Trees produce timber, fruits, nuts, fibres, gums, latex, medicinal products, fodder, and vegetables. Trees also produce organic matter which enters the carbon and nutrient cycles as litter, etc. Some trees also fix atmospheric nitrogen and release it to the soil. Agroforestry involves the integration of trees within farming systems to promote food security; rehabilitate degraded land by both the amelioration of soil fertility and the restoration of agroecological functions, as well as to improve the livelihoods of farmers by income generation for the purchase of agricultural inputs, the development of farm infrastructure, child education, medical services, etc.; diversified and more nutritious diets for better health and greater gender equity. Farming systems based on perennial plants also provide better habitat for wildlife, so enhancing biodiversity above and below ground; protect the soil from erosion; improve hydrological processes and sequester carbon – all of which improve the environment.
As soil infertility is a major constraint to agricultural production, agroforestry research has developed land use practices aimed at soil fertility enrichment without the need to purchase chemical inputs which are outside the financial reach of poor smallholder farmers in many developing countries. Secondly, agroforestry research harnesses the capacity of trees to produce a wide range of products of everyday importance to local people as wood, fuel, food, medicines, fodder and other uses. Through tree domestication the quality and yield of these products within mixed farming systems is improved. Through these activities, agroforestry is a delivery mechanism for diversified and intensified polycultural farming systems with a high level of sustainability – environmentally, socially and economically.
See: Leakey, R.R.B. 2010. Agroforestry: a delivery mechanism for Multi-functional Agriculture. In: Handbook on Agroforestry: Management Practices and Environmental Impact, 461-471, L.R. Kellimore (ed.), Nova Science Publishers. Environmental Science, Engineering and Technology Series, New York, USA.