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What is agroforestry?

Agroforestry is a natural resources management system that's based on ecological considerations. As the name suggest, agroforestry combines agriculture and forestry with the goal of restoring depleted natural resources.

Agroforestry consists of growing trees in regions that have the potential to become agriculturally productive [source: World Agroforestry Centre]. The technique of intercropping allows farmers to increase their land's yield. Agroforestry methods can be used on rangeland and farmland. Although agroforestry had been practiced around the world, it wasn't until the late 1960s that the American public began to express an interest in it. During periods of slow economic growth and energy shortages, agroforestry was increasingly seen as a way to replenish America's supply of natural resources. Furthermore, soil erosion, which could be prevented to a certain degree by the planting of trees, was having an effect on the country's food production capabilities.

Agroforestry is known to benefit the environment in several ways, including raising soil fertility levels, protecting certain regions from deforestation and providing a measure of protection against worldwide climatic changes. Agroforestry also has some potential economic benefits, such as reducing poverty levels and increasing the accessibility to medicinal trees, which are a worldwide source of medication [source: World Agroforestry Centre].

Before a landowner decides on which trees to plant in order to realize the benefits of agroforestry, it would be prudent to conduct a landscape assessment. Such an assessment will determine the exact relationship between the land, the environment and the available agroforestry options [source: Bentrup]. Since it takes years for trees to grow, there's not much room for error when planting and raising them based on agroforestry guidelines.