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Food

Multistrata Agroforestry

This image shows part of Fazenda da Toca, a 5,700-acre farm managed by Pedro Diniz in Itirapina, Brazil. Employing regenerative farming and agroforestry practices, the Diniz family has created the Institute Toca, which offers education and training in agroecology. The program is based on the teachings of Ernst Gotsch, one of the world’s leading experts in agroforestry. By creating an agricultural system that mimics the forests, they have been able to regenerate sandy dirt into rich loam, create in-farm fertility without the use of compost or manure, and greatly increase water retention.

Multistrata agroforestry takes its cues from the defining feature of forests: layers. Blending an overstory of taller trees and an understory of one or more layers of crops, multistrata agroforestry maximizes both horizontal and vertical space. The blend of plants varies by region and culture, but the spectrum includes macadamia and coconut, black pepper and cardamom, pineapple and banana, shade-grown coffee and cacao, as well as rubber and timber. Home gardens are one particular approach.

By mimicking forests, multistrata systems can:

  • prevent erosion and flooding,
  • recharge groundwater,
  • restore degraded land and soils,
  • support biodiversity by providing habitat and corridors between fragmented ecosystems, and
  • absorb and store carbon.

An acre of multistrata agroforestry can achieve rates of carbon sequestration comparable to those of afforestation and forest restoration, with the added benefit of producing food.

Multistrata systems are well suited to steep slopes and degraded croplands, and they can relieve pressures from natural forests by providing firewood. Farmers gain income and resilience from multiple crops growing on unique timelines. Yet, costs to establish a complex system can be high, and tending it can be more labor intensive. Incentives can help farmers overcome financial barriers and realize the multilayered benefits of multistrata agroforestry.

Technical summaries for each solution will be available May 1, 2017.

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