LIVINGAGRO for Mediterranean agroforestry - Discovering Greek innovations included in the dedicated Catalogue, Episode 2



Having identified potentially useful innovations, the partners of LIVINGAGRO project developed a dedicated Catalogue intended to provide an overview of some of the innovations that may be useful to stakeholders involved with multifunctional olive systems and grazed woodlands, in order to help bring together economic stakeholders and innovators who may be able to collaborate to solve common problems. This activity included assessing the stage of readiness of a potential innovation, as well as which type of challenges it addresses. Taking into consideration the needs expressed by stakeholders, the research team of the Mediterranean Agronomic Institute of Chania (MAICh) and the technical team reviewed the information provided. Following this review, the working group went back to the innovators to address questions and fill in gaps, then incorporated the responses into the innovation descriptions.


Introduction to section 1 of the Catalogue concerning the re-use of traditional practices in agroforestry

In agroforestry, trees or shrubs are grown in or around pastureland and/or agricultural crops. Silvopastoralism, a type of agroforestry that combines livestock grazing and trees, was and still is a traditional land use system in many areas. For example, in Xeromero, Aetoloakarnania in western Greece, livestock breeders have used the valonia oak forest for grazing as well as collecting acorn cups from the oaks for use in the tanning industry. Agrosilvopastoralism is another kind of agroforestry where livestock is introduced in the field after the completion of the annual crop. On the island of Kea in the Aegean Sea, farmers used to grow cereals and legumes between trees for both human consumption and as feed for the animals. Greek olive farmers have also traditionally grown annual crops for the market or for grazing animals among their trees—or simply allowed livestock to graze on wild plants in the groves. Lately, there has been a gradual abandonment of this kind of combined land use, with a preference for monoculture, such as olive trees grown alone.

However, using forests and olive groves for multiple purposes has many benefits. For example, it ensures a steady and enhanced economic return every year, with a reduced risk of losses due to weather conditions or other types of hazards. Agroforestry can also increase biodiversity, reduce the impact of pests, enrich soil nutrient content, reduce erosion, improve carbon sequestration, and help reduce the risk and severity of forest fires. For these reasons, a return to productive old ways can become a useful innovation that allows farmers and livestock breeders to both increase their incomes from the production of high quality products, and help preserve valuable forest lands and olive groves using sustainable practices.


Presentation of Innovation 2: Thinning and pruning trees in silvopastoral systems


Traditionally, Greek farmers used pruned branches from forests for many purposes. One of their most important uses was for feeding animals, especially goats, since the branches had great nutritional value and were free of pesticides and other chemical additives that may be present in annual crops. With such practices restricted by law in certain locations, forest maintenance has become a worsening problem. However, an innovative return to this past procedure—at least on private land, for now—can offer numerous benefits.


oak, silvopastoral system, grazing, regeneration, financial support, agroforestry, forest fire prevention


On private land, farmers can prune the trees and use the pruned branches for many purposes. Small branches can be used as animal feed. Depending on their quality and size, larger branches can be used for fences and as firewood. There are indications that this procedure would not harm the tree but, on the contrary, may promote sprouting.


Oak trees must be pruned in a specific way to avoid damaging tree vitality, following the advice of experts. The correct procedure creates a semicircular tree crown that is typically seen throughout Greece.


This procedure enables farmers to save money on animal feed, fencing, and firewood and/or to earn extra income by selling pruned branches to be used in those ways. It is hypothesized that this pruning will also have a positive effect on acorn production. Moreover, this natural clearance will remove flammable biomass, thus reducing forest fire risk. At the same time, there are indications that it promotes resprouting of small branches. The semi-circular crown provides shelter for numerous birds and other fauna species, increasing biodiversity. By providing financial incentives for farmers to contribute to forest preservation, the practice supports both farmers and the valuable agroforestry systems that are closely linked to the natural and cultural heritage of Greece, as well as the rural economy. Finally, it motivates farmers to preserve rather than remove old trees.


Filled gaps
Although agroforestry systems provide numerous high-quality products, mostly organic, including dairy, meat, honey, and herbs, livestock breeders and farmers are plagued by the low return they get for their products. Since tree pruning can benefit farmers financially, it can help solve both financial problems and forest maintenance challenges. Thinning helps reduce damage from forest fires. An awareness of such benefits could provide much-needed motivation for farmers to maintain aged trees on their properties.


For now, this procedure is limited to private land. This practice should be reintroduced as an incentive to local farmers to preserve these valuable ecosystems throughout the country.


Next steps/potential extension
This has been tested only in private silvopastoral systems. It could be tested further if funding became available and legislative constraints were removed, even temporarily. It is very important to remove the existing legislative constraints in order to maintain this traditional practice, which could help support the local economy and protect the environment from such threats as forest fires. For this reason, it is essential to share relevant information about the special value of these traditional forest-grazing systems with a broad audience, including farmers and policy makers.


Find out more
Professor Anastasia Pantera
Department of Forestry and Natural Environment Management
Agricultural University of Athens, Karpenissi





In the next Episode: Innovation 3, Adaptive grazing management!