LIVINGAGRO for Mediterranean agroforestry - Discovering Greek innovations included in the dedicated Catalogue, Episode 3



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 3: Adaptive grazing management


Adaptive grazing management is based on the concept of holistic management, which focuses on ecological, economic, and social domains and recognizes that the sward not only provides nutrients to the ruminants, but also contributes to “feeding the soil.” This approach was inspired by the grazing patterns of wild herbivores that freely roam over large rangelands. These animals often spend a short time in a small area before moving on, leaving behind concentrated manure and urine as well as considerable plant residues both above and below ground, including remaining root material. These contribute to soil organic matter and nutrient cycling. One goal of the LIFE Regenerate Project is to test multi-species rotational grazing and its adaptation to specific local conditions in order to improve natural capital and optimize the commercial advantages of farming systems. LIFE Regenerate's main objective is to demonstrate that Mediterranean silvopastoral farms can become self-sufficient and profitable if farmers use resources efficiently and produce value-added products. Adaptive grazing management can help farmers create self-sufficient, profitable farms.


Grazing, multi-paddock, multi-species grazing, soil fertility, rotational grazing, adaptive grazing management, silvopastoral farms


Adaptive grazing is a strategy that incorporates short grazing times with relatively high animal stocking densities and a recovery period long enough to prevent overgrazing, promote optimal plant community growth, and enhance soil fertility and quality. Firstly, an adequate stocking rate (the number of animals per unit of area) has to be calculated, and a plan for livestock rotation has to be made, based on the paddocks defined for this program. Within the established program, however, the grazing scheme is flexible, that is, adaptive, in order to take into consideration interannual and seasonal climatic variability, livestock requirements, farming goals and other factors that may change with time.


The LIFE Regenerate project encourages grazing by a range of grazing animals in order to exploit the complementarity of grazing behaviors. Adaptive grazing management works best when electric fences are used, since these are easily moved when grazers relocate to a different grazing area. In addition, to work well adaptive grazing management requires an innovative design of water troughs for the livestock. In order to reduce the risk of disease transmission through water, we recommend an innovation proposed by the LIFE Regenerate project called Smart Water Points. The Smart Water Point system consists of a main water pond or tank at a central location. From the main water point, water will be distributed to the paddocks where animals are currently grazing, using a floating pump and durable pipes. When livestock are moved to another paddock, the water trough in the next paddock will be cleaned, and then the water will be provided there. In this way, the chance that wildlife will come into contact with the drinking water is reduced.


A well-planned rotation of livestock can improve animal welfare, optimize pasture utilization efficiency, secure a homogenous distribution of animal manure on the soil, and guarantee resting periods long enough for the sward to recover after grazing. This in turn improves soil fertility and reduces soil erosion, which will lead to pasture regrowth and persistence over time. 


Filled gaps
This innovation reduces the risk of both under and overgrazing, thus avoiding the negative impact of continuous grazing on pasture productivity and quality and reducing the negative impact of livestock grazing on soil fertility and pasture persistence.


When the undergrowth vegetation is dense and electric fences cannot be used, it is necessary to separate the paddocks using metal fences, which are more difficult and laborious to lay. This means opening up the vegetation with costly, time-consuming clearing interventions. The implementation of the adaptive grazing system requires high levels of commitment, organizational skill, and knowledge, which may not always be readily available on a farm, leading to its still low and/or slow adoption.


Next steps/potential extension
The combined use of different innovations could offer benefits in silvopastoral environments: adaptive grazing management, virtual fences, Smart Water Point systems, and precision grazing could all be helpful, especially in large-scale grazed woodlands.


Find out more

Dr. Giovanna Seddaiu
Associate Professor of Agronomy and Crop Science
Department of Agricultural Sciences
University of Sassari
Phone: +39 3280431585





In the next Episode: Innovation 4, Livestock grazing in olive agroforestry systems!