What is silvopasture?
Silvopasture is a farming method that has the potential to relieve some of the planet’s biggest environmental problems. Estimates suggest that has the capacity to reduce carbon dioxide by 31.19 gigatons of and the potential for over $650 billion in economic savings.
Millions of rural farmers around the world can use this practice, like those who work with Plant With Purpose. Rural farms and pastures make up so much of the earth’s land, which is why it has so much potential.
That’s great… but it didn’t really answer my question. I’m still not sure what silvopasture is!
Yeah, that wasn’t really an answer, was it? How’s this:
Silvopasture is a practice where the process that integrates raising livestock with the activity of trees and planting crops. It’s based on a rich understanding of how animal processes and agricultural processes work, and how they can go hand-in-hand.
The main idea behind silvopasture is that raising livestock, planting trees, and growing food are no longer totally separate activities, but all part of the same system. Animals produce waste materials that can actually be beneficial for plant growth. Animals also emit harmful amounts of methane that grasslands help absorb.
Livestock, forest materials, and food crops are all can generate an incomes at different cycles. Crops go through seasons of planting and harvest. Animals must be reared to maturity when they can reproduce, lay eggs, or give milk. Part of silvopasture involves getting these cycles to complement each other.
So is silvopasture just putting trees and cows in the same place? Doesn’t that already happen?
Like John Fike at Virginia Tech puts it, “Silvopasture isn’t just letting cows loose in the forest, nor is it a solo tree in a pasture.”
Silvopasture is more about the integration of different farming activities. It’s understanding the relationship between different life forms and making the most of that. After all, we believe our work is all about relationships.
Common methods of farming fragment different activities. In rural areas on every continent, you can find large parcels of land growing row after row of single crops. Livestock is often raised on separate, single-purpose land. The FAO estimates that over a quarter of the earth’s land is used for livestock. In Brazil, 70% of deforested land are pastoral grounds and the remaining 30% grows livestock feed.
This inefficient use of land contributes to soil erosion, accumulated methane, and a lack of income diversity.
What would happen if silvopasture was more widely practiced?
The health of the planet’s animals and land would drastically increase. Both would gain a resilience to famine and erratic weather. Human health would improve due to the more diverse diet. The income diversity would protect farmers from common risks.
The earth has about 2.7 billion acres suitable for silvopasture, but we currently use only about 350 million acres. If 554 million acres were used for silvopasture, then the reduction of 31 gigatons of CO2 by 2050 is attainable.
Farmers would benefit financially as different techniques of livestock integration can benefit crops. Repurposing pastoral and agricultural lands can help farmers grow more crops at a lower cost.
Why isn’t it?
As always, adapting to a new norm is never easy. Various crop industries often encourage the overproduction of certain cash crops. This results in people using large areas of land for just one purpose. Changing these habits happens slowly. It requires an up-front investment.
What can increase the practice of silvopasture?
The good news is that silvopasture has the potential to increase quickly, because farmers are able to experience the benefits of healthier crop growth directly. As food insecurity increases, so does the attractiveness of this method.
When farmers see the immediate benefit, they often become advocates for the practice. “I am now a promoter,” explains Come in Burundi. “I promote agricultural practices that are viable in the long-term.”
Come purchased a cow two years ago, and started integrating the his animals into his farming practices.
Studies have revealed that peer-to-peer learning has been one of the most effective ways for the practice of silvopasture to spread.
Plant With Purpose empowers rural farmers to teach their neighbors practices like silvopasture. This is conducted at Farmer Field Schools which we have helped initiate in hundreds of communities across 7 countries. You can help us expand! To do so, please learn more about becoming a Purpose Partner.
Xerces Wings publication mentioned silvopasture and led me to PWP’s website. Thank goodness. I’m interested in Agroforestry and I will share the information about this practice. Does your organization work with Heifer International? I’m open to supporting a relationship. Thanks for your good work.
While we don't have any active projects that we're working on with Heifer at the moment, we have a number of personal connections through our personnel and admire the work they do!