Press release DigitAF: Digital instruments couple the field with the cloud to stimulate agroforestry in Europe
Agroforestry can contribute to climate-robust, spring-fed agriculture but only if the right trees end up in the right place and are then cared for properly. Because this sounds more obvious than it is, top European experts in "DigitAF" are improving and developing user-friendly, practical tools for policymakers, farmers and advisors alike. The Institute for Agricultural, Fisheries and Food Research ILVO in Merelbeke is being called in to develop tools that objectively measure and assess the impact of agroforestry systems. A total of 25 partners from 19 countries are involved in this four-year European HORIZON project.
Agroforestry offers opportunities but not yet applied on a large scale
A farm that specializes in one main crop or species can operate more efficiently and make more targeted investments. The downside, however, is that the farm is more susceptible to shocks in yields and prices due to disease, weather or market conditions. In an agroforestry farm, these shocks are partly absorbed by deliberately combining the cultivation of trees or shrubs on a plot with crops or animals. The plot thus yields not one but several products: crops or meat, milk, eggs and fruit or wood. In addition, there are benefits in terms of biodiversity, climate control and soil management.
The performance of agroforestry is highly context dependent, however. Several issues hinder large-scale adoption, such as lack of a conclusive regulatory framework. In addition, tools are lacking to reliably assess the economic, environmental and social benefits of agroforestry, as well as to monitor and adjust the impact of policy measures.
DigitAF: towards useful tools to better design, manage and evaluate agroforestry systems
DigitAF brings together the expertise of top experts from across Europe to overcome these bottlenecks and accelerate the rollout of agroforestry in practice. The common thread throughout the project is to make existing and new decision support tools and models more accessible. The tools must be open-source, user-friendly and relevant to practice. In six European countries, learning networks of agroforestry farmers and other stakeholders will start up. They will identify local needs, knowledge gaps and the lack of tools.Specifically for farmers and their advisors, DigitAF will also provide tools that enable optimal design and management of field- and farm-scale agroforestry systems. This includes tools that measurably map and valorize the performance and benefits of agroforestry - the part that ILVO will coordinate. As coordinator of the Agroforestry Vlaanderen consortium, ILVO has built up relevant expertise during previous projects.
Finally, DigitAF is committed to informing and supporting regional, national and European policy actors so that they can implement more effective and supportive policies.