An e-publication by the World Agroforestry Centre

CONCEPTS OF AGROFORESTRYPrintprint Preview

definition of agroforestry

Early in 1977, at the Royal Tropical Institute in Amsterdam in Holland, a group of us was assigned the task of defining agroforestry. The group came up with the following definition:

"Agroforestry is... a sustainable management system for land that increases overall production, combines agriculture crops, tree crops, and forest plants and/or animals simultaneously or sequentially, and applies management practices that are compatible with the cultural patterns of the local population". (See Bene et.al., 1977).

Later, we at ICRAF amplified the definition slightly to read as follows:

"Agroforestry has been defined as a sustainable land management system which increases the overall yield of the land, combines the production of crops (including tree crops) and forest plants and/or animals simultaneously or sequentially, on the same unit of land, and applies management practices that are compatible with the cultural practices of the local population" (King and Chandler, 1978).

You will note that by the addition of the phrase "on the same unit of land" we sought to emphasize that zonal arrangements of agricultural crops and forest crops were not considered to be agroforestry, and to imply that the mixtures of the combined agricultural and forest crops should be intimate. However, it is still considered that the definition is inadequate, because, for example, it does not tell us what is meant by a "unit of land", and hence cannot help us to comprehend fully what is the degree of intimacy required to distinguish agroforestry systems from systems in which agriculture and forestry are, to some extent, zoned or occupy adjacent but distinct blocks, or in which there are strips (or lines) of forest trees alternating with strips (or lines) of agricultural crops.

The definitions are inadequate in another respect, in that they do not distinguish the many types of systems which may possibly fall within their ambit. Accordingly, I repeat here an attempt which I have already made (King, 1978) to add to the definitions, to explain more fully the concepts of agroforestry, and to delineate various sub-divisions of the subject.

Agroforestry should be considered to be a generic term which embraces the following specific components:

Agri-silviculture - the conscious and deliberate use of land for the concurrent production of agricultural crops (including tree crops) and forest crops.

Sylvo-pastoral systems - land management systems in which forests are managed for the production of wood as well as for the rearing of domesticated animals.

Agro-sylvo-pastoral systems - in which land is managed for the concurrent production of agricultural and forest crops and for the rearing of domesticated animals. This system is, in effect, a combination of agri-silviculture and the sylvo-pastoral system.

Multi-purpose forest tree production systems - here forest tree species are regenerated and managed for their ability to produce not only wood, but leaves and/or fruit that are suitable for food and/or fodder.

The questions of intimacy of mixture, and of the widths and extent of zones, blocks, strips and rows are still not resolved, however, by these definitions. It is suggested, as a working hypothesis, that agroforestry might be considered to be practised whenever trees and agricultural crops are grown in mixture, provided that the combined widths of the rows of agricultural crops do not exceed the heights, at maturity or at the end of the selected rotation, of the forest tree crops with which they are grown in mixture; provided further that the combined widths of the rows of the forest tree crops do not exceed the height of the tree crop at maturity or at some selected rotation. This suggestion takes into account, to some extent, the possible competitive influence of the tree crop on the growth of the agricultural crop. It assumes that agriculture crops that are grown in strips etc. that are no wider than the final heights of the trees will be positively influenced by the ameliorating effects of the trees on the site.