News and knowhow for farmers

Integrating trees into farms offers extra income & regenerates soils


By George Munene

Syntropic agriculture/successional agroforestry is an integrated farming approach that involves the growing of marketable fruit and wood trees coupled with productive agricultural food sources. It helps regenerate soil biodiversity without the application of any chemical inputs. 

This farming model was originated by Swiss farmer Ernst Götschin. Settling in the 1980s in a degraded area of Brazil’s Bahía State that had been cleared for logging then abandoned, he has been able to restore the previously barren and unculturable 350 hectares into a dense forest interspersed with bananas and cocoa that provides a handsome return.

Wood trees are grown along the farm making a ‘live’ hedge-fodder fence and boundary that act as a windbreaker. They also improve the farm’s humidity which benefits both the crops and fruit trees grown in the farm interior.

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They also provide the farmer with a long-term income stream from the sale of tree wood products. Other benefits include acting as nurse trees that shelter interior trees and crops, fix soil nitrogen, and provide organic biomass from falling leaves.

Short-term cover crops provide the farmer with seasonal income. They also offer live mulch to growing fruit trees and in the case of leguminous crops nitrogen fixation.

A diverse array of commercial fruit trees is grown in the interior of the farm providing a revenue source for farmers throughout the year-when one fruit is off-season, the next is in.

The trees have diversified flowering patterns; pollen for food forest pollination is therefore readily available which increases fruit yield production as well as providing sufficient nectar and pollen for bees. Farmers are therefore encouraged to set up hives to supplement their incomes.

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The fruit trees also offer partial shade to the seasonal crops, especially in harsh hot weather.

This diversity in syntropy farming ensures the farm is economically viable and sustainable with internally built insurance against single crop failure.

In Kenya, this method of farming is in use at scale in Tamalu Farm in Timau, Kenya.

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