Silvopastoral farming could be part of the climate change revolution

Silvopastoral systems combine forestry and grazing in a mutually beneficial way; protecting soil, reducing animals' stress levels and often securing a long-term income for farmers. Mainly tested by the cattle industry up until now, there could be even greater economic and environmental benefits for the wool industry.

With a planet already under stress and an ever-growing world population, innovation in forestry and farming practices is one of today’s most pressing areas. To stand a chance in the long-run, we have to learn how to produce what we need more efficiently and more sustainably.

Silvopastoral systems consist of intensively managed plantations where grazing and agriculture is combined with tree cultivation, and although versions of this kind of agroforestry have been around for decades, pressing climate change magnifies its potential.

While there are challengesone being the high investment requirement in capital and laborscience-based silvopastoral systems have a lot of potential benefits. Among them are:

  • Enhanced growth of both trees (partly due to the microclimate created by food crops) and livestock (less stress caused when able to find shade).
  • Increased efficiency of land use, both enhancing the environmental profile of products coming from the soil and enabling the protection of other land that would have had to be used without the system in place.
  • More local jobs created than in conventional forest production, thus contributing to communities’ economic and social development.
  • Combined food and forest production, which in many less developed areas is extremely important.

« Silvopastoral systems can be part of the solution – or revolution, as some people would have it »

Grazing among planted trees also implies less stress on the animals, whether it be cattle or sheep, which apart from the obvious pro of happier animals means less release of polluting gases such as methane. In fact, says Henrik Norlin of Girindus Investments AB, himself involved in a number of projects using agroforestry and silvopastoral systems, sheep may be even more suitable than cattle for these systems. “It has been discovered that it is better to let sheep graze among the trees instead of cows because they weigh less and thus reduce the risk of damage to the tree roots,” he says.

Intensivelymanaged plantations such as silvopastoral systems can be part of the solution or revolution, as some people would have it – as we tackle climate change and learn how to produce resources for more people with less land, water, energy and waste. Seizing the opportunities require research that aims to improve these systems, and funding to build them.

Silvopastoral systems have yet to build strong connections to the wool industry. It would be another potential, says Henrik: “I believe the textile industry has much to benefit from by testing and implementing new land-use practices. Silvopastoral systems are one type of land-use which promises to be efficient and environmentally friendly.”

Suggested further reading:
New Generation Plantations platform
In the Pastures of Colombia, Cows, Crops and Timber Coexist
, Yale Environmental 360

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