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close this bookResource Management for Upland Areas in Southeast Asia - An Information Kit (IIRR, 1995, 207 p.)
close this folder2. Integrated upland systems management
View the documentGeneral systems overview
View the documentOverview of agroforestry systems in Southeast Asia
View the documentDesign and management considerations for agroforestry systems
View the documentIntegrating local tree species into family farms
View the documentAgroforestry systems in China
View the documentAgroforestry systems in Indonesia
View the documentAgroforestry systems in the Philippines
View the documentAgroforestry systems in Thailand
View the documentAgroforestry systems in Vietnam

Agroforestry systems in China

China is a vast country, with mountains (including hills and plateaus) covering 6.3 billion ha, or approximately 66% of the total area. About onethird of the total population, two-fifths of the cultivated land and 90% of the forest are located in this mountainous area.

The practice of agroforestry in China has a long history, though use of the term "agroforestry" is new. Given that there are so many types and patterns of agroforestry systems, only some of the more important examples are presented below.


Farm-based agroforestry systems

Crop-based agroforestry

Crop-based agroforestry systems are composed of herbaceous agricultural crops (the major component) and woody trees. They are oriented towards food production focusing on grains, cash crops and vegetables.

The trees are usually planted in rows. Tree density depends on the production purpose and the area to be covered. In some areas, fish ponds are included.

"Agroforestry in Chinese"

While there is no single equivalent Chinese term for agroforestry, several parallel terms can be used. These include:

hun nong lin xi tong
Mixed agriculture and forestry system

Iin nong fu he xi tong
Forestry and agriculture complex system

nong lin fu he xi tong
Agriculture and forestry complex system

nong lin xi tong
Agriculture and forestry system

nong lin mu yu fu he xi tong
Agriculture-forestry-animal-fish sideline complex system

nong yong lin ye
Forestry for agricultural purposes

Different agroforestry systems are most commonly named according to their major components, for example, the "Paulownia-wheat" system.


Crop-based agroforestry can produce both woody and agricultural products, improve the physical environment and increase farm productivity. For example, during winter and early spring the trees have no leaves and, therefore, do not affect the growth of the crop. However, during late spring and summer, the trees can reduce wind speed (by as much as 30%), reduce soil evaporation (by 10%) and increase air humidity (by about 5%), all of which enhance grain yields

Firewood collected from the trees provides cooking materials, reducing the pressure on forests and saving straw and animal manure for use as organic fertilizers

Fruit tree-based agrotorestry

Intercropping fruit trees with herbaceous crops is an age-old practice by Chinese farmers. However, the system has been improved as more technology and management options have become available. In central and northern China, deciduous fruit species are dominant, while in central and southern China, evergreen species dominate. There are numerous planting patterns that are adapted to local situations in China.

Many herbaceous crops are grown in association with the fruit trees In many places, animals and fishes are also major components of the system.

Variations of crop-based agroforestry systems

Although crop-based agroforestry systems are most widely practiced in Henan province, some neighboring provinces also have similar systems. A variation involves the use of tree species as forest windbreaks. This is widely practiced throughout the northern area of Dongbei, Huabe and Xibei and covers about 46% of the total land in that area.

Another variation is the development of bamboo-based systems, now rapidly expanding in Zhejiang, Fujian, Guangdong and other provinces. Bamboo is planted on sloping or flat farmland. Vegetables, grains, legumes and other crops are intercropped in the initial years. After a few years, the bamboo becomes dense and is the single most important crop in the system. Because of the high price for edible bamboo shoots, small bamboo plantations can generate very high economic returns—up to US$20,000/ha in some places. Most of the bamboo shoots are sold as fresh shoots, but some amount of post-harvest processing is done, including drying, preservation in solution and some canning for local, national and international markets.


Intercropping with fruit trees can fully utilize land and labor resources, give better vegetative cover for soil and water conservation and provide products for humans, fodder for animals and green manure to improve soil fertility.

Intercropping can also increase soil temperature, promote root and microorganism activity in winter reduce labor and minimize competition for nutrients and light.


Fruit tree production can be a profitable enterprise. However, risks of overproduction of fruits do exist. For example, in some parts of China, yellow peach trees were replaced with other fruit trees because of low market prices. Ecological risks also exist. For example, in recent years citrus trees have been planted on land where other crops have not performed well due to low temperatures.


Homegardens are an ancient agricultural system in China and are commonly found throughout the country. Researchers and Chinese practitioners of ecological agriculture have helped to improve and intensify these systems significantly in recent years.

Every garden is a unique creation, with a complex set of tree and crop species and animals. Mushrooms are often grown as well. Fishponds are used to raise fish or high-value species such as eels or soft turtles. Biogas digesters supplied with animal dung are common.

Fruit tree-based agroforestry

Common fruit trees















Common crops


Sweet potato



Green manure

Legume and


grass fodder




Common crops and trees

Medicinal plants
Ornamental trees
Other cash crops




Straw mushrooms

Aquatic species

Soft turtles


The system is usually small in scale. However, the potential to generate income is generally very high.

Homegardens are very flexible and can allow adjustments in production as prices change. In addition to providing income, homegardens contribute to the nutritional improvement of a household, as well as improving the beauty of the homestead.


