The potential of agroforestry systems with monocultures and carbon

An agroforestry system with oil palm, cocoa and acacia in the Brazilian Amazon. Photo: ICRAF / Martin Meyer

Publisher’s Note: This article was originally published in Agroforestry News.

Agroforestry systems can be a satisfactory alternative to monoculture oil palm plantations in Brazil. A series of studies conducted by CIFOR-ICRAF scientists together with researchers from the University of Wageningen, the Brazilian Agricultural Research Corporation (EMRAPA), the Organization of Agroecological Cooperatives (OCA) and the Federal University of Vicosa (UFV) show the potential of various overflow farms. To increase the resilience of systems, increase environmental benefits and reduce risks for farmers.

The results were presented at the 5th World Agroforestry Congress: Transition to a Sustainable World, in Quebec City (Canada) and in digital format from July 12 to 22, 2022.

One of the studies was conducted in 2017-2018 in Tome-Acu, Pará state, in the eastern Amazon of Brazil with Natura and Co.

Worldwide, palm oil is grown as monoculture plantations, which can be highly productive but are associated with negative socio-environmental impacts. Based on an action research approach, oil palm agroforestry was piloted on eight small fields in Brazil, totaling 30 hectares. The study attempted to provide a comprehensive way to assess the social, financial and environmental viability of oil palm agroforestry.

The financial viability of seven demonstration units was also evaluated using AMAZONSAF, an Excel tool that allows for cash flow analysis and financial forecasting for 25 years. Socio-environmental indicators were assessed using another participatory tool called PLANTSAFS.

Oil palm plantation forestry systems have achieved good results in terms of basic financial indicators (net present value, return on investment, benefit/cost ratio, internal return and return on labor) compared to the systems compared to conventional monocultures. indicating their financial capacity.

Likewise, ecological indicators (diversity and species abundance) indicate a high degree of functional and species diversity, although the results are very different depending on the system. Overall farmer adoption and satisfaction was rated high.

Challenges for public policies on agroforestry

CIFOR-ICRAF researchers studied legal mechanisms related to agroforestry development and restoration in Brazil’s Atlantic Forest and Amazon biomes. Martin Meyer (CIFOR-ICRAF Brazil and OCA), Salo de Souza, Jimmy Amaral, Henrique Marcus and Andrew Mikolis (CIFOR-ICRAF Brazil), together with Heiter Mancini Teixeira (Copernicus Institute for Sustainable Development, Utrecht University), showed that although Brazil has had several laws and decrees that provide substantial legal support for improving forest protection and rehabilitating degraded lands, and additional public policies are needed to implement the measures.

Another study showed that agroforestry systems are a promising strategy in Brazil as they serve as a source of income for farmers.

They conclude that both agroforestry systems can provide a means to mitigate climate change and simultaneously address food security and nutrition. Oil palm agroforestry appears to be very attractive to family farmers as long as it is implemented with flexibility and farmer participation in the design process.

Agroden and carbon

Agroforestry systems also feature prominently in carbon storage strategies. Voluntary carbon markets in the forestry and land use sectors have reached new records in terms of volume trading in recent years. However, there are still challenges to achieving lasting success. Low carbon credit prices, amortization and transaction costs have hindered the development of carbon projects, especially for smallholder farmers.

In Brazil, carbon projects seem to have the potential to make smallholder carbon trading efficient and sustainable by applying agroecological principles. Studies have shown that smallholder farmers may be willing to participate in carbon projects if their interests are met by mutual benefits, better access to water and food, or direct or indirect economic benefits, and may reduce opportunity costs. Also, increasing the number of participating farmers can reduce the fixed costs of carbon projects.

“With regard to soil carbon, it is worth noting that only long-term management methods have an effect on this soil behavior, especially if they are directed to a greater depth in the soil,” said Martin Meyer, Salo de Souza, Jimmy Amaral, Henrique. Marcus, Andrew Mikolis (CIFOR-ICRAF Brazil) and Gustavo Veloso Lucas de Carvalho Gomes (Federal University of Vicosa).

The aim of the work was to elucidate soil dynamics in relation to soil carbon in recently implemented agroforestry systems using regional values ​​observed in the radar project in Northeast Amazon (Radam Brazil). The organic carbon (CO) analyzed in the agroforests was compared with the average values ​​of all the results in RADAM. The soil depth analyzed was 0-20 cm and 20-40 cm. The results show that the percentage of CO in the agroforestry systems is 38% higher at both depths, compared to the average result of RADAM in the soils of Para State.

Agroforestry systems have the potential to maintain ecosystem functions and provide other services such as income generation and food security. If we add to this the promising results obtained in terms of carbon sequestration, we see that agroforestry is gaining ground as a strategy to improve soil carbon management in a proper and sustainable manner.

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