Agroforestry has been a key development in sustainable and organic agriculture for some time. But it's still much further along in theory than in practice. This is why our Greek partner Anyfion is cultivating a test and demonstration field. We took a closer look at the field in October 2022.
Before us is a field divided into two sections, barely the size of a football field. On one side, young citrus trees no taller than a metre are grown in meticulously spaced rows. There are also rows on the other side, but they are densely planted with all kinds of plants in no particular order. And the area between them is freshly ploughed.
This unusual grove is a test field for agroforestry with citrus fruits. It was created by gebana's partner Anyfion in March 2022. The field is a pilot project led by agronomist Vagelis Kyriakou and his team with the aim of finding out whether growing different plant species together in one area has a positive impact on yield, pest control, irrigation and soil fertility.
"Our goal is to develop agricultural practices that allow us to reduce the use of fertilisers and biological pesticides while increasing yields for family farmers." According to Vagelis, there is a need for such practices because the farming areas in the region are very small. "In order for organic farming to be sustainable and profitable for family farmers, we need to increase ecological efficiency," he says.
On the test field, 42 other crops are growing between the young citrus trees. Among them are poplars, whose purpose is to provide shade with their large leaves and whose foliage provides organic enrichment to the soil. The team has also planted garlic with the hope that it will keep away mites. Legumes have been planted between the rows, acting as green manure and adding nitrogen to the soil. And other plants include walnut, peach, fig and apricot trees, interspersed with artichokes, broad beans, sage and more. The corn and cabbage are sadly gone, having been completely wiped out by locusts.
The selection of species is by no means random. The team in charge, together with international experts associated with Swiss agroforestry pioneer Ernst Götsch, carefully chose a range of plants adapted to the local conditions.
Around the two fields, the team planted a green fence of bushes and trees to protect the crops from wind and frost. Weather stations were set up to provide information on the microclimatic conditions.
Both the local authorities and the Ministry of Agriculture in Athens have already expressed interest in this groundbreaking work. In addition, the participants of an international conference on plant protection held in nearby Nafplio visited the test field recently.
So how have farmers reacted? Vagelis pretends to be one of the farmers looking at the field. With a disdainful look, he smirks, throws up his hands and says: "What's the point of all this? Why is everything so close together? And what's garlic doing in there?"
Vagelis' little show may be amusing, but it does reflect the local reality. Producers will not be convinced unless the test field delivers high yields and as many other positive results as possible. Only if the test field succeeds will agroforestry gain traction as a cultivation method for farmers in the Peloponnese.
But before that happens, the trees still need to grow. Vagelis expects that it will take at least 5 years before the initial results are available for the test field.
We are also following similar developments in Togo and Burkina Faso. You can read more about them in our blog post "Between the trees".
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