Why Your Agroforestry Project Will Fail & How To Succeed Instead

Why Your Agroforestry Project Will Fail & How To Succeed Instead

4-minute read

I'm about to share with you some simple ways that can keep your agroforestry projects from failing.

Having launched my own businesses and projects on multiple occasions, I always remain positively "stung" by my failures. I celebrate my successes— but my greatest educational moments come from my failures. 

I never thoroughly examine the reasons for my successes in the same way I look at my failures. When we succeed, we "put the trophy on the shelf" and hardly take the time to examine it in great detail.

Failures have kept me up at night and stressed me out. I learn so much more from these failures than I do from my successes because I don't think about why I failed twice—I think about why I failed a thousand times, thoroughly examining different hypothetical causes.

Failures hurt. 

When you have invested time, money, energy, and relationships into your project, your desire for project success increases proportionately with your investment. When your project fails, there's a painful sense of loss and there's also a learning opportunity knocking on your door— and you are better to answer the door and pay attention. 

Here are some key reasons your agroforestry project can fail: 

  1. using non-native species (bio-regionally inappropriate) species 
  2. non-community-centered business model 
  3. poor crop layout design 
  4. poor marketability 
  5. poor accessibility/distribution 
  6. not knowing your margins 

Continue below↓↓↓ to figure out what you can do about them ↓↓↓


1) What we all need to know about using non-native species:

Years and years of botanical studies have taught me that there are numerous characteristics, requirements, and ecosystem functions that a plant has, and depending on its influence on the surrounding biodiversity, this non-native plant may or may not be appropriate. 

We often are attracted to non-native species because they are high-value crops. Some examples of inappropriate use are: growing avocados/oranges in arid climate regions (these crops are subtropical/tropical with high-water requirements), or growing invasive eucalyptus in chaparral ecosystems.

Some essential items to consider are:

Is the plant invasive?

  • If yes, can it be controlled with minimal inputs? 

  • What is potential systemic net harm if we lose control of the plant?

Does the plant produce chemicals (i.e., allelopathic, etc.) that are harmful to neighboring flora and fauna?

  • What is the hypothesized impact on biodiversity and ecosystem services if this plant is used?

Does the plant have evapotranspiration properties that are harmonious with the local watershed cycle's habits?

  • Plants that exhibit hyper-evapotranspiration can dry out local ecosystems and destroy local flora and fauna.

Does the plant have compatible water and soil nutrient requirements with the local watershed cycles and soil type(s)?

  •  If requirements are higher/lower, this poses a necessity for more significant human intervention, increasing input costs, and shrinking profit margins

It's fine to use non-native species depending on the context. If the context is ultimately not appropriate, there is a risk of crop failures, regional water security issues, and biodiversity loss. Conduct an ecosystem services review of impacts and dependencies to help you evaluate appropriateness— or send me a message, and I'll see if I can help you.


2) A Non-Community-Centered Business Model

Simply put, there is almost nothing on this planet that is neutral. Everything is taking or giving. A business model can contribute to community welfare by creating shared value, or it can increase community struggle by concentrating its value.

A healthy and sustainable business model will improve both the social and natural capital of the community it is impacting. Some of the ways this can take shape is:

Ensuring that a sufficient amount of the end product(s) is founded on the local community's culture (restorative culture and local ownership)

  • If a community's culture does not inherently embrace the product, the likelihood of local and environmental resistance is significantly increased

Investing in community capacity development (training and education)

  • increasing social capital supports greater economic, social and ecological health

Promoting holistic stewardship of natural capital (living assets— like trees, the local watershed, etc.) 

  • people are only as healthy as their ecosystems

Encouraging communal participatory decision-making and involvement (increases transparency and stakeholder trust)

Encouraging local ownership of the business model (shared equity)

  • creates local ambassadors and communal support

The more of these approaches that are adopted by a business model, the more robust, resilient, and successful the business/project will be in the long-term.

agroforestry community

3) Poor Crop Layout Design

Having a poor layout of your agroforestry system can create significant financial, economic, and environmental issues. In horticulture, we all know the phrase "Right plant in the right place." This summarizes the numerous functions, requirements, and characteristics exhibited by each plant species. One must consider all environmental factors (i.e., climate, water requirements, soil types, fertility requirements, bloom periods, root profiles, canopy heights, spacing, accessibility, and many more attributes). 

 "An ounce of planning is worth a tonne of work."

4) Poor Marketability

Have we verified that the market wants what we are producing? 

What sources of information are we using to answer that question? 


So many great ideas fail because of blind trust with zero validation. 

Perform sufficient market research.

5) Poor Accessibility

Wonderful. After lots of market research, we have determined that there is significant market demand for our product that is not being currently satisfied by competitors, thus creating an opportunity for us to supply that demand. 

Do we have the necessary resources to get our product to our demanding clients/consumers? Have we verified that we can get our product to the required markets and distribution centers?

6) Not Knowing Your Margins

So many of us entrepreneurs "fly by the seat of our pants". We make things up as we go, spending more time doing, and not enough time thinking, researching, and planning. 

Let's say we scored 100% positive on the first five items I have listed in this article. Even if everything was perfect, it is still possible to not have the necessary profit margin to keep the business/project operational. 

Accounting and finance management. Do them, or get someone to do it with/for you.

agroforestry community

Plan. Plan. Plan. Do.

So much pain and struggling can be avoided with preparation done through planning. I can promise you that. Hire experts where necessary. It will save you time and money, and if you think hiring an expert is expensive, try hiring an amateur. The amateur's mistakes will cost you much more. 

May your projects flourish in success and provide many opportunities for learning and growth. 

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