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Taking stock of the multiple benefits of forests to agriculture – enhancing productivity and sustainability

This project seeks to bring together research from around the globe examining the benefits that trees and forests provide to agriculture. It aims to offer a resource to better inform policies on conservation, land use, and land management, and to help enhance understanding of how nearby forests can boost agricultural productivity and sustainability.

Forest and adjacent strawberry field in Thailand. Photo: Issarawat Tattong / Getty Images

Active project


How does the presence of trees or forests affect nearby farms? Is there an impact on crop yields? On agriculture workers’ productivity? On the water cycle in the wider area?

The answers to these and other questions about the impacts that forests and trees on agriculture can provide insights to help enhance understanding of how to use and manage lands, and can help improve the productivity and sustainability of agriculture. The research insights can help create a compelling rationale for the conservation, sustainable management, and integration of nature areas as part of wider economic development aims, particularly in rural areas whose economies depend on farming.

A growing body of evidence shows that forests and trees can play a role in enhancing agriculture in many ways. Yet no single resource brings together such information in systematic way or offers guidance to policymakers to help inform policies for land use and management.

This project seeks to fill this gap.

Creating a go-to resource

The project will create a comprehensive source of information that synthesizes what is known about the benefits of these forested areas to agriculture – beyond the capacity of forests to sequester carbon. It will examine what should be considered to leverage the presence of trees and forests in specific contexts, such areas close to rainforests and savannahs. In this way the project seeks to provide information that can underpin informed decision-making on land use and land management policies and practices.

The project will take a close look at research that has been conducted globally on the impacts of trees and forests on key issues:

  • temperature regulation and resulting agricultural workers’ health and efficiency
  • climate regulation and its effect on crop yields
  • the regulation of the water cycle at local and wider scales
  • other benefits such as nutrient cycling, habitats for pollinators, and protection against pests.

Highlighting a range of benefits

The report from the project will provide a comprehensive compilation of the primary biophysical ecosystem services that forests offer to agriculture.

Research has shown that forests and trees provide nutrient-rich food, fuel, income, and a range of ecosystem services at local and wider scales. Studies have found that trees and forests are key in regulating the water cycle. For example, trees’ roots and canopies enhance soil structure and water retention, ultimately contributing to more sustainable water management practices. Moreover, the impact of trees on the water cycle isn’t confined to their immediate vicinity; research has also shown that forests play a crucial role in regulating regional and even global hydrological patterns.

Forested areas also help regulate temperatures. The shade provided by trees mitigates the intensity of solar radiation, thereby cooling the surrounding environment – a phenomenon that has a direct bearing on agricultural productivity, positively influencing crop yields. Access to these shady areas and cooler microclimates can also enhance worker productivity, reduce heat-related health issues, and contribute to overall community well-being.

Achieving three goals

The project has three key aims:

  • To provide an evidence base of hard facts on the benefits of trees and forests to agriculture – in terms of the economic and productivity effects.
  • To compile and put in context the manifold benefits of forests in supporting agriculture, with a specific focus on heat regulation, moisture recycling, and water cycle regulation, with an emphasis on the effect of these on agricultural yields.
  • To conduct an analysis of the interconnected issues that can help enhance understanding of the importance of preserving and restoring forests to secure the future of agriculture and promote sustainable rural development.


Funding for this  multi-institutional project is provided by:

Rafaela Flach
Rafaela Flach

Research Fellow

SEI Headquarters

Selorm Kugbega
Selorm Kugbega

Research Fellow

SEI Headquarters

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