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Agroforestry: agriculture of the future? The case of Montpellier

Agroforestry: agriculture of the future? The case of Montpellier

The agriculture sector in Montpellier is highly vulnerable to higher temperature and more frequent droughts associated with projected climate change. To prepare for the effects of climate change it is important that agriculture in Montpellier takes appropriate adaptation measures. The current system, largely based on monoculture, is deemed to be more vulnerable compared to alternatives such as the cultivation of a mixture of crops and species, especially a mixture of trees and crops as in agroforestry. Such a practice has been adopted in Montpellier, as part of the SAFE project; a French national scheme for planting half a million hectares of agroforestry during the next 25 years based on results obtained by INRA at Montpellier.


Case Study Description


Montpellier is a city in Southern France. It is situated on hilly ground 10 kilometres inland from the Mediterranean coast on the River Lez. Montpellier has a Mediterranean climate (Köppen Csa), with mild, somewhat wet winters, and very warm, rather dry summers. The monthly mean temperatures range from 7.1 °C (44.8 °F) in January to 23.4 °C (74.1 °F) in July. Annual precipitation is around 660 millimetres, and is greatest in fall and winter, but not absent in summer. Several studies project that the Montpellier climate will change in the future with higher temperature and more frequent droughts conditions and that these changes are expected to have an important impact on the agriculture sector. To cope with this, it is important that agriculture in Montpellier take appropriate adaptation measures. The challenge is to make food production more efficient, sustainable and able to cope with the projected effects of climate change.


The objective is to make the Montpellier agricultural systems more resilient to the effects of climate change, such as increasing temperatures or droughts, water and biotic stresses and more extreme events.


The implemented solution is based on adoption of an agroforestry scheme, a combination of trees and crops cultivation. In the case of Montpellier, the scheme adopted was comprised of a combination of walnut trees and wheat cultivation. Agroforestry provides a different land use option, compared with separated traditional arable and forestry systems. It makes use of the complementarity between trees and crops, so that the available resources can be more effectively exploited. It is a practice that respects the environment and has an obvious landscape benefit. Efficient, modern versions of agroforestry have been developed, that are adapted to the constraints imposed by mechanisation. The agroforestry plot remains productive for the farmer and generates continuous revenue, which is not the case when arable land is exclusively reforested. Agroforestry then allows for the diversification of farm activity and makes better use of environmental resources.

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. The amenity value of silvoarable parklands in the near future may also be a valuable asset to farm enterprises.


Case developed and implemented as a CCA (Climate Change Adaptation) Measure.

Additional Details

Stakeholder Participation

Several stakeholder organisations from France, The Netherlands, and Greece were involved in the SAFE project. In France, APCA (the national chamber of Agriculture in France) was responsible for the establishment of a network of agroforestry system demonstration plots that is now a very efficient tool for agroforestry extension. Most stakeholders organisations involved in the SAFE project have recently been involved in coordinating other R&D agroforestry projects in Spain, Germany, England, Belgium, and the Netherlands.

Success and Limiting Factors

Adaptation strategies in Montpellier were part of the SAFE (Silvoarable Agroforestry for Europe) project, which was funded in support of the European Common Agricultural Policy. The project provided models and databases for assessing the profitability of silvoarable systems, and suggested unified European policy guidelines for implementing agroforestry. To meet these expectations, the SAFE project developed biophysical and socio-economic tools to inform farmers and policy-makers of the potential for silvoarable agroforestry to contribute to the integrated and sustainable development of European rural areas. The knowledge developed during the SAFE Project, provided opportunities for farmers to improve their competitiveness.

Costs and Benefits

Main benefits can be summarized as follow:

  • INRA (Institut Nantional de la Recherche Agronomique) researchers showed that the production from one hectare of a walnut/wheat mix is the same as for 1.4 hectares with trees and crops separated. This was a 40% increase in productivity, far better than any other innovation introduced by agronomists in the recent past.
  • Agroforestry is less vulnerable to climate change. Trees provide shelter to crops and reduce damages due to high spring temperature.
  • Biodiversity is increased since it creates a diverse habitat where wildlife species can live. It also acts in controlling pests and enhancing pollination.
  • Farmers can diversify their products, increase their income and improve soil and water quality, reduce (wind) erosion and prevent damage due to flooding. Soil and water quality is improved, so preventing from erosion.
  • Agroforestry plays a role in maintaining land for future generation.

Agroforestry schemes are a long term investment. It takes some time until trees mature and provide the functions and benefits described. 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. Even traditional silvoarable landscapes, whose benefits are widely recognised, have received little attention from policy makers and research organisations. Across Europe the integration of trees and arable agriculture is currently unattractive to farmers, simply because the available grant or subsidy schemes are designed for forestry or agriculture, and do not support agroforestry. In some countries, agroforestry systems can actually be declared illegal, because they are a category which is not recognised for taxation purposes. This preposterous situation has had unfortunate consequences with some EU-funded silvoarable agroforestry experiments being closed prematurely because local agencies deemed that they were not eligible for agricultural or forestry grants. A mixed or combined status of agroforestry plots was not available at the time of project proposal, neither at the European level nor at the National level, preventing both forest and agricultural grant policies to be applied.

Implementation Time

Agroforestry is a long-term adaptation measure. In Montpellier, the agroforestry scheme has been implemented for 20 years.

Reference Information


Christian Dupraz
Institut Nantional de la Recherche Agronomique (INRA) - SYSTEM
Montpellier, France

SAFE Project: Silvoarable Agroforestry For Europe

Published in Climate ADAPT Jun 07 2016   -   Last Modified in Climate ADAPT Dec 23 2020

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