A free email agroforestry journal for practitioners, extension agents, researchers, professionals, students, and enthusiasts. One edition is sent each month focusing on a concept related to designing, developing, and learning more about trees and agroforestry systems. Focuses on trees and their roles in agriculture, natural ecosystems, human culture and economy.

Concise, informative • Subscribers in over 180 countries 
Easy to subscribe/unsubscribe

Overstory #262 - Twelve Principles for improved food security

DSC00725A young kokum (Garcinia indica) fruit, an example edible and medicinal crop suitable for participatory domestication to improve rural livelihoods.

Agriculture faces a very complex set of social and biophysical issues associated with the economic, social and environmental sustainability. This paper examines the role of perennial species, especially trees, in the attainment of improved staple crop yields; provision of nutritious traditional food; the reduction of poverty, hunger, malnutrition and environmental degradation; the improvement of rural livelihoods; as well as the mitigation of climate change - all with increased economic growth with a programme of Integrated Rural Development (Leakey, 2010; 2012a/b). It therefore provides a model, or policy roadmap, for the delivery of the sustainable intensification of productive tropical and sub-tropical agriculture which is pro-poor and multifunctional – i.e. enhancing agriculture economically, socially and environmentally (Leakey, 2012a). This paper is based on 12 interconnected Principles (Box 1).

Continue Reading

Overstory #261 - Alley Cropping

IMG 0120Crop of turmeric growing between rows of fruit trees in Kona, Hawaii.

Alley cropping is broadly defined as the planting of two or more sets of single or multiple rows of trees or shrubs at wide spacings, creating alleys within which agricultural, horticultural, or forage crops are cultivated. The trees or shrubs may include valuable hardwood species, such as nut trees, or trees desirable for wood products. Shrubs can provide nuts, fruit or other products. This approach is sometimes called intercropping and multi-cropping. Currently most of the emphasis and research focuses on pecan, chestnut and eastern black walnut alley cropping applications. However, there are numerous other potential tree, shrub and crop combinations.

Continue Reading

Overstory #260 - Living Fences

IMG 0766Living fence of gliricidia cuttings planted along field crop boundary in Chanthaburi, Thailand.

Purpose of a Fence

There are several reasons for establishing fences on the small farm.

  1. To mark boundary lines between farms or next to roads.
  2. To separate adjacent fields used for distinct purposes
  3. To protect and keep animals from straying
  4. To protect crops from animal damage

A fence represents a major investment on the small farm. Although it carries a cost, it also provides something of benefit, namely protection. It is often a challenge to small farmers to increase farm production, such as crop yield, and the use of fences can facilitate such improvements. Whereas a fence may facilitate yield increase on the farm, a living fence can improve the efficiency of the production as well.

Continue Reading

Overstory #259 - Quesungual agroforestry

QuesungualtitleQuesungual agroforestry is the production of annual staple crops (maize, beans, and sorghum) in the understory of dispersed trees.


Over 10 million families in Mesoamerica (Mexico, Guatemala, El Salvador, Honduras and Nicaragua) are subsistence hillside farmers who grow their own food, primarily maize and beans: They face serious challenges to be able to produce enough to feed their families; most own 0.5-4 hectares of highly degraded hillsides (80% of the soils are degraded) (1), which is farmed using traditional farming techniques of slash and burn or more recently slash and chemicals. They are food insecure, having high levels of chronic malnutrition. It is estimated that farmers make a loss two years out five from maize production and studies show that rural families have incomes less than expenditures (2). It is no accident that this is a region of high levels of food insecurity (3) the rural population face an even more serious threat and that is climate variability. This region is one of the world’s most susceptible to growing climate instability (4) and studies indicate that yields are threatened to decline by 30% over the next thirty years (5).

Continue Reading

Overstory #258 - The benefits of agroforestry systems for food and nutritional security

DSC00689CElevitchAs well as directly providing edible products, agroforestry trees support food production by a range of other means, including by providing shade and support for crops that need it, supporting animal production and improving soil fertility.


Agroforestry – the integration of trees with annual crop cultivation, livestock production and other farm activities – is a series of land management approaches practised by more than 1.2 billion people worldwide. Integration increases farm productivity when the various components occupy complementary niches and their associations are managed effectively (Steffan-Dewenter et al. 2007). Agroforestry systems may range from open parkland assemblages, to dense imitations of tropical rainforests such as home gardens, to planted mixtures of only a few species, to trees planted in hedges or on boundaries of fields and farms, with differing levels of human management of the various components. Agroforestry systems provide a variety of products and services that are important locally, nationally and globally (Garrity 2004); but their role is not always fully acknowledged in development policies and practices, reflecting the difficult-to-measure, diverse pathways by which trees affect people’s lives. Women who are unable to afford high-cost technologies due to severe cash and credit constraints often favour relatively low-input agroforestry options (Kiptot and Franzel 2012).

Continue Reading

Overstory #257 - Biological Soil Fertility Management for Tropical Tree-Crop Agroforestry

IMG 1324CElevitchTree-crop based systems are better able than some other production systems to regenerate soil conditions, such as soil organic matter levels and soil structure.


Tree crop-based agroforestry systems, which function as multistrata systems, are an ecologically and economically important group of land-use systems in the humid and subhumid tropics. They are also found in dry climates in regions with high water availability; however, this aspect is not focused on here. Multistrata systems are widespread in lowland and mountainous areas, often surrounding homesteads and thus referred to as homegardens or forming a transitional zone between cultivated land into forests (Murniati et al., 2001; Schroth et al., 2004a).

Continue Reading