Agroforestry to heal damaged land from fires

Agroforestry systems have a great potential for enhancing biodiversity by combining conservation with production
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By Florencia Montagnini, originally posted on the World Agroforestry website.

‘Well-written book useful to farmers, foresters, landowners and policy makers,’ says world expert in agroforestry in Latin America at Yale

Agroforestry systems (AFS), which combine trees and crops on the same land, can increase productivity in the short and long term while promoting biodiversity and bringing social, environmental and economic benefits to the farmer and society. They are also increasingly relevant in conservation, adaptation and mitigation of climate change, and restoration of degraded ecosystems.

This is the premise of Agroforestry Systems for Agroecological Restoration: How to reconcile conservation with Production, Options for the Cerrado and the Caatingaa book just released in English. Rich in technical and scientific information, it will be useful to many. Brazil’s Ministry of Environment has reprinted 4000 copies of the Portuguese version since it was published in 2016.

mapThe Cerrado and Caatinga are two vast biomes that are less well known outside Brazil than the Amazon rainforest but are also critically important, not only for the country, and are both facing formidable threats.

The Cerrado is a savannah, South America’s largest and the world’s most biodiverse. Interspersed with forest, its 2 million km² provide livelihoods to about 470,000 small farming families, over 80 indigenous groups, and groups like extractivists, which include rubber tappers, and quilombola communities founded by escaped slaves.

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‘Some have lived there for hundreds of years and live with its diversity and extract its natural resources sustainably, while others still depend on traditional slash-and-burn,’ says the book. But rather than being a rural idyll, the Cerrado is ‘one of the world’s most endangered ecosystems due to the expansion of mechanized agriculture and the annual monocropping of soybeans, maize and cotton.’

These and other activities, such as the opening of new areas for livestock, new forests planted for pulp and charcoal, and new hydroelectric dams, lead to the clearing of some 30,000 km² per year. The Cerrado – known as ‘the cradle of water in Brazil’ – also saw an 800% rise in fires in 2019. According to the book, agroforestry could offer a solution for these problems: ‘AFS are excellent alternatives, because they respect the potential of local resources and the region’s ecological and productive possibilities.’

Geraizeiro community crossing a spring in the Cerrado of Northern Minas Gerais State. Photo: Peter Caton/ISPN
Geraizeiro community crossing a spring in the Cerrado of Northern Minas Gerais State. Photo: Peter Caton/ISPN

The Caatinga is South America’s largest dry tropical forest, covering about 844,000 km². ‘Life is extremely hard for locals, known as sertanejos,’ says the book. ‘Ever since Brazil was colonized by Europeans, the region has suffered from forest clearing for cattle grazing and charcoal production, which are still its main economic activities. Its plant cover had declined by nearly 50% by 2009.’

book coverIn the Caatinga, agroforestry systems to produce animal feed, short-cycle crops and fruit-bearing trees can improve the quality of life for farming families and others of its 27 million inhabitants, who face longstanding drought. The practice of agroforestry, says the book, can also reduce socioeconomic inequality, reverse desertification, counter soil degradation soils, and protect and make better use of native vegetation.

The book was funded by the International Union for the Conservation of Nature (IUCN), and its lead author is Andrew Miccolis, who heads World Agroforestry in Brazil. Its five chapters begin with basic concepts of ecological and landscape restoration, using a multidisciplinary, holistic approach. Likewise, several chapters present the definition of agroforestry systems and their most frequent types with details on design, implementation, financial analysis and adoption.

Andrew Miccolis, lead author
Andrew Miccolis, lead author

In total, the authors describe 11 agroforestry systems practiced in the cerrados and caatingas, placing emphasis on farmer objectives, key species, and management practices. The description of one specific system to restore a riparian zone begins with ‘No agrochemicals or heavy machinery should be used.’ The next step in this process is to plant ‘a row of fruit, wood and biomass trees (as well as bananas) followed by rows of ornamental plants, food crops and medicinal herbs’ because many of these species ‘play an important role in occupying the lower stories, maintaining microclimate and replacing grass, which is a major contributor to forest fires’. It further advises ‘intensive management of the cultivated strips and selective weeding and pruning in the natural regeneration strips to promote succession. Resulting organic matter should be piled around the native plants valued by the farmer’.

