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Agroforestry design

Photo taken by AGFORWARD project, Pines and vines, Restinclieres

Designing your system

Are you interested in working with agroforestry, but you don't know where to start? Do you feel confident as a farmer, but you feel that you lack the knowledge of how to integrate trees into your land? In this page you will find the steps I would recommend you to follow when designing an agroforestry system.

Hybrid poplar linear plantation in northern Italy

Hybrid poplar linear plantation, Farm La Casaria Masi (Padova), Northen Italy. Source: AGFORWARD project

 

When you start designing your agroforestry system, you should always have the principle of risk-management in the back of your mind. Integrating more trees into your farm involves certain risks, such as losing money, increased management time, competition for sunlight and nutrients, or trees getting damaged or sick. However, you should be equally aware that NOT having trees in your farm is risky as well. Some of the risks of not having trees in your farm are: exposure to negative weather conditions, erosion, loss of biodiversity and natural predators, or vulnerability to market changes due to the lack of product diversity in your farm. 

Another principle you should be aware of during the design process is the balance between complexity and efficiency. Adding more complexity brings many positive effects to your farm, such as an increased biological diversity, better protection against pests, a more diversified production, and more resilience towards climatic changes. However, the more complexity you add to your farm the less efficient its management becomes. A less efficient management may lead to increased working time. Moreover, the more species you choose to work with, the more knowledge you need on how to manage, harvest, and sell them. Therefore, you should find a balance between complexity and efficiency that fits you and your farm best. 

It is worth pointing out that a good design can help you increase the diversity in the system without adding too much complexity to its management.

As you can see in the image below, risk-management and complexity vs efficiency are the overarching themes you should be aware of during the design-process. Once you have learned how to mitigate risks and how to have the right balance between complexity and efficiency. Then, you should continue with the 6 following steps.

1.   Define your goals

2.   Analyze your starting point

3.   Brainstorm your desired plant species

4.   Get advice/have a mentor

5.   Do a market analysis 

6.   Agroforestry design

*In future blog posts I will cover each design step in more detail.

The agroforestry system design
© Mauricio Sagastuy

Image showing how to design an agroforestry system

This figure shows how to design an agroforestry system. Two important principles to be aware of during the design process are (1) risk-management and (2) a balance between complexity and efficiency. The aim of this “design-framework” is to help you design a profitable, biodiverse, and practically viable agroforestry system.

It is worth pointing out that you don't have to rigorously follow all of the 6 steps of the design process in order to create an effective design. For example, if you have knowledge about how to grow and sell the products of your chosen tree species (step 3), then you probably don't want to hire a consultant to give you feedback on your plans (step 4). Or if you hire a consultant (step 4) that has knowledge about the market opportunities, then you can skip doing a market analysis (step 5) for your chosen tree species. 

Therefore, I would recommend you to use the above mentioned steps as a tool or a framework that will assist you in how to think about your design process. After reading all of the listed steps, you can decide for yourself which steps you want to apply in your design process and which steps you don't want to apply. 

As you can see in the image above, designing an agroforestry system is shown as a circular process. I am representing the design process as a circle, because designing and creating an agroforestry system can be a never-ending process for two reasons:

  1. You will probably have to re-do your original draw a couple of times until you have a design you feel satisfied with. 

  2. Even after you have planted the trees you may want to keep re-designing and adjusting your system as it develops. 

Over time, you will notice which plant species grow better in your land, which ones do not grow well, and what effect your trees have on your farm. Therefore, in the future you may want to adapt your agroforestry system by removing, replacing or introducing new plant species. 

Creating the vision of your agroforestry-farm is one of the most exciting steps when starting an agroforestry system. Good luck and have fun with the process! 

Comment below on what you think about the principles discussed above? Do you have any thoughts or feedback? What are your experiences when designing agroforestry systems?

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