Agroforestry Systems

  • Klaus LorenzEmail author
  • Rattan Lal


Agroforestry implies the inclusion of trees or other woody perennials within farming systems to capture the interactive benefits of perennials and seasonals, and/or animals for sustainable agricultural production. Among the benefits is the greater ability of agroforestry systems to capture and utilize growth resources (i.e., light, nutrients, water) compared to single-species systems. Agroforestry systems are estimated to cover about 10 million km2 of agricultural land globally. Estimates for carbon (C) sequestration potential above- and belowground over 50 years range between 1.1 and 2.2 Pg (1 Pg = 1Gt = 1015g) C yr−1, but these numbers are highly uncertain. Land-use practices for agroforestry systems are very diverse. In the tropics, this includes alley cropping, homegardens, improved fallows, multi-purpose trees on farms and rangelands, silvopastoral grazing systems, shaded perennial-crop systems, shelterbelts, windbreaks, and taungya (i.e., growing agricultural crops during early stages of establishment of forestry plantations). Furthermore, alley cropping, forest farming, riparian buffer strips, silvopasture, and windbreaks are agroforestry practices in temperate regions. Thus, agroforestry systems are structurally and functionally more complex than either croplands or pastures or tree monocultures. Also, the greater efficiency of growth resource capture and utilization enhances net carbon (C) sequestration in soils under agroforestry compared to those under crops and pastures. Trees capture large amounts of atmospheric carbon dioxide (CO2) during photosynthesis, and transfer a fraction to the soil as surface and subsurface input which may eventually be sequestered. However, data on soil organic carbon (SOC) stocks and sequestration of agroforestry systems are scanty. The few published data vary greatly depending on the agroforestry system, species composition and age, geographical location, environmental factors, and management practices. For example, 1.25 and 302 Mg C ha−1 may be stored to 40 cm depth in a Canadian alley cropping system and to 100 cm depth in a cacao (Theobroma cacao L.) agroforestry system in Brazil, respectively. Furthermore, sequestration rates of up to 7.4 Mg C ha−1 yr−1 in the top 0–10 or 0–20 cm soil depth have been reported. Land-use conversion from less complex systems such as agricultural system to agroforestry systems may, particularly, increase SOC stocks. However, lack of standard methods and procedures does not allow any firm conclusions about the C sequestration potential of agroforestry soils. Furthermore, any generalizations about the SOC sequestration potential of agroforestry systems are hampered by interrelated and site-specific factors such as agroecological conditions and management practices. This chapter begins with a comparison of different tropical and temperate agroforestry practices. This is followed by a discussion about afforestation of denuded lands and associated changes in SOC stocks and its importance for the role of trees for SOC sequestration in agroforests. Then, an overview is given about SOC stocks and sequestration in existing agroforestry systems, and also for those after conversion from other land uses. This chapter concludes with a list of recommendations to enhance SOC sequestration in agroforests.


Agroforestry systems Trees Temperate regions Tropical regions Afforestation Soil organic carbon sequestration Root-derived carbon 


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Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Carbon Management and Sequestration Center, School of Environment and Natural ResourcesThe Ohio State UniversityColumbusUSA

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