Choose the Right Trees to Grow with Crops

Environment and climate changeTrees and agroforestry



Announcer: Agroforestry is a new word for something you may have been doing for years.

It means growing crops with trees.

Today we’re going to discuss how farmers grow trees and crops together.


In years gone by, we used to leave a piece of land to rest for a number of years.

This practice of not cultivating land for a few years is called fallow.

The resting land would grow grass, bushes and trees and after many years – perhaps 20 years – it would be a natural forest.

Our ancestors knew that the leaves, twigs and branches would restore the fertility of that piece of land.

After some years they would clear the land and grow crops again.

Today, this practice is often not possible.

The land is needed for growing crops to feed people.

But farmers need to grow wood as well as food.

They need firewood, building wood and fence posts.


Agroforestry is a system in which crops and wood can be grown together.

If you want to use this system you will have to grow trees that grow well together with crops.

The crops need moisture, air and light.

So you need trees that do not shade the crops too much and that do not take too much moisture from the soil.

Trees such as eucalyptus, also known as gum trees, make good building wood and firewood, but most trees of this species take a lot of moisture from the soil.

So they are not good for agroforestry and should be grown away from crops.

For agroforestry we need trees that do not interfere with crops.

We need trees with deep roots that can take moisture from deep down in the soil.


Good trees for agroforestry are often the leguminous trees.

You can recognize leguminous trees because they grow seed pods.

Most of these trees have deep roots.

They also take nitrogen from the air and store it in their surface roots.

Most leguminous trees also have small leaves that don’t shade the crops too much.

Often, their leaves are good food for livestock.

These kinds of trees also make good firewood and good building wood which makes them economical for farmers.

Leguminous trees are good to grow with farm crops because:

  • They add nitrogen to the soil.
  • Their leaves are good fodder for livestock.
  • They provide good firewood.
  • They provide building wood.


To know which trees to plant, you need to consider your soil and your climate.

Cooler climates will need trees that are different from hot climates.

In dry areas where you need every drop of rain to grow food, you can create a more humid environment by growing trees around the boundaries of the fields, along the walls of terraces and particularly on steep hillsides.

I urge you to learn more about which trees will grow well on your farm. Learn where to plant them, how much firewood they will provide, and how they can contribute to your farm income.


  • Contributed by John Njoroge, Director, Kenya Institute of Organic Farming, Nairobi, Kenya. It was originally published in Developing Countries Farm Radio Network Package 55, number 1, April 2000.