For your blogger, who is keeping an eye on developments as the Copenhagen Climate Change Conference approaches, an encouraging recent piece of news is that policymakers are likely to put a price on the stored carbon of tropical rainforests, recognising their value as part of the global ‘consensus’ (if that doesn’t prove too optimistic a word come the Conference in December) on tackling climate change post-2012. Meanwhile, closer to home, the Institution of Mechanical Engineers has called for artificial trees to be installed in the UK to absorb CO2 (though this sounds like a mitigation measure, an admission that global warming cannot be halted; and we have to wonder how much fossil fuel will be burnt in their manufacture).
So, plenty of talk about trees. But the topic of agroforestry and its potential isn’t being discussed as widely as it should.
In ‘The Secret Life of Trees’, author Colin Tudge speculated that if grains such as wheat had never existed, humans would still have flourished: we would have based our agriculture on trees instead. But because of the convenience and consequent dominance of grains, we haven’t had the motivation to invest in using trees as a food source. The food could be for domesticated animals, not just us, which would take the pressure off cereal-growing – a food source for which humans and animals compete. The shady surroundings of a forest are natural territory for chickens, pigs and cattle. On suitable plantations in the tropics, as well as finding cover under branches, the livestock would enjoy a varied diet and, in turn, manure the trees.
While most of the potential lies in South America and other rainforested regions of the planet, there is a useful demonstration of this philosophy going on in a corner of England, Sheepdrove Organic Farm in Berkshire to be precise. The chickens there spend part of their lives pecking at a variety of insects, fruits and herbs on an ‘agroforestry’ strip of trees and shrubs. This makes for a tastier bird: agroforestry, complemented by the solar panels powering the feeders in the mobile field houses, means it’s a more sustainable one too.
Bearing in mind poultry’s popularity as a low cost staple in the British diet, is it too whimsical to imagine the day your average chicken swaps its shed for a happy and healthy life in a forest?