Agroforestry: Trees for a Sustainable European Agriculture

The recent conference of the European Parliament entitled “Agroforestry: Trees for a Sustainable European Agriculture” (10 October) brought together an audience of about 80 and several speakers representing scientists, farmers and policy researchers. Introductory speeches by the hosting MEP, Gaston Franco, and the Director of DG Agriculture, Benitez Salas, praised the potential benefits that agroforestry can deliver. The former highlighted the present moment of the CAP reform as an impetus to ‘rethink the place of trees .. [within].. high nature value farming’, whilst the latter unequivocally supported agroforestry as a ‘rediscovered form of sustainable and creative agriculture’.

Notwithstanding the rhetoric of high nature value farming, all the speakers except the IEEP representative focussed on agroforestry in its intensive, highly productive forms. This type of agroforestry combines highly productive arable cropping with trees grown either for the high quality timber market (pears, cherries, walnuts, etc) or for the biomass energy market (eucalypts and other fast growing species). Throughout the event, proponents of highly productive forms of agroforestry argued that these bring together environmental protection and economic benefits, providing sustainable solutions for rural development. They argued that such systems deserve much more explicit recognition within the CAP and other EU policies, including the Biodiversity Strategy. The majority of speakers underlined improved carbon sequestration, water quality and biodiversity as key environmental benefits delivered by agroforestry. Such benefits have been demonstrated by scientists in projects where intensive continuous arable cropping systems are replaced by highly productive agroforestry systems, creating new forms of agriculture that are both locally adapted and provide high yields.

The conference did not discuss the wider implications of using Pillar 2 to support setting up productive new agricultural systems, nor the risks of indirect land use change (ILUC) if intensive agroforestry displaces food and feed crops from EU arable land.

The IEEP representative highlighted the need for a critical examination of the net public goods delivered by highly productive agroforestry systems, before Pillar 2 support could be justified. In contrast to other speakers, she stressed that the real priorities for Pillar 2 spending on agroforestry were, firstly, to secure the maintenance of surviving traditional agroforestry systems on high nature value farmland in Southern, Eastern and Northern Europe; and secondly, to establish new, extensive silvo-pastoral agroforestry systems on currently degraded permanent pastures. The IEEP study on Public Goods and recent work on CAP and Biodiversity provides ample evidence of the irreplaceable combined benefits of such traditional and extensive agroforestry systems for habitats, soils, water and climate change mitigation/adaptation, as well as for the vitality of associated rural communities.

All presentations from the event are available here.

PUBLICATION DATE

17 Oct 2012