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Multi-Strata Agroforestry Would Save 9.28 Gigatons of Carbon by 2050

Scot Nelson/Flickr

Multistrata Agroforestry places #28 on the Drawdown list of climate solutions, with the potential to cut atmospheric carbon dioxide by 9.28 gigatons by 2050, with an up-front cost of $26.8 billion but net savings of $709.8 billion.

Anyone who knows the story of the resurgence of shade-grown coffee production is already familiar with multistrata agroforestry. Although full-sun monoculture plantations—high-yielding, but soil destroying—persist, the traditional practice of growing coffee beneath a canopy, often in the company of other understory crops like cocoa, is recovering.

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That’s good news for everyone along the supply chain: for the coffee lover who gets a better product; for the farmer whose financial and physical health are not imperilled by expensive, often toxic, chemical inputs, but buoyed by opportunities to diversify both understory and canopy plantings for sale and private consumption; and for the local ecosystem, whose biodiversity and soil health flourishes.

Then there are the benefits to the atmosphere. The natural stratification of forests, which multistrata agroforestry strives to mimic, creates worlds “teeming with life and activity,” Drawdown states. And it is within these worlds that huge amounts of carbon are sequestered, “both in soil and in biomass,” in volumes that sometimes exceed natural forests.

And multistrata agroforestry can be done almost anywhere. It’s “well-suited to steep slopes and degraded croplands, places where other cultivation might struggle,” and can also be implemented on a smaller scale in backyards and urban community gardens.

While there are challenges—yields can suffer if crops need to compete strenuously for water, nutrients, and light—multistrata agroforestry has sustainability built into it. That shade-grown cup of espresso you drank this morning came from a farm that could well persist for hundreds of years to come, given the right climatic conditions.