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In an earlier post, we looked at the practice of agroforestry and the countless benefits it brings to both crops and the smallholder farmers who grow them (check it out here for a refresher). Sparknotes: planting different crops together with trees in polyculture systems leads to healthier soils, higher yields, and more diverse income streams and family diets.

But the benefits of agroforestry don’t stop there. While the practice is great at the individual level, it has even greater potential at a larger scale. An increasing shift toward agroforestry around the world could significantly bring down global CO2 emissions and help slow the process of climate change.

Setting up our agroforestry plots in Kigoma

When most people think of greenhouse gas emissions, the first thing that comes to mind is probably burning fossil fuels. Think cars on a congested highway sitting bumper to bumper spewing exhaust, smokestacks from coal power plants, thousands of airliners traversing the skies every day. And that’s because fossil fuel combustion is indeed the number one source of human-produced CO2 emissions. 

In second place? Land-use change, namely agriculture-driven deforestation. Which is why we keep a strict zero land-use change policy as central to our mission.

Enter agroforestry. Its core premise is that feeding the world and keeping the trees don’t have to be incompatible. (In fact, if study after study after study after study after study showing higher yields from agroforestry systems are any indication, we have a better chance at feeding the world if we keep the trees.)

Shifting a plot of land from pure agriculture to agroforestry increases carbon sequestration on that plot by over a third on average. But that’s just an average from around the world. Even bigger carbon storage effects are seen in the humid tropics of West, Central, and East Africa, Southeast Asia, and South America. Shifting to agroforestry in these regions—which also happen to be some of the world’s most biodiverse—can increase carbon sequestration by a factor several times larger than in other climatic zones.

And while carbon sequestration is its big-ticket contribution to global environmental protection, agroforestry also brings a host of other benefits for the local environment. These include water-table control, enhancing biodiversity, preventing soil erosion and runoff, lowering flood risks, and far too many more to list here.

You can read more about Seed Change’s pivot to oil palm agroforestry—and the resulting benefits for smallholder farmers, their families, and the environment here in Kigoma—in the agroforestry issue of our Smallholder Innovation Series.

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