Published by DonDavidson on

The Mata Atlantica was a rain forest that once covered 15% of Brazil along its eastern coast. But 93% of that rain forest is now gone—stripped of its trees to make way for farmland. In 1985, native vegetation covered 76% of Brazil. Last year that figure was only 66%.

Rain forest destruction is one of many factors contributing to climate change, as I explain in “Apocalypse Soon,” which is Chapter 11 of my book, Beyond Blind Faith (you can read that chapter for free here).

Unfortunately, destroying the Brazilian rain forest is not just bad for the earth’s climate—it’s also bad for farmers. In tropical climates like Brazil, farmland dries out without the protection of trees, which not only cool the land by providing shade, but their roots store water which is released when the weather gets hot. A study in 2021 found that trees can cool the surrounding land as much as 8° F. In addition, those deep tree roots bring nutrients closer to the surface to enrich the soil.

So some scientists and farmers in Brazil and elsewhere are experimenting with a new farming technique called agroforestry. In simple terms, this involves planting trees in the midst of farmland to help cool the crops and keep the soil moist and fertile. Agroforestry costs money to set up, and it is more expensive than regular farming, in large part because agroforestry is more labor intensive—it requires regular pruning and more frequent harvesting, and the trees can make using farm machines more cumbersome and less efficient.

However, many farmers are finding that agroforestry is more profitable in the long run. The crops grow better, and planting the right kind of trees can provide additional products to sell.  One cassava farmer found that his income per acre of land more than quadrupled when he switched from slash-and-burn farming to agroforestry. An additional benefit is that agroforestry is sustainable indefinitely, unlike slash-and-burn farming which exhausts the land within three years.

I do not believe that agroforestry will solve the problem of climate change by itself, but it could certainly be part of the solution.

This blog entry was based in part on the article, “Food For Forests,” by Ciara Nugent, in the January 16/23, 2023 issue of Time Magazine.


Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *