Mechanizing Diversified Agroforestry

Freeing labor for high-value tasks through small-scale mechanization in biodiverse agroforestry
Agroecosystem diversification and chemical input substitution increases the load and variety of management tasks in field crops, horticulture, fruit production, silviculture and ecological restoration. The heightened demands on labor and logistics challenges farmers, foresters and restoration practitioners alike. To address this key bottleneck toward resilient land use, existing agricultural tools, machines and implements are being repurposed for diversified agroforestry to alleviate frequent, repetitive and strenuous tasks such as cutting and transferring biomass, or soil preparation in planting rows, or transport and placement of seeds and seedlings. Practical examples along agroforest succession illustrate how mechanized planting arrangements and management operations may be organized in space and time such that they don’t compromise high functional and taxonomic diversity. Thus, machinery traffic is restricted to mechanized strips that functionally interact with adjacent, high-diversity rows managed only manually. Costs of conservation through sustainable use of threatened rainforest trees are saved by labor-efficient seeding directly into fertile horticultural soil and tending in ergonomically compatible polycultures. Such skilled stewardship of natural resources appears to attract rural and urban youth to envisage their professional perspectives in agriculture. Instead of fuelling rural-to-urban migration, mechanization can redirect freed labor to add high-value products, such as integrating horticulture into grain, fruit or timber production, or to value-added refinement of foods, cosmetics, medicinal products and natural materials. Machines are starting to become more accessible by sharing through collective organization, ranging from cooperatives to local government renting or lending to smallholders on a per use basis.