Home Database Adaptation options Agro-forestry and crop diversification
Adaptation option

Agro-forestry and crop diversification

Agroforestry systems include all land-use systems or forms of land management where woody perennials are deliberately used in the same land unit with agricultural crops (silvoarable agroforestry) and/or animals (silvopasture), in some form of spatial arrangement or temporal sequence, valorising both ecological and economic interactions between the various components. Agroforestry exploits the complementarity between trees 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 both tropical and temperate regions, producing food and fibre for better food and nutritional security, sustaining livelihoods, alleviating poverty and promoting productive, resilient agricultural environments. Moreover, it can enhance ecosystems through carbon storage, prevention of deforestation, biodiversity conservation, cleaner water and erosion control, while enabling agricultural lands to withstand events such as floods, drought and climate change. 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 be a valuable benefit for farm enterprises in the near future.

The potential of agroforestry to contribute to sustainable development has been recognized in international policy meetings, including the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) and the Convention on Biological Diversity (CBD), justifying increased investment in its development.

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Reference information

Adaptation Details



IPCC categories

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

Stakeholder participation

Successful implementation of agroforestry schemes require the involvement of stakeholder organisations from public and private sectors. It is essential that research and extension programmes 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 the necessary intersectoral coordinating and negotiating platforms. The 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).

Success and Limiting Factors

Public policy promoting agroforestry development should be viewed as a set of actions and tools that create favourable conditions for the development of 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, anyway, continues to face challenges such as unfavourable policy incentives, inadequate knowledge dissemination, legal constraints and poor coordination among the multiple sectors to which it contributes. It is note sufficiently addressed in national policy-making, land-use planning and rural development programmes. As a result, its potential contribution to the economy and sustainable development goals has not been fully recognized or exploited.

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 details, agroforestry:

  • helps protect and sustain agricultural productive capacity;
  • diversifies farmer products, increases their income and improves soil and water quality, reduces (wind) erosion and prevents damage due to flooding. Soil and water quality is improved, so preventing from erosion;
  • reduces vulnerability to climate change. Trees provide shelter to crops and reduce damages due to high temperature;
  • enhances biodiversity due to the creation of a diverse habitat where wildlife species can live;
  • acts in controlling pests, enhancing pollination, and maintaining land for future generation.

While the conventional production of agricultural crops is expected to generate immediate income, investing in agroforestry may present various disadvantages. Agroforestry schemes are a long-term investment. It takes some time until trees mature and provide the functions and benefits described. Because trees become profitable as they produce positive net present values over time, the breakeven point for some agroforestry systems may occur only after a number of years. This implies that, unlike conventional agricultural, farmers may have to absorb initial net losses before benefiting from their investment, reducing their enthusiasm for investing in agroforestry. Short-term investments that aim at quick financial returns hardly ever support agroforestry schemes.

During the late twentieth century, the advantages of agroforestry systems have been overlooked. Multiple legal restrictions on multifunctional land management and complicated taxation frameworks also restrict agroforestry development. Frequently the agricultural policy itself penalizes practices needed to implement agroforestry.

Taxes applied to agricultural production may penalize agroforestry practices, as was the case with the Common Agricultural Policy of the European Union before 2001, when farmers’ subsidies were based only on the surface area of crops. Between 2001 and 2010, beginning with intercropping systems, all agroforestry systems progressively became eligible for subsidies established by the policy, and now all agricultural lands are eligible, regardless of the degree of tree cover, except for forests and lands used for non-agricultural production. The tax regime may also be less advantageous for forests compared with agricultural lands, as in the case of France.

Often, when a system exists to assist rural development activities, concretely promoting an agroforestry project requires the use of complicated bureaucratic chains to access such support; for example, the collaboration between agriculture and forestry ministries. In most cases, the legal framework acts as a disincentive; whether this is intended or not, the law ultimately benefits large farms and investors exclusively.

Implementation Time

The implementation time (usually few years) is highly related on knowledge dissemination, policies and government interventions, stakeholders involvement.

Life Time

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

Reference information

FAO, 2013. Advancing Agroforestry on the Policy Agenda. A guide for decision-makers. Agroforestry Working Paper n.1. Rome.

Published in Climate-ADAPT Jun 07 2016   -   Last Modified in Climate-ADAPT Nov 02 2022

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