Agroforestry is the relatively new name for the age-old practice of growing trees and shrubs with crops and/or animals in interacting combinations on the same unit of land. Although defined in various ways, the practice encompasses the concept of on-farm and off-farm tree production in support of sustainable land use and natural resource management. (The World Agroforestry Centre defines agroforestry as ''a dynamic, ecologically based, natural resources management system that, through the integration of trees on farms and in the agricultural landscape, diversifies and sustains production for increased social, economic and environmental benefits for land users at all levels.'' The Association for Temperate Agroforestry, AFTA defines it as ''an intensive land management system that optimizes the benefits from the biological interactions created when trees and/or shrubs are deliberately combined with crops and/or livestock.'')

Agroforestry is perhaps as old as agriculture itself. The practice has been prevalent for many centuries in different parts of the world, especially under subsistence farming conditions. Homegardening, a major agroforestry practice today and one of the oldest forms of agriculture in Southeast Asia, is reported to have been associated with fishing communities living in the moist tropical region about 13 000-9000 BC. Agroforestry in Europe is reported to have started when domestic animals were introduced in forests for feeding around 4000 BC. The dehesa (animal grazing under trees) system of Spain is reportedly 4500 years old. It has been only during the past three decades, however, that these indigenous forms of growing trees and crops/animals together were brought under the realm of modern, scientific land-use scenarios. The motivations for these initiatives were several. The Green Revolution of the 1970s largely did not reach the poor farmers and those in less-productive agroecological environments. In addition, land-management problems such as tropical deforestation, fuelwood shortage, soil degradation, and biodiversity decline were escalating. The search for strategies to address these problems focused the attention on the age-old practices of combined production of trees, crops, and livestock on the same land unit, and an appreciation of their inherent advantages. Agroforestry thus began to be recognized and incorporated into national agricultural and forestry research agendas in many developing countries during the 1980s and 1990s.

In the temperate regions, 'modern' agroforestry had a slower evolution than in the tropics. It started with the general public's understanding about the environmental consequences of high-input agriculture and forestry. Their demand for environmental accountability and application of ecologically compatible management practices increased when it became clear that the land-use and land-cover changes associated with the removal and fragmentation of natural vegetation for establishment of agricultural and forestry enterprises and real-estate development were responsible, to a large extent, for the decline in biodiversity, invasion of exotic species, and alterations to nutrient, energy, and water flows that often result in soil erosion, deterioration of water quality, and environmental pollution. Consequently, the concept of agroforestry gained acceptance as an appropriate approach to addressing some of these problems, and agroforestry applications were developed in North America, China, Australia and New Zealand, and Southern Europe, demonstrating the range of conditions under which agro-forestry can be successfully applied.

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