Backed by up-to-date literature, such highly detailed passages are good examples of where productive agriculture can achieve food security, landscape restoration, biodiversity conservation, and climate change resiliency, using appropriate agricultural practices that support functioning agroecosystems.

The book also displays testimonies from practitioners. Luiz Pereira Cirqueira from Araguaia in the Cerrado compares the meagre returns from five cattle on a hectare of grass with the far higher returns from a hectare of cassava with trees, saying ‘The agroforest is the way I found to make a living and I’m happy, which makes me an example for others.’

illustration

From Ceará state, farmer Ernaldo Expedito de Sá describes how agroforestry transformed his land in the Caatinga. “This area was very ugly. It was nearly all desertified, which is what happens to fallow land if you don’t feed it or protect it, out in the sun all day. Then ten years ago, I met Chico and Elviro, who were working with AFS. My dream was to produce food both for me and nature too.’

The authors also place emphasis on the use of species for recovering degraded areas, a section which is particularly beautifully illustrated. ‘Species able to store water can be vital for situations with extreme water shortage, including most of the Caatinga and Cerrado, where the

Xylopods, veritable water tanks. Source: https://goo.gl/0x4Q0z
Xylopods, veritable water tanks. Source: https://goo.gl/0x4Q0z

yearly dry season is well-defined and prolonged,’ says the book, adding that some species like Jacaratia spinosa and cajá-mirim

(Spondias purpurea var. lutea) have underground storage structures called xylopods that are ‘veritable water tanks’.


The conversion of degraded, simplified systems to diverse, agroecological, resilient systems is challenging, and the scaling-up of these systems will require a combination of scientific and technological innovation, policy, economic, and market incentives tailored to different scales.

The book lays out how AFS can be a tool for rural development and provides a series of successful experiences that are also in use or can be used in other tropical dry regions of Latin America as well. It is greatly enriched by diagrams, figures and excellent pictures of the AFS and other land uses, which will make it particularly useful to farmers, foresters, landowners, land managers, land use planners, and policy makers researchers and students at academic institutions. Though focused mainly on family farmers, its techniques and options can also be applied by medium to larger farmers.

Agrosilvocultural system
Agrosilvocultural system

Agroforestry Systems for Agroecological Restoration is a welcome addition to reading lists of textbooks on agroforestry and restoration that can be used by instructors and students of a full range of educational levels. It is very pleasant to read and a welcome addition to the assemblage of published works on restoration and AFS with interest and emphasis on both Latin America and worldwide.

The book can be purchased at no profit to ICRAF from Amazon.co.uk HERE or downloaded from the link below.

Reviewer Yale’s Florencia Montagnini has written ten books on agroforestry in Latin America.

Florencia Montagnini is a Senior Research Scientist and Director, Program in Tropical Forestry and Agroforestry at the School of Forestry and Environmental Studies, Yale University. Dr. Montagnini has written ten books on agroforestry systems and ecological restoration, including a major textbook in tropical forest ecology and management, and over 250 scientific articles. She participates in Yale’s Environmental Leadership Training Initiatives (ELTI) and teaches and advises individual project courses in agroforestry, landscape restoration, and soil conservation and management. She holds honorary professorships at several universities in Latin America.

Miccolis A, Peneireiro F, Marques H, Vieira D, Arco-Verde F, Hoffmann M, Rehder T, Pereira A. 2019. Agroforestry Systems for Agroecological Restoration: How to reconcile conservation with Production, Options for the Cerrado and the Caatinga (English edition) World Agroforestry. Instituto Sociedade, População e Natureza. Brasilia. 240 pp.


This research was conducted by World Agroforestry (ICRAF) as part of the CGIAR Research Program on Forests, Trees and Agroforestry, the world’s largest research-for-development program to enhance the role of forests, trees and agroforestry in sustainable development and food security and to address climate change. The Center for International Forestry Research (CIFOR) leads the Research Program in partnership with Bioversity International, Centro Agronómico Tropical de Investigación y Enseñanza (CATIE), Centre de Coopération Internationale en Recherche Agronomique pour le Développement (CIRAD), International Bamboo and Rattan Organisation (INBAR), ICRAF and Tropenbos International (TBI). The work of the Research Program is supported by the CGIAR Trust Fund.


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