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Agroforestry ‘a good investment’: Mongabay’s Washington Post op-ed (commentary)

  • Mongabay’s Erik Hoffner is editing a series on agroforestry, the practice of growing useful trees with shrubs, crops, and herbs in a system that produces food, supports biodiversity, builds soil horizons and water tables, and captures carbon from the atmosphere. 
  • Using what he’s learned from editing the series so far, he wrote an opinion piece for the Washington Post’s global edition.
  • Below is an excerpt of the feature, arguing for greater investment in and deployment of agroforestry globally to benefit both people and planet.
  • This post is a commentary. The views expressed are those of the author, not necessarily Mongabay.

Mongabay editor Erik Hoffner wrote about the mismatch in funding priorities for climate mitigation solutions for the Washington Post’s global edition, the World Post, on September 11.

Too often, he wrote, high tech methods of removing carbon from the atmosphere get attention and investment, when low tech options exist:

“In the quest to curb climate change, we must remember that there are low-tech methods at our disposal that can achieve similar results with much less initial investment,” he argued, methods like agroforestry.

Using what he’s learned from editing Mongabay’s ongoing series about the reach and effectiveness of this forestry/agriculture hybrid, Hoffner stated that agroforestry is a good investment in climate change mitigation, a much smaller and more easily scalable one than many solutions now in development, and it’s one that pays dividends to the farmer and to biodiversity, plus the climate.

Agroforestry is the practice of growing fruit- or timber-producing trees among shrubs like coffee or chocolate, vegetable crops, and medicinal herbs in a system that often mimics a forest. The system produces food, supports biodiversity by providing nesting habitat and forage for animals, builds soil and water tables, and sequesters carbon from the atmosphere. Already implemented on one billion hectares globally according to one estimate, agroforestry also returns profits and produce to the farmer over a longer span of each year, leading to greater food security and higher incomes.

Here’s how the opinion piece begins:

“In June, the clean energy firm Carbon Engineering announced that it had developed a technique to remove carbon dioxide from the air by turning it into fuel. The company uses massive fans to blow air onto a chemical solution that captures carbon dioxide, which then undergoes a series of chemical reactions to transform into liquid fuel. To execute this process, Carbon Engineering estimates that it will cost roughly $100 per metric ton of carbon dioxide removed, which is relatively cheap when compared to other methods.

“While this is no doubt an exciting discovery, Carbon Engineering’s invention exemplifies one of the constant challenges plaguing high-tech climate change solutions: they might be cost-saving in the long run but require huge amounts of upfront investment. As environmental writer John Vidal has noted, “The Achilles’ heel of all negative emission technologies is cost…”

“In the quest to curb climate change, we must remember that there are low-tech methods at our disposal that can achieve similar results with much less initial investment. In fact, there is already an economical large-scale technology for removing carbon from the atmosphere: agroforestry.”

Continue reading the feature at the Washington Post here.

Mongabay’s series on agroforestry continues during autumn 2018 with reports from Central Asia and Africa, view these and previous features in the series here.

Banner image: Baobab tree growing among crops. Photo courtesy of Stepha McMullin, World Agroforestry Centre