Friday, November 16, 2012

Agro-Forestry: Connecting to the Nature of Things Around You

Courtesy of University of Missouri Extension Service
Example of Forest Farming practice shown in this illustrative animation where Shiitake Mushrooms are grown on logs. There are also additional forest farming crops like Ginseng and Ferns being grown under the tree canopy.
I have previously written on some topics of forest interconnections with regards the Mycorrhizal Grid and connections of different plants to this network for mutual survival. I presently have a draft on my other site dealing with woodland gardening in the urban landscape setting. Agroforestry is not exactly an ideal option for this planet's Industrial Agriculture whose sole purpose is the pursuit obscene profits at an industrial level which requires massive mechanization at the least amount of cost and time over the widest areas possible. But really at what cost ? It's not necessarily in dollar terms now but will be at a future date when the Earth's natural systems totally breakdown. Nature is incredible with it's long history of tolerating human stupidity. But we live at a time now where we are able to observe nature not responding quickly enough to repair damage. For me personally I saw a turning point around the time of the Communist fall around the year 1990 where a more focused interest on consumerism was viewed by many of these former communistic regimes as saving their system of governing with slight modifications to ideologies. I remember the former Soviet Union opening up massive tracts of land in Siberia to logging interests for sale to countries like Japan which has no such resources. It was a time of increased logging in South America and other lands who were desperate for that quick cash fix infusion into their national coffers. I can't explain everything from A-Z on this, but gradually it'll come out. 

Okay Okay I know - Agroforestry ?!?!?!

I know, how can you possibly get a tractor in and out of that ?  Maybe the tractor and the modern industrial science based agriculture doesn't necessarily belong there in the first place. Clearly not all methods developed by folks of European descent in richer industrial countries work in other parts of the Earth. However, perhaps it's more important that these folks can be taught to develop a system where they will be able to sustain themselves without outside interference or intrusion from the Industrial Science Grain Salesman, then maybe that's the answer. Of course for subsidized Industrial Farmers and Commodity Brokering Middle men/women, that may be a real problem. And maybe that in itself is the problem.

There is clearly a lot of good information out there now about more holistic concepts like permaculture, Terra Preta, Biochar, and countless others which make more sense then the present life destroying Industrial schemes practiced today. You can actually GOOGLE the word/term "Agroforestry" and find an incredible amount of info out there. However lately something new has appeared from the Technische Universität Müchen in an article 
"Intensive Farming with a Climate-Friendly Touch: Farming/Woodland Mix Increases Yields"
Here's the link:
Here is the Press Release: November 11, 2012
In the world of agriculture, climate protection and intensive farming are generally assumed to be a contradiction in terms. At Technische Universität München (TUM), however, scientists have come up with a new land development concept that could change this view. The new model is tailored to medium-sized farms in South America and sees farmers transitioning from large-scale monoculture to more diverse crop mixtures spread over smaller plots interspersed with wooded areas – a switch that can bring significant financial benefits.
Each year, huge carbon stores are lost as a result of deforestation. In South America, around four million hectares of forest are cut down every year. As a result, international climate protection programs are planning to financially compensate farmers who preserve forests or plant new trees. Demand for land is rising, however. And growing need for food and energy crops will inevitably lead to conflicts of interest over fertile land in countries such as Brazil and Ecuador.
Thomas Knoke and Michael Weber at Technische Universität München (TUM) firmly believe that intensive, high-yield agricultural practices can go hand-in-hand with climate and environmental protection. The two scientists and their colleagues have developed a “diversified land-use” concept for medium-sized holdings in South America based on an idea originally developed by retired TUM professor, Wolfgang Haber. The new concept encourages farmers to move away from large-scale monocropping and plant a mix of field crops on smaller plots, while at the same time setting aside part of their land for forests and hedges. Any unused land will be reforested. The smaller plots of farmland will still be large enough for intensive farming practices using fertilizers, planting machines and harvesters. The interspersed wooded areas and hedges will protect the soil from erosion and serve as long-term carbon stores. 
Knoke and Weber have evaluated the economic viability of their concept based on a typical medium-sized agricultural holding. This model hacienda comprises an area of over 116 hectares and includes croplands, wooded areas and unused land. There are around five million family-owned farms of this size on the South American continent.
Adopting this sustainable method of intensive farming initially means higher costs for farmers due to reforestation and the division of land into individual plots. However, the combination of woodland management and smaller plots of land pays off in the long term. Working lots of individual plots enables farmers to diversify and spread risk – in much the same way as smart investors. By growing a broader portfolio of crops such as soya, sugar cane, corn and coffee, they can reduce their dependency on price fluctuations. The wooded areas also provide extra income. Smaller material from forest thinning can be used as firewood, while larger logs can be sold as building material. Depending on the crops harvested, a farm modeled on the diversified land-use method will achieve higher returns than a monocrop farm in eight years at the latest. Farmers working this new model can achieve between 19 and 25 percent more yield than they would with large-scale monoculture.
To ease the transition to diversified land development, Knoke and Weber are lobbying for start-up funding and knowledge sharing. “The associated costs, however, are the same or less than comparable measures aimed at reducing CO2 levels,” explains Professor Knoke from the TUM’s Institute of Forest Management. “Which makes diversified land development in line with local dynamics an effective approach to ensuring highly productive yet climate-friendly agriculture.”

