Six stages to remember when planning (and planting) an agroforest

Photo by Nandhu Kumar from Pexels.

Agroforestry is a land management system wherein woody vegetation is grown alongside crops and livestock. Farmers design agroforest sites in a carefully planned spatial arrangement that takes into consideration the ecological interactions among different species. This approach to agriculture allows farmers to generate income through a variety of products while also helping to improve the ecological functions of a selected site.

Cultivating a forest alone is no simple task. Designing it in a way that it productively yields food is even harder. There are considerations to make from multiple angles even before starting. This might sound like a daunting task, so the Department of Science and Technology (DOST) – Philippine Council for Agriculture, Aquatic and Natural Resources Research and Development (PCAARRD) has made recommendations to make agroforestry more accessible for farmers. In their book entitled “The Philippines Recommends for Agroforestry”, PCAARRD recommends six stages in planning an agroforest site:

Pre-diagnostic. The first stage involves selecting a location, studying how the land and its resources are currently being used, and assessing parts of the site that need special attention. In selecting a location, farmers may coordinate with the Department of Environment and Natural Resources (DENR) to identify sites that have potential as an agroforest.

Diagnostic. The second stage is where farmers characterize the conditions of their selected site. Farmers need to assess the biophysical characteristics of the land and determine parts of the site that require design interventions. Portions that are denuded, idle, hilly, and have heavily eroded sloping areas will need to have farming systems designed specifically for them to overcome the challenges they pose. Potential problems and other farming limitations must be anticipated so as to prepare the coping mechanisms that will be put into practice. Farmers will also need to study the socio-economic characteristics of the community that will benefit from the site. 

Design. Certain strategies may be employed during the third stage such as the inclusion of additional crops, trees, animals, and aquatic species alongside farming systems. Technologies and practices that conserve the soil and water must also be integrated into the design. An example of this is the cultivation of kakawate (Gliricidia sepium) and ipil-ipil (Leucaena leucocephala) to reduce soil erosion. 

At this stage, farmers must also plan for necessary infrastructures such as nurseries and processing facilities.

Planning. The fourth stage is where the cost of technologies, strategies, and inputs are analyzed. During this stage, several metrics are assessed based on the proposed design. 

Metrics include the productivity of the farm, its ecological soundness, and its technical feasibility vis-a-vis the farmer’s natural and economic resources. Social acceptability must also be considered, which means that the farming systems put in place must be in tune with the dynamics of the communities surrounding the site. Land tenure, food preferences, and sense of security can affect how communities perceive the agroforest site.

Testing and evaluation. Agroforest systems are evaluated in two parts. The first is the researched-managed on-farm trials which are jointly managed by researchers and farms. The second part, called on-farm trials, is conducted solely by the farmers. After the trials, the agroforest system is evaluated again based on the same metrics used for the implementation stage.

Extension. Agroforests can either expand by scaling up, which means increasing the utilization of its farming systems, or scaling out which means expanding to other farms or communities.

Agroforests offer farmers a productive and ecologically sustainable method of cultivating the land. Necessary to reaping its benefits is careful planning wherein all these agricultural, ecological, and societal factors are considered.

The information provided here was taken from “The Philippines Recommends for Agroforestry” published by the Department of Science and Technology (DOST) – Philippine Council for Agriculture, Aquatic and Natural Resources Research and Development (PCAARRD).

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