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August 25, 2009

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Half of farmland has 10% tree cover

ALMOST half of the world's farmland has at least 10 percent tree cover, according to a study yesterday indicating that farmers are far less destructive to carbon-storing forests than previously believed.

"The area revealed in this study is twice the size of the Amazon, and shows that farmers are protecting and planting trees spontaneously," Dennis Garrity, Director General of the World Agroforestry Center in Nairobi, Kenya, said in a statement.

The center's report, based on satellite images and the first to estimate tree cover on the world's farms, showed tree canopies exceeded 10 percent on farmland of 10 million square kilometers - 46 percent of all agricultural land and an area the size of Canada.

By one yardstick used by the United Nation's Food and Agricultural Organization, a "forest" is an area in which tree canopies cover at least 10 percent of an area. The definition excludes, however, farmland or urban areas.

The report said that farmers keep or plant trees for uses such as production of fruit, nuts, medicines, fuel, building materials, gums or resins. Trees also provide shade for crops, work as windbreaks, boundary markers or to help avert erosion.

And trees are often hardier than crops or livestock so can be a backup for farmers on marginal land in hard times.

Previous estimates of the area of farmland used in agroforestry had ranged up to 3 million square kilometers.

Farms are often portrayed as enemies of forests - homes to a wide diversity of animals and plants. Forests are also giant stores of heat-trapping carbon dioxide, the main greenhouse gas.

"We're pleasantly surprised - it quantifies an under-appreciated resource," said Tony Simons, deputy director general of the World Agroforestry Center.


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