Agroforestry—a solution to sustainable development in Africa?

Agroforestry is a method of food production and land management in which trees and shrubs are cultivated in and around crops and livestock. It aims to foster good interactions among all components of the ecosystem, resulting in an ecologically diversified landscape capable of producing food while also managing forests and social productivity sustainably. Agroforestry currently delivers economic benefits through diversifying food production, as well as improving soils, conserving water supplies, maintaining biodiversity, and slowing climate change. As agroforestry is mainly practiced in hot and humid areas of the world, it could represent a viable solution to many of the social challenges that developing countries face every day, as well as contribute to the mitigation of agriculture carbon footprint. 

In particular, agroforestry can be found in Africa in a variety of forms, ranging from basic livestock grazing among woody perennials or crops to complex cropping systems interspersed with trees and livestock. The systems differ according to the culture, climate, and economic environment in which they are located, and span from small backyard gardens to big commercial operations.

The greatest benefits can be according to macro areas: 

  • Climate change mitigation:  As both the soil and the number of plants work as carbon sinks to absorb carbon from the air,  agroforestry systems have been found to have a considerably higher carbon-sequestering potential when compared to intensive monocropping systems.
  • Food security & income increase:  Increasing the farm product diversity and the increase in productivity from agroforestry systems provides greater stability for farmers, as they do not just rely on one crop or one animal breed. The wider variety of crops and animals farmed on the land allows for a greater variety of food for a family or community, as well as a variety of nutritional benefits for individuals of all ages, particularly small children.

The positivity that can bring such an agricultural practice in the three aspects highlighted above is clear when looking at the case of Rwanda. In fact, according to a study, agroforestry techniques are helping its adopters to earn more money than non-agroforestry adopters in Nyamagabe Area, as well as enhancing soil fertility, preventing deforestation, and conserving soil and water within the district.

Will agroforestry be one of the key solutions contrasting social, economic, and environmental issues?


Cheikh Mbow, Meine Van Noordwijk, Eike Luedeling, Henry Neufeldt, Peter A Minang and Godwin Kowero. “Agroforestry Solutions to Address Food Security and Climate Change in Africa.” Current Opinion in Environmental Sustainability 6, (2014): 61-67. Accessed April 25, 2021.

Dong-Gill Kim et al., “Carbon Sequestration and Net Emissions of CH4 and N2O under Agroforestry: Synthesizing Available Data and Suggestions for Future Studies,” Agriculture, Ecosystems & Environment 226 (2016): 65–78, doi 10.1016/j.agee.2016.06.011

Pilote Kiyani, Jewel Andoh, Yohan Lee & Don Koo Lee (2017) Benefits and challenges of agroforestry adoption: a case of Musebeya sector, Nyamagabe District in southern province of Rwanda, Forest Science and Technology, 13:4, 174-180, DOI: 10.1080/21580103.2017.1392367

Robert J. Zommer et al., “Global Tree Cover and Biomass Carbon on Agricultural Land: The Contribution of Agroforestry to Global and National Carbon Budgets,” Scientific Reports 6 (2016): 29987, doi 10.1038/ srep29987


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