Agroforestry in the European Union

Agroforestry in the European Union

Agroforestry is a very ancient agricultural practice that is still widely implemented in certain EU countries, and is gaining renewed interest due to its many economic and environmental benefits. It is a dynamic system combining trees, crops and/or livestock on the same area of land in some form of spatial arrangement or temporal sequence. Prominent examples are the dehesa in Spain (oak trees with livestock grazing underneath) and the Fennoscandian area (covering Finland, Norway, and Sweden in their entireties, and a part of Russia), where reindeer husbandry is practised.

The main types of agroforestry include the silvopastoral and silvoarable systems, forest farming, hedgerows, riparian buffer strips and kitchen gardens. A number of studies have attempted to classify the existing systems, a task made difficult by the number of possible combinations of woody components/crops/livestock and the variety of criteria to consider. A comprehensive European project on agroforestry suggests that it covers a total area of more than 15 million hectares in the EU, or 52 million hectares if reindeer husbandry is included.

Agroforestry systems, which are sustainable and multifunctional, provide many environmental benefits. They contribute to climate change adaptation and mitigation, protect the soil, enhance biodiversity and improve the overall condition of the landscapes. That way, they are also beneficial to the local rural economy, as those improved landscapes offer cultural and recreational opportunities. Moreover, agroforestry farmers can diversify their production, reduce some costs and achieve better productivity. However agroforestry is usually more complex and knowledge-intensive than conventional agriculture and may involve a greater administrative burden.

Agroforestry enjoys EU-level recognition and support from the common agricultural policy (CAP). Farmers can receive direct payments per hectare of land under agroforestry, as well as support for the establishment or maintenance of agroforestry systems under the rural development strand of the CAP. Innovation and research in this field may also be supported. The European Parliament has recognised the benefits of agroforestry in several resolutions, and called for more effective support for a range of sustainable production methods, including agroforestry.

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