ASAPAgroforesty - Integration of trees in agricultural landscapes in Southern Africa

Climate change is already a measurable reality generating significant social, economic and environmental challenges, impacting sustainable development around the globe. The African continent is most vulnerable to the forecasted change in global climate, southern Africa in particular will face severe challenges within the upcoming decades. Innovative, flexible and improved land use systems are expected to be part of the adaptive solution, mitigating the effects of a changing climate and positively influencing agriculture and food security under altered conditions. The BMBF funded research project ‘Agroforestry in Southern Africa - new Pathways of innovative land use systems under a changing climate’ incorporating partners from South Africa, Namibia, Mozambique, Malawi and Zambia alongside researchers from Germany, targets the employment of agroforestry systems (AFS), as an appropriate response to climate change. ASAP aims at investigating ecosystem services as well as socio-economic and environmental benefits of AFS in the southern Africa region. The chosen transdisciplinary approach to investigate the biophysical environment and ecosystem services in conjunction with socio- economic aspects of AFS will help develop a better understanding of a range of possible solutions using AFS for varied agro-climatic zones and landscape scales. The exploration of human-environment interactions within AFS is a major focus with the intention of facilitating a sustainable improvement to rural livelihood utilising AFS. Project outputs will be disseminated to practitioners and researchers through local facilitators in the framework of workshops, lectures and practical guidance in order to establish a paradigm shift.

WP 6 Tree-Crop-Livestock Interactions 

The research objective is an analysis of the environmental interactions between trees and crops of typical existing and potential AFS in Southern Africa and to develop a model to optimise tree density and tree-crop interactions. Comprehensive ecophysiological measurements in combination with soil and hydrologic parameters will be set up along the environmental gradients from the tree stem to open areas and will be matched by drone based remote-sensing. The integrated analysis will enable the determination of the spatial pattern crop stress index and growth along with a spatial mapping of tree and crop size. As a multiple use system synergies must be reached between tree, crop and livestock components of an AFS. Interactions between the individual components may affect the others and a compromise must be reached largely within three areas: light, water and nutrient. Shade cast by the tree component will be assessed using both standard and innovative methodologies e.g. TLS and hemispherical photos. The heat, energy and water balances are crucial to AFS where an optimal balance of production between trees and crops should be achieved. Thus the facilitation effects between crops and trees as well as counteracting competition effects are key processes. If these processes are better understood and can be quantified an optimised spatial planting scheme can be derived, which increases the ecosystem service provision in an ecologically and economically sustainable manner.

There might be different strategies for individual plants or natural of AFS plant communities to adapt to local site and climatic conditions. Additionally, these adaptations will take place between the individual plants in the systems, inducing for example small-scale dynamics of water availability between trees and crops. However, adaptations might also happen on the level of the whole stand, using specific groundwater resources or changing the microclimate. Shifts in adaptations and thus water availability can result from introduction of certain plants as a component of the system, but will also happen with changing climatic conditions. In a space-for-time approach we want to examine these effects on water availability by sampling and comparing within and between plots situated in a variety of AFS and along a climate gradient.

WP 7 Biodiversity

Land-use changes and increasing demands of lands for agriculture is a major threat for biodiversity worldwide. The development of multifunctional agricultural landscapes has to be holistic to support different needs of the society and be able to balance ecosystem services. A key challenge for implementing sustainable and resilient agroforestry systems is the integration of biodiversity and habitat protection. The WP7 will document the most important biodiversity components of AFS’s at a range of sites, in particular those components that provide, or might provide the greatest services and benefits to local people. Best-practices agroforestry promoting biodiversity protection will be analyzed and include for the development of management plans. Biodiversity assessment will be carried out in selected case studies to investigate the implication of AFS on biodiversity from the plot to the farm level.

A special focus will be on woody species that are abundant and/or socio-ecologically important in terms of AFS. A baseline of present tree species in the specific target areas, their number and abundance, ages, and related management practices, e.g. what trees are retained in agricultural lands and how this decision is realised by the land users. Invasive, alien trees are of major concern for natural South African ecosystems and their implication for sustainable AFS will be evaluated. 

Research partners

 Grant number: 0LL1803 (2018- 2021) 

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