Agroforestry for Resilient Communities

In 1996, a small group of farmers created the Asociación de Productores de Mangos del Alto Piura (APROMALPI) on the northern coast of Peru, where, for many years, small-scale farmers have produced a variety of crops for both export and domestic markets, as well as for their own consumption.

 Collectively, APROMALPI members own 340 hectares of organic certified orchard land, with each member’s plot averaging about two hectares in size. It’s a small oasis where mangos, bananas, and other tropical fruits are grown and exported to Europe and North America. Mangos are their primary export crop, but farmers also grow passion fruit, cocao, and avocados for local domestic markets.

As a member of the Fairtrade International system, APROMALPI members have relied on stable prices and additional premiums to support the local community and invest in business development projects such as infrastructure for water and waste management. APROMALPI members also benefit from technical assistance, which has helped farmers increase the density of their mango orchards and increase yields by 18 percent. For example, members have increased the nutrient content of their soil by using the shells of cocoa pods as compost.

One of the most distinct aspects of APROMALPI, however, is how they’ve managed to preserve a rich history of agroforestry—assisted in part through the benefits of fair trade. The strategy of diversifying their crops has made farmers more resilient to climatic or economic crises and has allowed APROMALPI to become more competitive among Peruvian mango exporters. In the future, APROMALPI plans to export other crops currently used for personal consumption and domestic markets.

Agroforestry

Agroforestry is an intensive land-management strategy that combines agriculture and forestry practices. It integrates the growth and maintenance of both tree and shrub crops to create an interactive microclimate for the benefit of all species within the environment. Agroforestry is practiced by 558 million people across more than one billion hectares of the world’s agricultural land. In Asia, Central America, and South America, it is especially prevalent—accounting for 80 percent of all agriculture.

While there is a range of agroforestry practices used around the world, mango farmers of APROMALPI typically integrate forest farming with other crops. For example, coconut trees create a canopy above mango orchards; this fosters special climatic conditions that provide increased moisture, temperature control, and protection from wind.

Some may see these practices as reforestation techniques, but they go further: Agroforestry is a means to grow differently—for the benefit of local economies and the environment.

Environmental benefits

Soil erosion and quality 

Trees can be planted as shelterbelts to create protective microclimates. This can improve moisture retention and reduce wind speeds, protecting against soil erosion and damage to cultivated crops. Shelterbelt trees can have deep root systems that tap into lower water and minerals sources that cultivated crops can’t access. These nutrients are then cycled back into the cultivated ecosystem when the trees and shrubs shed their leaves. Once decayed and absorbed back into the soil, these leaves become nutrients that support the growth of crops and favourable fruit yields.

Climate change 

Research has shown that trees are extremely useful in sequestering greenhouse gases, making them a valuable resource in confronting climate change. While different plants will accumulate carbon at different rates, slow-growing mango trees, which can live for hundreds of years, can work as effective carbon sinks for long periods of time.

Biodiversity and pest management 

Aside from the variety of plants grown, integrated forests and crops offer good sources of food and water and are ideal habitats for other animal and insect species. They provide nesting areas safe from predators and help preserve natural migration patterns and breeding cycles. Agroecosystems can also support a broader range of microclimates, which in turn influence the diversity of local species.

Agroforestry farmers often use “push-pull” techniques for natural pest management. This involves manipulating insects by using natural stimuli to push them away from certain areas and to draw them toward others where they can be contained or disposed of.

Economic benefits

Integrated resources complement each other. By combining proper tree species with responsive crops and proper maintenance, farmers can often increase yields and profits. The protective capacity of many surrounding crops can also ensure the resiliency of existing assets.

New crops can bring new products that can be sold or consumed locally, providing both short- and long-term revenue streams and offering more financial diversity for farmers. Agroforestry methods can better use marginal land and expand the potential scope of production. Natural pest-management and fertilizing can also reduce reliance on costly synthetic inputs.

Different way of seeing food systems

Because climates, social conditions, and access to resources can vary greatly across the world, agroforestry is not a ready-made model that can simply be applied anywhere. Instead, it is a different way of seeing our food systems.

By embracing cultural traditions and sharing local knowledge, fair trade can be a powerful resource in supporting agroforestry projects. These projects create long-term opportunities for increasing food security and sovereignty.


Author: Julie Sage manages the fair trade programs at Discovery Organics, an importer of fresh organic produce in Vancouver.

"Agroforestry for Resilient Communities" was originally published in the Winter/Spring 2015 Edition of Fair Trade Magazine