Inside the Source: Agroforestry is a "Big Tent" Discipline 

March 13, 2019 

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Agroforestry is a "Big Tent" Discipline by James Allen

"By their very nature, the science and practice of agroforestry are inherently interdisciplinary. Agroforestry has biophysical elements that draw upon disciplines such as silviculture, horticulture, agronomy, and animal science. It also has important social and economic dimensions; for example, agroforestry systems often incorporate culturally significant foods or provide supplemental income for landowners. This interdisciplinary nature, as well as agroforestry’s potential to offer partial solutions to major societal needs such as food security, is attractive to people from a wide variety of backgrounds, including many who are not scientists or natural-resources professionals.

I feel strongly that this interdisciplinary nature means that our approach to the overall enterprise of agroforestry should be a “big-tent” one. Such an approach should be highly inclusive of everyone who participates, should take a broad view of what are considered agroforestry practices, and should also take a broad view of the types of environments where agroforestry is practiced.

Specifically, I believe we would benefit from engaging more frequently with practitioners of permaculture and traditional ecological knowledge, as well as with individuals possessing knowledge brought to the US by various immigrant cultures. We could also benefit from engaging more with people in urban areas, because some agroforestry systems are well suited for the small plots found in urban environments. Here I provide some examples of what I mean, drawing primarily from my experience in the American Southwest."

James Allen is a professor with the College of the Environment, Forestry and Natural Sciences and executive director of the School of Forestry at Northern Arizona University. He is involved with the Southwest Agroforestry Action Network.

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