Operating and managing an intensive homegarden requires a high level of skills.

Tea-based agroforestry

Tea-based agroforestry systems are common in the provinces along the Yangtze river valley. Tea is usually intercropped with fruit or timber trees and crops. Many different herbaceous crops, especially legumes, are intercropped into the rows of trees and tea. In certain circumstances, grain or vegetable crops are intercropped. This is especially common in newly established tea plantations. The system often includes animals and fish: usually, there are more animal and fish species in this system than in the crop-based system.


Intercropping of woody or fruit trees can improve the local microclimate (temperature, humidity, light scattering, etc.), enhancing tea yield and improving tea quality.

As well as producing tea, the system yields other products such as fruits, firewood, fodder and green manure.

Intercropping of trees in a tea plantation can reduce runoff, lessen soil erosion and moderate high summer temperatures.

Tea-based agroforestry


Common trees

Jujube, peach, pear, persimmon, plum and other deciduous fruit trees

Masson pine, slash pine, loblolly pine, Chinese fir, Chinese tallowtree, tung oil tree, paulownia, poplar and sassafras

Common crops

Chinese milky vetch
Common vetch
Horse bean

Animals and fish


Deciduous trees


Crops such as sesame that share common pests with tea should not be used as an intercrop.

The proper selection of pesticides and timing of application on the intercrop are important to avoid pesticide residues on the tea.

Rubber-based agroforestry

An agroforestry system which incorporates tree species and herbaceous crops into the rubber plantation is widely practiced.

Rubber, commonly grown in large-scale plantations, is widely grown in the tropical areas of Hainan, Yunnan, Guangxi and Guangdong provinces. The system contributes greatly to the dried rubber production of China. Although it is varied both in terms of species combination and density, the rubber-based system is not as diversified as the tea-based agroforestry system.

Rubber-based agroforestry


Other common woody perennials
Windbreak trees

Common crops
Medicinal crops
Sugar cane


· The system enhances resource use efficiency (light, heat, water, etc.), increases biomass productivity, fully utilizes the land and improves soil and water conservation.

· It absorbs labor and enhances economic efficiency.

· It is more tolerant to natural disasters than are monocropped rubber plantations.


Rubber-based agroforestry requires an intensive use of technology and material inputs. Technical aspects to be considered include the selection and proper arrangement of the species

(more tea should be planted on the upper part of a slope, with more rubber on the lower part to avoid wind injury), proper pruning of the rubber trees and proper application of fertilizers and pesticides.

Forest-based agroforestry systems

Timber tree-based agroforestry

Timber tree-based agroforestry includes large-scale, industrial tree plantations for production of timber. One example is the Chinese fir system, located mainly in the provinces along the Yangtze River valley. Crops are often intercropped into the newly established tree plantations by planting in between the young seedlings. Chinese fir, pine and other fast-growing species often dominate these plantations. The tree density is high and intercropping with herbaceous crops can only be practical during the initial years. Animals are also raised in the system.


Intercropping between timber trees can effectively balance short-term and long-term benefits. Better vegetation cover can reduce soil and water erosion. Cultivation and fertilization can promote the growth of both crops and trees.


Land preparation is laborintensive.

Land preparation for tree planting and intercropping can destroy the natural vegetation. Serious soil and water erosion can occur after heavy rains and before the intercrop is well-established. This affects overall soil degradation, as well as reducing the yields of the crop and tree species.

For these reasons (and others), this system is not welladapted to the conditions of individual farm households.

Timber tree-based agroforestry

Common trees
Chinese fir, pine

Common crops
Green manure
Legume and grass fodder crops
Sweet potato


Timber and medicinal plants agroforestry

Herbaceous and woody plants have long been used in Chinese medicine. Using timber tree plantations to produce medicinal plants is a recent variation to this age-old practice. This agroforestry system can be found in hilly and mountainous regions of China.

High-value medicinal plants (woody or herbaceous) are often intercropped into established timber plantations 4-5 years after first pruning.


This agroforestry system can help balance the conflict between the long-term economic benefits of timber production and mediumterm livelihood opportunities. It can also meet the increasing demand for high value medicinal plants like ginseng.


Susceptible to fluctuations in market prices for medicinal plants.

Timber and medicinal plants agroforestry

Medicinal plant species

Amur corktree
Nackberry lily
White aster
Villous amomum

Other promising agroforestry systems in China

Intercropping agricultural crops with Paulownia sp.

This system has become important in the flatland areas of north China. Paulownia is a fast-growing tree with a deep root system (minimizing root competition with annual crops). It seems to enhance the suitability of the microclimate for agricultural crops and also produces timber within a short period (about 10 years).

Intercropping agricultural crops with Ziziphus jujuba (Chinese date)

In an intercropping system, the mixed planting of the Chinese date with an annual crop such as wheat can increase the yield of both crops. The vitamin-rich Chinese date is very popular in China and is found from temperate to subtropical areas, with the Yellow River—Huaihe River plain as the center of distribution.

Multiple-layer artificial population

Several variations of multiple-layer agroforestry systems have been found to perform well in the tropical regions of southern Yunnan. Rubber-tea and rubber-camphor-tea combinations have been the most productive. Traditional Chinese medicine species (e.g., Cinchona ledgeriana) have also been used successfully.