Sustainable agriculture and the Organisation using it for good

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By Becky Redmayne

According to the University of Reading, agroforestry is the UK’s path to reaching the goal of net zero emissions within the next decade – so what is it, and how is it being practised globally in a way that not only benefits the environment, but also the farmers using it to eradicate poverty in their communities? 

Agroforestry is the integration of forestry practice intotraditional agriculture, with the growth and nurture of trees and shrubbery within crop farming being used to providenumerous benefits to the farming process, and in turn to the farmers. According to the Agroforestry Research Trust, such benefits include the maintaining of a more closed nutrient cycle than that of traditional agriculture, resulting in a more efficient use of nutrients. The diversity of plants heights, shapes, and alignments that agroforestry provides allows for farms to be considerably more efficient in their utilisation of solar energy, when in comparison with the monocultural systems that most farms are currently using. The moderation of microclimates is facilitated through the shelter supplied by trees, and improves the yield of crops and livestock. Overall, agroforestry encourages the diversity of the arm economy, leading to farms with greater stability. This reduces the economic risks associated with the production of multiple products within a single system. You can read more about the environmental benefits of agroforestry here, for only a few are listed above:

The evident environmental impacts are not the only benefitsthat agroforestry can provide. Groups like Plant Your Future are working to acknowledge the potential societal advantages that it could also bring about. Plant Your Future is ‘a not-for-profit organisation working in Loreto and Ucayali, two regions of the Peruvian Amazon’ with a focus on promotingthe agroforestry method within the communities of these two regions. The organisation not only develops agricultural systems in these areas, but works to break the cycle of povertyand reduce subsistence farming, to help farmers reach formal markets and be able sell their produce at fair prices. They are providing vital training that will provide farmers with the appropriate skills to manage any pests and diseases that may inflict their crop, as well as how to effectively maintain their plants within an agroforestry system. In developing these skills, among others, the farmers are making a move towards a more sustainable financial and environmentally sustainable future.

Slash-and-burn methods used in traditional agriculture had trapped local farmers in an endless cycle of poverty that in turn was not doing anything to help the state of the environment. It was causing detrimental, widespread damageto the rainforest ecosystem in the Amazon. To combat this, funds from donations to the organisation are placed directly into the planting and maintenance of both new crops and trees, as well as in providing the continued technical support that will ensure that the plants continue to flourish. Using the science of agroforestry, the group is working to make more vulnerable farmers able to adapt to the risks that climate change poses in its unpredictability, whilst utilising the skills they already carry. 

An example of Plant Your Future’s work is that with cocoa plants and their farmers. Peru is a leading supplier of cocoa pods to the global chocolate market, and it works well in an agroforestry system as the small trees can grow in the shade of the larger trees already planted for timber harvesting. This already provides evidence of two products that can be grown in one patch. By managing both crops at the same time well, and when the cocoa plants can be grafted correctly, farmers can produce a more sustainable income from their sale. Timber and fruit trees like cocoa have been planted on the pre-existing but deforested farmland of 63 families by Plant Your Future, providing a widespread impact within Loreto and Ucayali, whilst allowing the farmers to maintain their independence. In this way, they are bettering their ownstandard of living.

However, Plant Your Future is not only working on a local level. They are also taking steps to work against climate change and thus work on rectifying the global mistakes that continue to substantially increase the rate at which climate change negatively effects our planet. As the organisation says themselves, ‘trees are the best technology we already have to stop climate change’, and it could not be much simpler than that. Peru, being in the tropics, has the ideal conditions for fastplant growth, as proven by it being carpeted by the Amazonrainforest, and with this being the locality of Plant Your Future, they have the opportunity to get ahead with the tree growth efforts needed to reduce the global carbon footprint. However, there is no need for them to rapidly start a separate tree planting programme – the agroforestry systems put in place by the organisation alone store almost 450 tonnes of carbon dioxide per hectare, and their existence also reduces the extent of deforestation in Loreto and Ucayali, as it discourages the use of the slash-and-burn method of farming within the communities they are working with. 

With large, varied yields of produce, enough to feed themselves comfortably but creating a surplus available to sell, the rise of sustainable agroforestry for farmers through innovative groups like Plant Your Future can enable us to have a more positive outlook on climate change, but should also inspire us to find ways to take action, to help both our climate and our community. You can read more about Plant Your Future on their highly informative website:

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