Agroforestry systems, allies in forest and nature conservation

Agroforestry systems are among the older land use systems in the Mediterranean. The steep relief and the lack of space in the Mediterranean landscape called for simultaneous production of timber or other forest products along with agricultural use or livestock raising. A plethora of evidence shows that many of the contemporary forests in Greek mountains are growing in the place of former silvopastoral systems. Despite this, according to the data collected by AGFORWARD research project (http://www.agforward.eu), Greece has one of the highest rates of land covered by agroforestry systems, mainly silvopastoral in areas owned by the state or the municipalities (e.g. here).

Many of these areas are valuable for the conservation of biodiversity, not only because of the species that live exclusively there, but also because of the species living in the nearby forests, with birds of prey being a prominent example. Several forest habitat types in these systems present favorable conservation status, high species diversity and high resilience to threats. An example is the Greek juniper (Juniperus excelsa) forests in the Prespa National Park (habitat type 9560* Endemic forests with Juniperus spp.), where a LIFE-Nature project (www.junex.gr) is implemented focused on its conservation. The most abundant silvopastoral systems in Greece are those of grazed oak forests, especially those of Kermes oak in Southern Greece, olive and carob trees, riparian forests etc.

Carob trees in an old olive grove in Lakonia (Peloponesse, South Greece) – habitat type 9320 Olea and Ceratonia forests.

Carob trees in an old olive grove in Lakonia (Peloponnese, Southern Greece) – habitat type 9320 Olea and Ceratonia forests.

Under proper management, those systems contribute to biodiversity conservation and they substantially contribute to the coherence of the Natura 2000 network as a whole. Furthermore, agroforestry and more specifically silvopastoral systems provide multiple goods and services. Those are fodder for livestock, roundwood and fuelwood, poles, bark, fruits, foliage for fodder, nectar or pollen for the bees etc.

The European Union, besides the funding of research relevant to the conservation and expansion of agroforestry systems, also supports education and training indirectly (e.g. through a summer school which took place at Prespes National Park-Greece at the summer of 2016 – http://www.junex.gr/index.php/en/communication-activities/74-action-e5-summer-school) or directly through projects such as AGROF-MM (http://agrofmm.eu/). The EU also supports their conservation and expansion through funding by the Common Agricultural Policy (CAP) for the production of high value food and fodder and other products. Synergy between agriculture, nature conservation and policies that promote sustainability, a fundamental characteristic of agroforestry systems, should be further developed.