The following is an excerpt of my presentation delivered this morning in Whistler at the 2009 BC Land Summit, titled “Agroforestry: Integrated Options for Adapting to Change.”
Agroforestry is a group of integrated production opportunities that blend agriculture, silviculture and conservation practices in the same system. These systems can assist to strengthen and diversify the economy while also addressing conservation challenges. Because of their integrated nature, they may be suitable options for achieving multiple land use objectives in the context of increasing social emphasis on simultaneously accommodating:
1. increased urbanization;
2. economic development;
3. food security through support of local food systems; and,
4. preservation of natural areas and functions.
Agroforestry has several potential advantages relative to conventional agriculture, including the capacity for production gains through more efficient use of available resources, economic advantages that come from blending different outputs from the same production system, and the environmental services that can be provided from these managed systems.
Because agroforestry systems blend economic activity with conservation practices they can be suitable land use options to buffer or transition between conflicting land uses. In the rural-urban fringe, trees and shrubs are already widely utilized to transition areas from production to settlement. This concept can be expanded to utilize these interface areas for food production with the development of “Community Forest Gardens” incorporating fruit and nut bearing trees and shrubs, as well as maple or birch for tapping and production of syrup. On a site level, agroforestry practices have tremendous potential to buffer management activities that may be a source of conflict among neighbors by: capturing run-off before entering riparian areas, trapping dust, managing nutrients and odour from intensive livestock operations, improving viewscapes, and dampening noise. At the landscape level agroforestry practices can provide the same services of transition and buffering. For example, new agricultural development areas (as is now occurring in the mountain pine beetle impacted areas of the interior) can be transitioned to wilderness with silvopastoral or forest farming areas. Agroforestry management can also mimic the structure of an open forest, therefore, managed areas can be used to open up ingrown forests in the southern interior where reintroduction of the natural fire regime is not practical with the current pattern of rural settlement.
The economic returns from wood, food, floral, natural health and other niche products can subsidize conservation activities including providing wildlife habitat, sequestering carbon to mitigate climate change, managing fire risk and protecting soil, water air quality. In this manner, the economic activity from agroforestry becomes a strong incentive for producers to adopt conservation practices.
Development of agroforestry options requires a multidisciplinary approach with policy, planning and research and development contributions from professional Agrologists, Planners, Foresters and others. Because these systems are relatively novel in British Columbia, changes to policy, legislation, and community and regional plans are needed to facilitate agroforestry implementation at appropriate locations. Most agroforestry practices require research and development support to refine and adapt them to local situations, and additional partnerships are needed to make this happen. On public lands, First Nations’ rights and titles to timber and non-timber forest resources must be settled equitably, and then enabling legislation and policies must be enacted. At the municipal and regional government level, amendments and definitions are needed in Official Community Plans, zoning and landscaping bylaws. Likewise, formal agroforestry guidelines should be developed and incorporated into the existing “Edge Planning Guide”. Finally, public education is needed on the concepts and opportunities for using agroforestry, and to ensure rural/suburban residents understand that these system are actively managed requiring occasional maintenance and harvest.