or permanent pasture) and permanent crops. Under Pillar II, measure 8.26 supports the establishment and maintenance of agroforestry systems, covering the establishment costs (up to 80%) and the maintenance costs with an annual premium for five years. Significant costs are related to the agroforestry transition, which takes time, and must be supported.  

The advantages of agroforestry systems were overlooked during the late twentieth century. Multiple legal restrictions on multifunctional land management and complicated taxation frameworks also restricted agroforestry development over the years. Between 2001 and 2010, beginning with intercropping systems, all agroforestry systems progressively became eligible for subsidies established by the CAP. Now all agricultural lands are eligible, regardless of the degree of tree cover, except for forests and lands used for non-agricultural production. Agroforestry is also eligible for both first and second pillar of the CAP post 2020 (2021-2027), focused on environmental and climate services where agroforestry could have a key role in the green architecture of the future CAP. Member States must decide how and to what extent they want to support agroforestry through their strategic plans.  

Agroforestry is also part of the New Green Deal policy framework, with both the Farm to Fork Strategy and the EU Biodiversity Strategy for 2030, which should work in tandem with the new CAP in supporting the implementation of agroforestry practices.  

Implementation Time

The implementation time of agroforestry practices is usually about a few years. However, it is highly dependent on the level of knowledge dissemination about agroforestry, the policies and government interventions in the region, and the degree of stakeholders’ involvement. 

Life Time

Agroforestry is a long-term adaptation measure and generally has a long life-time (decades). 

Reference information


EPRS, European Parliamentary Research Service, (2020). Agroforestry in the European Union. Briefing. 

EURAF. Agroforestry policy briefings. 

Mosquera-Losada, M.R., Santiago-Freijanes, J.J., Pisanelli, A. et al., (2018). Agroforestry in the European common agricultural policy. Agroforest Systems 92, 1117–1127 

FAO. 2013. Advancing Agroforestry on the Policy Agenda: A guide for decision-makers. By G. Buttoud, in collaboration with O. Ajayi, G. Detlefsen, F. Place & E. Torquebiau. Agroforestry Working Paper no. 1. FAO, Rome. 

Published in Climate-ADAPT Jun 07 2016   -   Last Modified in Climate-ADAPT Dec 12 2023

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