Press release ILVO launches free online agroforestry teaching platform with 6 interactive modules

field with trees

ILVO launches the Dutch-spoken 'Agroforestry E-academy', a free online teaching platform on agroforestry. The platform contains six interactive teaching modules aimed at farmers as well as teachers in agriculture and horticulture education, policy makers and advisors will find both basic and in-depth knowledge about the cropping system. From the interactions between tree, animal and crop that make the system robust to practical construction, tree selection and maintenance. ILVO built the teaching package in collaboration with the Dutch Hogeschool Van Hall Larenstein in the framework of the European project Farmlife, but will continue to manage and update it together with Flanders Agroforestry Consortium. There are already promising indications from agricultural and horticultural education that the platform will be well used.

Ingrid de Brabandere, pedagogical supervisor for all 14 agricultural and horticultural schools within Flemish Catholic education, was involved in the project from the start of development:

"With the new generation of curricula, we put a strong emphasis in secondary agriculture and horticulture education on agroecological principles and functional agrobiodiversity with extra attention to concepts such as ecosystem services, carbon storage, biodiversity in the agricultural landscape,... But agroforestry landscapes are also not always well known among teachers. So this agroforestry e-academy is a welcome support, not only for farmers but also for teachers and students on their way to the agriculture of tomorrow."

Future-proof agricultural system

In agroforestry (forest agriculture), farmers combine crop production or livestock husbandry with trees or shrubs as an additional production crop on the same plot of land. Apart from providing an additional source of income for the farmer in the form of wood or fruit (fruits, nuts), the trees also provide a buffer for livestock and crops against extreme weather conditions. They also capture carbon in their wood and in the soil, promote soil quality and increase agro-functional (i.e. also useful for agriculture) biodiversity on the plot. The overall food production is efficient per unit area and is more diverse, resulting in better risk-spreading for the farmer.

This makes agroforestry an interesting and climate-friendly production system. Moreover, to reduce the cost of planting and maintenance, various support measures are available. In recent years, an average of 20 to 30 farmers applied for these subsidies. Still, interested parties often encounter barriers. In order for agroforestry to be adopted faster in Flanders, in addition to an ambitious and strongly stimulating policy, knowledge sharing with farmers and farmers in training is also necessary.

Consortium offers broad set of tools

That is why Flanders Agroforestry Consortium, coordinated by ILVO, is working on various knowledge tools and handholds. From cultivation technical knowledge to cost-benefit estimates, from individual farm guidance and decision support tools to this first, interactive teaching platform. All info and tools are available on the busy website of the consortium.

Six modules, one and a half hours of learning time per module

The Dutch-spoken teaching platform is available for free on the Consortium website. It contains six interactive modules that together form a coherent series or can be taken individually. This allows farmers or other interested parties to take the learning module(s) at their own pace. On average, it takes an hour and a half to complete one module. The first module provides basic information about the cropping system but subsequent modules go into greater depth on specific topics: tree species selection, interactions between tree, animal and crop, planting and management, establishing achievable goals (visioning) and design.

In this video, ILVO researcher Sarah Carton explains how it works: Welkom bij de E-Academy Agroforestry!

Enthusiastically received

Farmers and agricultural education representatives were involved in the development of the teaching platform. They were able to provide feedback on several versions, which led to a strong product that is usable in a variety of settings, from the classroom to a farm visit to self-paced continuing education.

Ingrid de Brabandere, educational supervisor for all 14 agricultural and horticultural schools within Flemish Catholic Education:

"With the lightning-fast digitalization of agricultural and horticultural education and the need to prepare for lifelong learning, using an interactive educational tool is an example of smart knowledge acquisition that we welcome with open arms. Because each time it is manageable small pieces of info, everyone from beginner to advanced can find their own liking and process it at their own pace."

Karel Lenaerts and Nelly Vermeeren of the Esberghoeve:

"In 2021, after much searching on the Internet, we started preparing our first agroforestry plot. A plot of 2.4 ha is now planted and this spring we will plant another plot of 1.25 ha. We had to gather a lot of information ourselves. What a difference now that all the information is bundled in the E-Academy! The structure is clear and the content, although quite difficult, is lightened up with very valuable testimonials. The course is in-depth and very complete. All aspects involved in our project are covered. It is also an ideal guide to introduce our farm visitors to agroforestry."

Updates and continued existence assured

The platform was developed as part of the Farmlife project but remains under the management of ILVO and the Consortium Agroforestry Vlaanderen. It is intended as a dynamic product that will be regularly updated. Thus, a seventh module on agroforestry business models will be launched during 2024.

De E-Academy is een product van ILVO en de Nederlandse Hogeschool Van Hall Larenstein binnen het EU-Project Farmlife.

Partners farmlife

See also