by Jordan Kimball

With increasing demand for land — due to population growth, demographic changes, and urbanization — and a commensurate increase in the demand for water, food, and shelter, there is a need to re-examine existing land use patterns and consider the possibility of alternative and/or multiple land uses. While still not widespread and fully embraced, agroforestry may provide a solution, offering relatively inexpensive and feasible strategies for providing employment and food security while supporting natural habitats.

As a broad definition, agroforestry is an integrated land management system that combines agriculture, forestry and animal husbandry to provide both ecological and economic benefits. The system is based on the intentional integration of trees and shrubs into crop and animal farming, to create a diversified system that is not only productive but also resilient to both climatic and market fluctuations. In practice, this means that when a flood or drought destroys one component of the system, the other units continue to function; as another example, the system allows for subsistence where existing products or crops are no longer in demand and a new supply chain or market is being established.

Agroforestry projects can be implemented at different scales, from the household garden level on less than half an acre/hectare, to the landscape level covering hundreds of thousands of acres/hectares — with one acre able to support a greater number and diversity of products and activities, compared with a more traditional approach. Moreover, these projects are viable in both rural areas as well as within metropolitan boundaries, including, for instance, the Freetown Peninsula.

While various case studies demonstrate the overall effectiveness of agroforestry systems, there remain real challenges on the ground. Firstly, these systems are more labor intensive to both establish and manage, even though longer term gains outweigh the initial investment of time and capital; and, even where limited, local farmers are often reluctant to commit additional funds at the outset, which may exceed the amount necessary for more traditional monoculture farming. Secondly, introducing a new system requires buy-in from government and local communities who need to be engaged in order to understand the potential advantages and benefits.

There are examples of successful agroforestry projects across Africa, including Kenyan farmers who have developed systems to harvest scarce rainfall to produce food crops and tree species alongside soil conservation efforts. In West Africa, Niger and Burkina Faso provide good examples of natural regeneration — a process that allows for the growth of trees and shrubs in a landscape previously affected by a major disturbance (e.g. agricultural tillage, fire, drought), which, by providing water infiltration and nutrients, contributes to ecological restoration.

Successful examples can also be found in Sierra Leone and Guinea which balance sustainability and ecosystem services, (such as protecting soil and water resources), with productivity and profitability. These include: fuel wood plantations with bee hives; improved wetland fields for rice and fish production, with rubber, coconut, or other fruit trees intercropped with legumes and vegetables around the system; and, the agroforestry demonstration farms of Kindia, whereby dozens of soil and water conservation techniques are on display, integrated with poultry farming, beekeeping, and small animal husbandry, and wildlife habitats.

There is enormous potential for the implementation of agroforestry systems across the Freetown Peninsula. Having more demonstration farms, including community forests, private forests, multi-purpose tree plantings and plantations, and tree nurseries, would provide an opportunity for engagement and education for local communities and practitioners on the one hand, and policy makers on the other. The success of these endeavours, however, is largely dependent on effective zoning, good governance, a supportive policy framework, and a progressive conservation and environmental justice movement. The Freetown Peninsula could move from being an environmentally distressed landscape, to a leading and progressive green economy.