LIVINGAGRO for Mediterranean agroforestry - Discovering Greek innovations included in the dedicated Catalogue, Episode 4



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 4: Livestock grazing in olive agroforestry systems



It has been estimated that olive groves cover an area of 700,000 hectares (ha) in Greece, with 124,311 of those hectares forming agroforestry systems in which crops or pasture is established in the lush understory of the olive trees. In these agroforestry systems, the understory usually consists of herbaceous vegetation for animal grazing, vegetables, or crops such as cereals and legumes. With a density of 50-100 mature trees per hectare, olive agroforestry constitutes a traditional land use practice in all the parts of the country that have a mild Mediterranean climate. Almost all the olive trees in the traditional systems were derived from wild plants that were grafted onto the tree trunk at a height of 2 meters in order to avoid animal browsing. These olive trees can be combined with grazing animals (sheep, cattle, goats, even honey bees, pigs or chickens) that may graze on the spontaneous vegetation (wild plants) or on planted crops (such as wheat or barley) in the grove.



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Traditional olive agroforestry systems are found at lower elevations, with trees scattered in the plot or planted in rows. In the first case (trees scattered in the plot), herbaceous vegetation grows, producing animal feed from early fall to late spring. In addition, when shrubs exist in the understory, animals (especially goats) may graze during the summer. The only time grazing is interrupted is during the olive harvest, usually from mid-October to the end of November. Regarding the second case (trees planted in rows), the tree spacing is usually 10X10m. Between the tree rows, farmers can cultivate cereals (oats, barley, wheat, etc.) for grain production and/or legumes (common vetch, chickpeas, etc.) for hay and soil amelioration. Sowing time is usually between mid-October and mid-November, after the first autumn rains and the olive harvest. Sometimes farmers cultivate mixtures of cereals and legumes for hay production. Animals may graze on the stubble after the cereals or mixtures are harvested.



In the case of spontaneous vegetation in the understory of olive trees, the key factor is grazing management, including the grazing capacity, stocking rate, time of grazing, and grazing system. In the second case, the key factor is tree management (pruning, management of cut branches, harvest time). All of this will be discussed in more detail in the LIVINGAGRO B2B presentation, and a local agronomist can provide additional advice related to each specific case.



1. Improves the olive agroforestry system’s microclimate
2. Enables low-input cultivation
3. Lowers fertilizer expenses due to “green” manure from grazing animals
4. Provides effective use of understory vegetation
5. Increases the farmer’s income with livestock husbandry products
6. Increases plant and animal diversity, which reduces problems with pests  
7. Intercropping with cereals and legumes improves tree productivity
8. The olive tree root system helps filter deeper soil layers and avoid groundwater pollution from fertilizers


Filled gaps

Olive agroforestry systems are more economically sustainable than monocultures since they can reduce farmers’ expenses, improve orchard health, and increase farmers’ income. They can provide income from more than one source: olive products (olive oil and edible olives), animal husbandry products (dairy and meat), grain from cereals, and hay from legumes for feeding livestock.



Traditional and modern olive agroforestry systems are usually not irrigated, so their productivity depends mainly on annual precipitation. Dry years may reduce the total productivity.


Next steps/potential extension

Olive agroforestry products could increase farmers’ income and help the local economy even more if they were labelled and promoted as local specialty products and/or environmentally friendly products.


Find out more

Konstantinos Mantzanas, PhD
Research and Teaching Staff
Laboratory of Rangeland Ecology
Faculty of Forestry and Natural Environment
Aristotle University of Thessaloniki, Greece







In the next Episode: Innovation 5, Olive tree, wild asparagus and free-range chicken polyculture!