What was the challenge/ problem addressed? Why is it important for the partnership to solve the problem?

Over the years, agriculture and forestry have undergone a certain split that has led to specialise spaces (mechanisation, reduction of labour), in their uses. Agroforestry is attracting a certain amount of interest among farmers, especially in arable farming. The latter pursue different objectives: thermal regulation, erosion control, biodiversity, production of timber and fuelwood, fruit, heritage vision, etc. These plantations have their place in livestock farming, but their development has not yet been observed in the field. At the same time, sylvopastoralism needs to be rethought, integrating new technical solutions.

Agroforestry and silvopastoralism have their place within a suckler cattle system extensive mountain or piedmont: production of animal bedding, contribution to food and fodder self-sufficiency (forest fruit supplements and ground fodder), diversification of marketed production and sources of income (sale of wood). Environmental benefits are also cited, such as reduction of erosion or nitrogen absorption, animal welfare. These are all avenues worth checking out.

Five objectives were identified for the development of agroforestry on the participating farms:

  • Promote food self-sufficiency,
  • Improving animal welfare,
  • Diversify income,
  • Reduce external purchases,
  • Improving herd management.

The initial objectives of the project were to respond to the issues of food autonomy and animal welfare. These two issues had been raised significantly over the past 5-6 years by the department’s farmers, both livestock and cereal producers, particularly in the context of climate change. This change has observable effects on farms.

How did you solve the problem? (Or if your practical case is still in progress how are you solving the problem?)

The project started in 2015. In order to identify how wood can promote food self-sufficiency, the partnership first wanted to find out how livestock farmers perceive the issue. Therefore a survey was realised, which received 62 responses with the following results:

  • Many perceive the tree as an asset on the farm for landscape and soil protection, and especially in livestock farming
  • Constraint in terms of yield loss
  • Decrease cost of maintenance

In response to this questionnaire, 34 technical solutions were considered and 4 were chosen to be tested (litter, mulberry, sylvopastoralism, fruit enhancement).

Following this, the protocols were set-up with the different project partners and the experiments started in 2017.

Main actions:

  • Animal litter: 2 farms have experimented with 2 different methods
  • White mulberry tree: 1 farm has experimented to have a fodder and food bank.
  • Sylvopastoralism: 3 farms involved
  • Valorisation of tree fruits as food: 1 farm involved

What are the success factors in solving the problem?

  • Team working,
  • Convincing results,
  • The pronounced personal investment in relation to the partners,
  • support from institutes, particularly for dissemination,
  • The climate played in favour at a huge point: in July 2018, 2nd heatwave of the year, all the grass was toasted and it was in the middle of a very high green mulberry tree. The video of a white mulberry tree in a standing pasture in the middle of the heatwave when all the grass around it was burnt showed the possibility of having a fresh resource in the middle of the heatwave. It was at this point that the diffusion took off. They had 10,000 views on the video and the calls exploded,
  • The project theme makes sense for farmers in the context of climate change.

Unexpected fails, if any

There has been a misunderstanding among farmers and researchers. They are two parallel worlds and the project Lead partner – the Chamber of Agriculture, has had the role of mediator. It was difficult to make the researchers understand that the laboratory aspect where everything is framed, is not adapted to the reality on the field and is difficult to implement on the farms. There is a certain amount of randomness.

As far as livestock farmers are concerned, it was necessary to accompany the experiment in order to produce concrete results that would enable technical solutions to be found.

The biggest difficulty, between the research that wanted to keep the mechanisation of the mulberry trees and the breeder who was not equipped to do so. For a year, there were some communication difficulties. Indeed, the INRAe agent did not understand the farmer’s initiative to change the protocol to make it more feasible in the field. This created a chill at the beginning. However, the initiative taken by the farmer not to follow the protocol with mechanisation but to graze the animals in mulberry plots proved to be very conclusive. With this convincing result, the research and the farmer were able to discuss this new experiment.

For the other parts of the experiment, there was no conflict, as the practices were already known and managed by the farmers. The mulberry tree, on the other hand, was completely new to local practices. It is on very innovative, little-known subjects that there might be difficulties. In the beginning, farmers had some difficulties with an experiment on sylvopastoralisme, but thanks to Chamber’s advisement, practices have been taking in charge and realized cutting experiment.

In fact, each stakeholder projects himself according to its interests and this creates friction points when it comes to putting it into practice.

Moreover, the agents of the partners involved in the project did not necessarily have an agricultural sensibility, which could have been a hindrance in their engagement and their immersing in the agricultural reality.

Lessons learned

The sticking points and successes made it possible to identify the good practices in the project: the do’s and don’ts to ensure smooth functioning between the partners. Failures are also results that should be valued. Moreover, the experiment on the white mulberry tree, whose protocol was adapted by the farmer, which created tensions with the research, was one of the most conclusive actions. The fact of being flexible on the fixed actions also makes it possible to make positive discoveries.

What role does the advisor or advisory service play within the practical case?

The adviser’s role has evolved:  from technician to facilitator, then to project leader, and finally to the agitator.

Can your approach be transferred and/or adapted for other innovation challenges and regions?


Estimated transferability on a scale from 1 to 5
(where 1 is easy and 5 very difficult)


For sharing the experience on the good practice, please contact Marie Boitelet (marie.boitelet[at]occitanie.chambagri.fr)