Agroforestry versus farm mosaic systems – Comparing land-use efficiency, economic returns and risks under climate change effects

Carola Paul, Michael Weber, Thomas Knoke

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

71 Scopus citations


Increasing land-use conflicts call for the development of land-use systems that reconcile agricultural production with the provisioning of multiple ecosystem services, including climate change mitigation. Agroforestry has been suggested as a global solution to increase land-use efficiency, while reducing environmental impacts and economic risks for farmers. Past research has often focused on comparing tree-crop combinations with agricultural monocultures, but agroforestry has seldom been systematically compared to other forms of land-use diversification, including a farm mosaic. This form of diversification mixes separate parcels of different land uses within the farm. The objective of this study was to develop a modelling approach to compare the performance of the agroforestry and farm mosaic diversification strategies, accounting for tree-crop interaction effects and economic and climate uncertainty. For this purpose, Modern Portfolio Theory and risk simulation were coupled with the process-based biophysical simulation model WaNuLCAS 4.0. For an example application, we used data from a field trial in Panama. The results show that the simulated agroforestry systems (Taungya, alley cropping and border planting) could outperform a farm mosaic approach in terms of cumulative production and return. Considering market and climate uncertainty, agroforestry showed an up to 21% higher economic return at the same risk level (i.e. standard deviation of economic returns). Farm compositions with large shares of land allocated to maize cultivation were also more severely affected by an increasing drought frequency in terms of both risks and returns. Our study demonstrates that agroforestry can be an economically efficient diversification strategy, but only if the design allows for economies of scope, beneficial interactions between trees and crops and higher income diversification compared to a farm mosaic. The modelling approach can make an important contribution to support land-use decisions at the farm level and reduce land-use conflicts at the landscape level.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)22-35
Number of pages14
JournalScience of the Total Environment
StatePublished - 1 Jun 2017


  • Climate change
  • Ecosystem services
  • Land Equivalent Ratio
  • Land-use diversification
  • Portfolio theory
  • WaNuLCAS


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