Agroforestry in Europe

During my forest education I never had chance to become familiar with agroforestry, until I started my internship at European Forest Institute. Agroforestry is quite large topic, so in this post I would like to explain in a short way what really is agroforestry, where is used, who is responsible for collecting source data and where data related with this topic are stored. Maybe this post would be an inspiration for some forestry student who is not sure which subject to choose for bachelor’s or master’s thesis.

Generally, agroforestry is land use management systems where trees or shrubs are grown among crops or pastureland. Sometimes also combines livestock to create an integrated and sustainable land use. Assuming appropriate environmental and social conditions agroforestry might be adventageous over conventional agricultural practices, as well as forest production methods. There are many categories of common agroforestry practices where the main ones are wood pastures, hedgerows, intercropped and grazed orchards, grazed forests and alley cropping. Generally agroforestry provides large biodiversity and can bring economic benefits, but only if it is applied properly and under appropriate conditions.

AGFORWARD research project which have been established by European Commission and Directorate General for Research & Innovation grouped agroforestry systems into four categories such as:

  1. high natural and cultural value systems
  2. high value tree systems
  3. arable systems
  4. live stock systems

The overall aim of the project is to promote agroforestry practices in Europe that will advance rural development i.e. improved competitiveness, and social and environmental enhancement. The project involves two international institutions and over 23 universities, research and farming organisations from across Europe.

Agroforestry in Europe can be found almost everywhere. Largely limiting factor is climate. In countries with warmer climate such as Spain, Italy, Portugal, Greece, Cyprus, Romania and Bulgaria, agroforestry is more popular and definitely has more possibilities than in northern countries. It is worth to mention that dehesas and montados arable systems in Spain and Portugal are among the highly diverse high nature value systems. The main tree species encountered in the Montado are holm oak (Quercus rotundifolia) and cork oak (Quercus suber). However mixed stands with a combination of these species are also common. Report Current extent and trends of agroforestry in the EU27 shows that the total extent in Europe is around 24 million ha and covers about 14% of the utilized agricultural area or 5.7% of the territorial area. Mentioned report contains much more information about inventories as well as methodology and source data.

When it comes to source data which describes agroforestry extent, and can be useful to perform some analysis is Eurostat database which contains LUCAS data. LUCAS land cover and land use data are points data type. LUCAS uses a double land cover classification system for land covers with multiple layers. Eurostat has carried survey every 3 years since 2006 in order to identify changes in land use and cover. Moreover at European Environmental Agency website can be found CORINE data, which are polygon data type. What is more Copernicus Satellite launched by European Space Agency can provide satellite images for more sophisticated analysis. As far as I know, all mentioned data are free of charge except Copernicus Satellite images.

Following picture is an example of the analysis which describes agroforestry likelihood in European Union countries based on the probability of observing LUCAS agroforestry point in a certain CORINE land cover class. The analysis has been performed by using arcMap 10.1 software.


Author of the post:

Przemko Pachana  – forester, graduate of Forestry from the Warsaw University of Life Sciences and Forest Information Technology from the Eberswalde University for Sustainable Development.

Professional experience gained i.a. at European Forest Institute in Finland and Polish State Forests.

Currently has been working in Germany in a company which mainly deals with forest management plans, and forestry software and mobile applications development.

Main photo: Cotton grows between rows of Pine trees. Source: National Agroforestry Center.

Leave a Reply