WHY IS IT IMPORTANT?
Smallholder farmers can no longer use their land to produce food for their families or use it as a source of a reliable and sustainable source of livelihood. Over the past decades, farmers have used poor farming methods such as monocropping, tilling land every season, use of chemicals and cutting down trees to clear land for farming, and energy needs such as firewood for cooking. These practices have left the land degraded and unsuitable for farming forcing farmers into alternative livelihood activities like encroaching on natural forests for charcoal burning and bricklaying in wetlands.
What is food forestry?
The food forestry intervention intentionally integrates the growing of the different types of trees together with other crops on small farms to grow together for food and ecological benefits with minimal management.
Farmers who have implemented the food forest model have seen great results from this unique method of growing the different types of trees especially fruit trees together with other field crops. The model allows farmers to grow long-term trees that form the canopy, mid-term trees that are usually of medium height and short-term trees which are the shrubs that make very small sticks (pencil-size or less) which are grown with other field crops like cover crops, legumes and others.
How it works.
The model is implemented between three to eight years for maximum results depending on the types of trees and the farmer chooses to grow. The trees are usually indigenous to the area for maximum results. However, before the farmer starts benefiting from the big trees, they can start benefiting from short-term trees (shrubs) and the field crops because they are usually seasonal. The shrubs will provide fodder for livestock, improve soil quality by fixing nitrogen, they provide herbs, spices, small sticks for firewood among other benefits.
With time the midterm trees start reaching maturity and these provide small-sized fruits, shade for crops to reduce stress from direct sunlight, improve soil quality when leaves fall and decompose, fodder for livestock, fruits, small poles for construction, and ecological benefits such as sequestering carbon dioxide, shelter for small birds among others.
The long-term trees take longer to establish but they provide benefits for a very long time. They form a wider canopy and will provide bigger fruits like avocados, mangoes, and jackfruit, medicinal values (leaves, bark, roots), they provide a wider shade to crops, protect the farm from strong destructive wind, firewood from pruned tree branches, and also trap more carbon dioxide among other benefits.
Farmer families are trained on how to sustainably use trees and other resources on their farms sustainably. Since lack of firewood is one of the biggest causes of degradation, improved energy-efficient cookstoves are promoted, families are trained how to construct and use them to save on the amount of firewood they use. And other alternative clean lighting options like solar are promoted among the same families.
Benefits of the food forest model.
- More food. Farmers get more food from the trees and other crops they grow in the food forest thereby improving their nutrition and food security.
- Farm incomes. Food forests increase farm incomes for smallholder farmers since they are able to grow and harvest more on their farms all year round.
- Improves land quality. The different tree roots bind the soil together making it more stable and less prone to soil erosion, leguminous trees fix natural nitrogen into the soil and the leaves, fruits and branches decompose to make humus that improves soil fertility.
- Fuel self-sufficiency. Smallholder farmers have easy access to firewood since they grow their own farms,
- Diversity. Farmers grow a variety of trees and crops on the same piece of land which gives the farmer more alternatives to choose from.
- Low maintenance. The natural cycles on the farm such as decomposition of matter, integration of different trees some of which repel pests reduce costs of buying fertilisers and pesticides.
- Ecological restoration. Food forests are helping land and small farms that were once degraded and bare to have natural vegetation increased tree cover and restoration of biodiversity. When the different types of trees grow together, the environment becomes healthier and able to attract important insects like bees that are very important for pollination.