Sustainable Agriculture and Silvopastoralism
Sustainable agricultural practices such as agroforestry will provide the maximum benefits for humans, livestock, and crops, while striving for the least disturbance of wildlife and the natural ecosystems on which they depend. Agroforestry is a relatively low-input integration of trees into crop and pasture systems. Its implementation is of great value in developing countries of the tropics, where people are being driven onto marginal lands by poverty and inequitable land distribution. These marginal lands are critical to wildlife and the preservation of watersheds but are being rapidly deforested to grow crops. This practice leads not only to loss of the forest resource, but to the loss of the soil resource through erosion, damage to watersheds, and to a widening spiral of poverty for the poor people of the world.
One type of agroforestry is silvopastoralism, which focuses on the production of livestock and tree products in one integrated pasture system. Silvopasture is big business in the Southeast of the United States where it is economical to run a single species, cattle, under a pine monoculture in a large silvopastoral operation. However, on small farms, especially in the tropics, diversification through managing a variety of both animal and plant species is the most efficient utilization of the resource, and provides a variety of products, thus providing a hedge against risk.
I've used the image above in some recent talks to emphasize what are the alternatives (and consequences) of not learning to integrate ag and forestry production systems? This picture shows a forested riparian buffer area that was recently cleared (through excavation) to expand pasture. It was taken on a Mennonite farm, just north of where we live. I suspect the reasoning behind the clearing was two-fold: 1) to maximize productivity of all available acreage on the farm (Mennonite farmers in this area are limited to 50 acres); and, 2) because we've been too good over the past 70 years of teaching farmers not to put their livestock in woods. So in this case, the solution was to get rid of the woods.
This one case is illustrative of a trend that I'm seeing all over the landscape as large farms feel pressured to expand (though most clearing is done to convert to crop land), and many small farms are looking to make a living - or at least a "profit" from limited acreage. It's time to spread the word that agroforestry enterprises are an opportunity and (often better) alternative to the traditional mindset of clearing timber for agricultural production.