Unveiling Environmental Impacts of Agroforestry: A Comprehensive Review of Life Cycle Assessment

September 10, 2023 | Science of The Total Environment |

Introduction: A new study conducted by Aarhus University in Denmark takes a systematic approach to assess how environmental Life Cycle Assessment (LCA) has been utilized in agroforestry within the realm of food systems. This review lays the foundation for discussing methodological aspects in the context of agroforestry systems (AFS) and their associated environmental outcomes.

The Study: The research analyzed a total of 32 LCAs spanning a decade, drawn from 17 countries and four databases. Selection criteria, guidelines, and a well-defined review protocol were employed to ensure rigor in the study. Qualitative data were extracted and organized into several key themes, allowing for quantitative synthesis across the four phases of LCA for individual agroforestry practices, each characterized by its structural composition.

Key Findings: The study reveals that approximately half of the selected LCAs are concentrated in tropical climates, with the remainder in temperate climates, mainly in Southern Europe. The majority of studies used a mass functional unit and seldom considered post-farm gate system boundaries. Multifunctionality was taken into account in nearly half of the studies, and most allocation methods were based on physical properties. The impact category most commonly addressed was climate change, with variations observed within milk, meat, and crop production systems.

Challenges and Limitations: The research exposes some methodological challenges, including limited system boundaries, the narrow scope of impact categories, and varying functional units and multifunctionality approaches. Furthermore, the study highlights that certain effects of AFS, such as those related to biodiversity, climate change mitigation, water, soil, pollination, and pest and disease, were either partially documented or neglected in LCA studies.

Conclusion: The systematic review underscores the need for methodological improvements in assessing the net environmental effects of food products derived from individual AFS. Areas like multifunctionality, carbon sequestration, and biodiversity remain ripe for further exploration and development.

Read more: How does Life Cycle Assessment capture the environmental impacts of agroforestry? A systematic review


Fig. | Frequency of environmental hotspots for the climate change impact category (n = 27) where: A = Direct/indirect field emissions; B = Raw material extraction; C = Operation; D = Manufacturing; E = Transportation; F = Does not mention.