LIVINGAGRO for Mediterranean agroforestry - Discovering Greek innovations included in the dedicated Catalogue, Episode 6



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 2 of the Catalogue concerning intercropping and preparation for climate change in olive groves


Traditionally, olive groves in Greece have included plants such as legumes, cereals, herbs, vegetables, walnuts, grapevines, and truffles. Such a combination of two crops grown at once on a plot of land is known as intercropping. When it includes trees and an annual crop, it is also a type of agroforestry. The traditional agroforestry practice of intercropping offers many benefits over a monoculture--benefits for the soil, the farm, the broader environment, and (as a result) the farmer. Recommending that olive farmers consider innovating by adapting new, improved versions of traditional agroforestry practices, numerous scientists now provide specific advice to help farmers achieve the greatest possible benefits.

Intercropping increases olive groves’ sustainability by adding to their biodiversity and stabilizing the soil, thus reducing trees’ vulnerability to pests, diseases, and climatic stresses. The greater diversity in plant life enables a larger variety of organisms in the soil, as well as more beneficial insects, pollinators, and birds. With intercropping, the soil benefits from increased porosity, improved drainage, less erosion, and decreased nitrogen and phosphorus leaching, which means fewer valuable minerals lost and less pollution of groundwater and surface water. Fewer pesticides and nitrogen fertilizers are required, and olive trees tend to be healthier, which benefits the planet and the farmer. In addition to saving money on pesticides and fertilizer, farmers may also benefit financially both by producing higher quality olives and by harvesting a second crop. They can either sell this product (as in the case of the recently popular avocados) or use it as a natural soil enricher or an animal feed (as with legumes).

One of the most important crops for the Mediterranean region, the olive tree will be subject to increasingly harsh abiotic stresses due to climate change in the coming years. Abiotic stress comes from environmental conditions that can harm plants and reduce their growth and yield, such as extreme temperatures, soil salinity, and drought. (Biotic stress, on the other hand, is caused by living things such as insects, weeds, bacteria, viruses, or fungi.) Shifting cultivation zones, depletion of organic matter, desertification, degradation of water resources, and other challenges make it imperative to prepare for the future, for example by intercropping and by using trees that can resist the effects of climate change.


Presentation of Innovation 6: Chickpea intercropping in olive groves



In the regional unit of Fthiotis in Central Greece, agroforestry is a traditional land use system in which farmers used to combine olive production with grazing and arable crops in the same plot. In this way they ensured a steady economic return every year, irrespective of weather conditions or other types of hazards. In recent years, interest in that traditional combination of olive orchards with arable crops revived, so it was tested in a three-year field experiment in Central Greece. Αgricultural systems in that area mainly involve field crop production (58%), vegetables (3%), vines (1%), and tree plantations (27%). Typically, farms are small (average size < 3 ha) and managed as private enterprises. Land is usually owned or rented by the farmers. It is estimated that there are almost 7,000,000 trees in the prefecture, which plays a leading role in Greece’s edible olive production.



olive, silvoarable system, agroforestry system, annual crops, cereal, chickpeas, olive growing, olive groves, olive production



Sοw seeds of an annual crop such as chickpeas between tree rows in olive orchards with widely spaced trees (100 trees/ha). 80 kg of seeds are required for each hectare.



A local variety of chickpeas that is resistant to fungal infections is preferred (such as Amorgos chickpeas with olives in Fthiotis). A wide variety of species can be used as intercrops between the trees, depending on the region and the compatibility of species to be intercropped. Local experts should be consulted to determine the best species for a given area.



Chickpeas’ low water demand renders them ideal for intercropping with trees of similar water requirements in the Mediterranean and other dry ecosystems. Additionally, they provide nitrogen to the soil, thanks to the symbiotic relationship of their roots with nitrogen-fixing bacteria. This results in a reduced need for nitrogen fertilizers, lower expenditure on such fertilizers, and a reduced risk of nitrogen leaching and subsequent soil and water contamination. The annual crop (chickpeas on this occasion) can be sold on the market as a high quality product with significant nutritional value, increasing the farmer’s income.


Filled gaps

This traditional approach, which was used in the past in silvoarable systems with a variety of species (including nitrogen fixing plants), encourages the preservation of agroforestry systems by their final users, the farmers, by providing financial incentives for their preservation. This is important since these valuable agroforestry ecosystems are closely linked to Greece’s natural and cultural heritage. They also provide numerous high-quality, mostly organic products, such as olives, olive oil, and annual crops, thus contributing a great deal to the rural economy. Additionally, intercropping requires that the land be cleared of understory vegetation, and such clearing reduces the risk of forest fires.



The intercropping species must be chosen carefully by experts to ensure compatibility with local conditions and lower light availability, as well as eliminating the possibility of pathogen transfer between the plant components.


Next steps/potential extension

To evaluate the possibility that silvoarable systems can provide multiple products while supporting local stakeholders, an experiment was established under the framework of the AGFORWARD project. This practice has also been tested in other countries. The results have been encouraging in all cases. Different seed mixtures could also be tried in different areas to determine which ones work best in each location.


Find out more

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




In the next Episode we will deepen and explore a new innovation related to intercropping of olive trees and vetch