(Photo World Agroforestry Centre)
Research Shows Legume Trees Can Fertilize and Stabilize Maize Fields, Generate Higher Yields
"The study, "Can Integration of Legume Trees Increase Yield Stability in Rainfed Maize Cropping Systems in Southern Africa?", by Gudeta Sileshi, Legesse Kassa Debusho and Festus Akinnifesi, was published in this month's issue ofAgronomy Journal of the Soil Science Society of America." 
"Three coordinated experiments, begun in 1991 in Malawi and Zambia, found that farms that mix nitrogen-fixing trees and maize have consistent and relatively high yields year after year. In Malawi, the highest average maize yield was found in fields that combined both fertilizer trees and inorganic fertilizers, but applied at just half the standard recommended amounts."

How Stuff Works
Australian International Food Security Centre
Intercropping 'boosts maize yields by 50 per cent'
"The results of a 12 year study in Zambia and Malawi have found that growing leguminous trees on maize farms can boost and stabilise maize yields. This study is informing the AIFSC’s Trees for Food Security project which is providing scientific advice to inform the national tree planting programs in Ethiopia and Rwanda. The project will also scale out to Burundi and Uganda." 
“We found that maize farms with legume trees had, on average, a 50 per cent increase in yields and that the yields were stable, compared with those grown with or without fertilisers,” said Gudeta Sileshi, lead study author and the World Agroforestry Centre’s regional coordinator for Southern Africa, based in Malawi. Read more about new study

Not to get overly complicated or long winded here, but I'll post numerous resource links for further in depth interest below. Just taking a few moments to reflect on the above result on doubling Maize or Corn production. These are generally small Farmers by comparison to the Industrial Giants of Agriculture who are obsessed with complete global control of the Food Inc business. Such smaller scale farming methods are obviously more Eco-friendly by comparison to the massive land clearing programs which tend to destroy any ecological components around them. Now a person either believes the claims of a 50% increase in yield or they don't. Do Industrial Agricultural practices accomplish similar percentages ? In the beginning yes, but gradually the land degrades and more and more newer chemicals need development and application to the ground. This is where the Permacultural methods of Agroforestry will most always maintain the same level of productivity if managed responsibly. It will never fail. In the old days farms were small and run by families. There were organizations called Ag or Farm Cooperatives and/or Granges where everyone pulled together and helped their neighbours. 

Eventually these went by the wayside. In life there will always be certain individuals who are, let's say, more industrious. Nothing wrong with that, we need productive leadership. Not every personality can lead. However with the start of the industrial revolution and various world wars that followed, certain individuals wanted more. They wanted to monopolize and take over. That's where many of this world's Industrial Ag Giants came from. As a general rule the individuals who run these giants are mostly disconnected from the field. They wear blinders as to the rural decision consequences of their Corporate/Share Holder choices being made back in the big cities. With the exception of many third world countries, family run farms in the industrial wealthy countries are for the most part a thing of the past. Many of them don't even survive without the welfare program of Agricultural Subsidies provided by the United States government which mandates specific quantities or certain monocrops like corn and soy. 

A large part of my family and friends are from the State of Iowa. This industrial Agri-business and Gov welfare subsidies approach has not only helped in ruining the landscape, but also destroyed much of the traditional sense of neighbourhood community that once existed in these areas. Not long ago I Googled a family member's name who farms back in eastern Iowa (who is not important) but the subsidies he received over the decades were telling because were not for these Gov Handouts, he'd been out of business decades ago. In the Media's reporting on Election Campaign coverage, I can suddenly see all the reasons for those political promises on the IOWA Trail of continued or furthered welfare programs in election those campaign promises. Having come from the western USA and being for the most part self sufficient, I often would come at odds when talking to friends and family back there on many of the government programs. For example people who live in flood prone areas always needing and demanding a bailout of sorts. Farmers wanting subsidies, but in order to keep receiving these, you have to play ball with covert unofficial Gov-Approved Ag Companies like Monsanto. 
BTW, here is a site which reveals subsidy payouts to all farmers or Ag corps across the nation. Have fun, it's enlightening.
I'll have more in the future on this subject. It's not going away any time soon. 

Photo credit Dave Nuffield
From a local Southern California note here. This is the Coachella Valley where a combination of crops such as Date Palms and Citrus have been grown together for decades on the older Farms.
The website and group called Earth Integral had a nice piece on Agroforestry and the natural phenomena of gravity which not only wants to push water down stream but also fertility down hill to valleys below. They wrote a recent piece which dealt with techniques of reversing this natural process for the benefit of ecosystems at higher elevations. It gives now meaning to the old expression , "Pushing Fecal Matter Up Hill"

Agroforestry References for those Interested:
Impact of Fertilizer Tree Fallows in Eastern Zambia
The Permaculture Research Institute of Australia - Forums-Articles-Videos-Podcasts

No comments:

Post a Comment

Thanks for visiting and stopping by with your comments!

I will try to respond to each comment within a few days, though sometimes I take longer if I'm too busy which appears to be increasing.