Unlike in many other areas of the world, European deforestation has been reduced in recent times.1 Between 1990 and 2015, the area of Europe categorized as forested has actually increased by over 90,000 square kilometers (9 million hectares).1 In contrast, globally, an average of 28 million hectares of forest are cut down every year.2 One way European countries are countering deforestation is by adopting agroforestry, which involves planting large numbers of trees, and by doing so it protects the very soil itself. This is an environmentally beneficial method of farming that now occupies almost 20 million hectares in Europe.3
Whilst we must, of course, recognize that a reduction in deforestation is a huge win for the climate, we must not forget that success comes in the form of a puzzle – there are multiple tools and practices we must adopt in order to slow global warming and climate change.
A Solution to European Deforestation
Agroforestry is an ancient practice of combining agriculture with planting trees.4 The benefits are manifold. For the farmers, agroforestry provides healthier soil, enriched by more nutrients, resulting in higher yields of crops.4 Providing additional tree cover also creates much-needed habitats for wildlife. Meanwhile, the trees themselves sequester carbon dioxide (CO2) from the atmosphere.5 This is therefore an extremely effective way of reducing the effects of climate change.5 Unfortunately, present agroforestry practices occupy less than 10 percent of the potential European area.3 There is therefore great scope for the enlargement of this beneficial practice, especially as a counter to European deforestation.
European Deforestation has Increased CO2 in the Atmosphere
To meet regional demands, food production needs to be more sustainable and accessible.6 Consequently, agroforestry provides a solution to this difficult problem. The traditional food production system in Europe successfully provides high-value products.6 But this production releases high levels of greenhouse gases and increases soil nutrient loss.6 Planting more trees through agroforestry would simultaneously help reduce the amount of CO2 in the atmosphere.7 Likewise, studies show that agroforestry can make significant improvements to soil nutrition and soil resilience to erosion.7
Repairing the Damages of European Deforestation
By implementing agroforestry, studies have demonstrated that soil erosion has been reduced by up to 65 percent.7 The roots of the trees grow deep beneath the ground, holding the soil firmly and also increasing soil organic matter on the surface by adding decomposing leaf litter.7 Subsequently, the nutrient content of the soil is enriched and the nutrients are less likely to be lost.7 As a result, crop yields from agroforestry are much higher, averaging 96 percent higher.8 Since the tree roots reach below those of vegetable or cereal crops, the food produced per acre is much higher, thus improving food security.4
Agroforestry is a win-win situation, helping both farmers and the environment alike.4 It offers a sustainable alternative to traditional farming methods, one which increases crop yield whilst simultaneously protecting habitats for wildlife.4 The practice also reduces the negative effects of European deforestation and used alongside other CO2 reduction practices, could be a huge success for the climate. Agroforestry involves planting large numbers of trees and by doing so it protects the very soil itself.7 Europe needs to invest more resources into converting traditional farming to agroforestry and realize the full potential of this environmentally-friendly alternative.
- Wood, Johnny. Europe bucks global deforestation trend. World Economic Forum. https://www.weforum.org/agenda/2019/07/forest-europe-environment/ Published July 25, 2019. Accessed June 2, 2020.
- Hectares of Forests Cut Down or Burned. The World Counts. https://www.theworldcounts.com/challenges/planet-earth/forests-and-deserts/rate-of-deforestation Accessed June 2, 2020.
- Multiple Authors. Agroforestry in Europe: A land management policy tool to combat climate change. Science Direct. https://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/abs/pii/S0264837718303752 Revised May 16 2018. Accessed June 3, 2020.
- What Is Agroforestry?. Soil Association. https://www.soilassociation.org/our-campaigns/agroforestry/what-is-agroforestry/ Accessed June 3, 2020.
- Carrington, Damian. Tree planting ‘has mind-blowing potential’ to tackle climate crisis. The Guardian. https://www.theguardian.com/environment/2019/jul/04/planting-billions-trees-best-tackle-climate-crisis-scientists-canopy-emissions Published July 4, 2019. Accessed June 3, 2020.
- Burgess, Paul J. & Rosati, Adolfo. Advances in European agroforestry: results from the AGFORWARD project. Agroforestry Systems. https://link.springer.com/article/10.1007/s10457-018-0261-3#Sec6 Published June 9, 2018. Accessed June 3, 2020.
- Agroforestry in England. Soil Association. https://www.soilassociation.org/media/15756/agroforestry-in-england_soilassociation_june18.pdf Published June 2018. Accessed June 3, 2020.
- A. Waldron, D. Garrity, Y. Malhi, C. Girardin, D. C. Miller and N. Seddon. Agroforestry Can Enhance Food Security While Meeting Other Sustainable Development Goals. Tropical Conservation Science. https://journals.sagepub.com/doi/pdf/10.1177/1940082917720667 Published 2017. Accessed June 3, 2020.