Agroforestry systems make maximum use of the land. Every part of the land is considered suitable for plants that are useful. Emphasis is placed on perennial, multiple purpose crops that are planted once but yield benefits over a long period of time. Furthermore, systems of agroforestry are designed for beneficial interactions of the crop plants, and to reduce unfavorable interactions. They are designed to reduce the risks associated with agriculture, small scale or large, and to increase the sustainability of agriculture.
Agroforestry practices normally help conserve, and even improve, the soil. Agroforestry includes a recognition of the interactions of crops, both favorable and unfavorable. The most common interaction is competition, which may be for light, water, or soil nutrients. Competition invariably reduces the growth and yield of any crop. Yet competition occurs in monoculture as well and this need not be more deleterious in agroforestry systems. Interactions may be complementary, as in the case of trees, pasture, and foraging animals, where trees provide shade and/or forage, and animals provide manure.
Agroforestry systems are designed to produce a range of benefits including food, feed, fuels, often fibers, and usually renewed soil fertility. Agroforestry systems take advantage of trees for many uses, to hold the soil, to increase fertility through nitrogen fixation, or through bringing minerals from deep in the soil and depositing them by leaf-fall, to provide shade, construction materials, foods and fuel. Agroforestry systems may be thought of as principle parts of the farm system itself, which contains many other sub-systems which together define a way of life.
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