It’s a wet morning at the end of March and the car of the Tomorrow’s Forest Foundation is slowly making its way between plowed fields near Craiova.

Surrounded by so much water and mud, you wouldn’t believe that, just a few kilometers from where we are, the “flying sands” that stretch from Dăbuleni to Ghindeni continue to move northward, relentless. The desertified area already covers a large part of the east of Dolj county, over 100,000 hectares are completely arid.

Romania’s Sahara” they call it. And foresters and NGOs are doing their best to stop the advance of the sands, mainly with the help of acacia plantations.

But Tomorrow’s Forest Foundation came up with a new idea.


In Cârcea, near Craiova International Airport, the ground still retains water, but during summer the crops suffer. And summers in Oltenia are long.

“Here we have a reddish-brown soil, a semi-clay structure,” explains Marian Mechenici, from the Horti Nova company, which helps us establish this experimental plantation. “It still has water retention, but it doesn’t respond very well in the dry season. It cracks quite a bit.”

His teams have prepared 1.3 hectares of land – ploughed, harrowed, scarified – which will be sown with cereals and vegetables, like the surrounding fields. What sets this plot apart, however, is that it will be planted simultaneously with forest and fruit trees.

Always looking for new solutions in the climate struggle, Tomorrow’s Forest Foundation is financing here the first study on the performance of agroforestry systems carried out in Romania after 1989.

We want to fight as actively as possible against climate change and to increase the forested areas in Romania,” explains the motivation behinf the research Mihail Caradaică, director of the Foundation. “Especially in the lowland areas, where we find around 6% of Romania’s forests, agroforestry systems bring multiple benefits – reducing carbon dioxide from the atmosphere, increasing the economic potential of agricultural crops through the moisture provided by trees and soil fertilization, protection for domestic animals where agroforestry systems are implemented on farms.

What is an agroforestry system?

There are many definitions for agroforestry systems in the literature, but they all emphasize the integration of trees and other woody species (in various combinations) in agricultural crops, in pastures or in animal husbandry activities, to extract additional benefits from a single piece of land.

Forest curtains that protect cereal crops or trees kept on livestock pastures, solitary or in clumps, are examples at hand for Romania, but the concept is much richer in applications.

It is perhaps the oldest model of sustainable land management, dating back to the Neolithic period, when people began to cultivate plants in the shelter of forests. But in the 20th century, agroforestry systems were almost completely replaced in the West by intensive agriculture: crops planted on uninterrupted areas, tended by mechanized means, and chemically supported to help them deal with pests or to become more productive.

In the last 40 years, however, the perspective has started to change – and the role of forest structures integrated in agricultural crops or animal husbandry is increasingly better understood and put to work.

According to the European Association for Agroforestry Systems (EURAF), on our continent there are over 8 million hectares cultivated in agroforestry systems. Romania does not collect this data.

Trees provide wood for construction or energy, edible fruit, shade and food for animals. At the same time, they stabilize the soil and balance its chemical composition, provide protection to crops against bad weather or pests, purify the air and preserve the quality of water in an area. Forests or forest curtains support agricultural crops, make them more productive, and increase their resilience to climate change.

Our research is, we hope, the first step for a large-scale development of Romanian agroforestry.

We are creating the first “handbook” of agroforestry systems for our country

The main researcher of the project is Dr. Mihai Enescu, a lecturer at the University of Agronomic Sciences and Veterinary Medicine in Bucharest. Devoted forester, active in the Academia and in civil society, Mihai Enescu runs tirelessly from one plot to another, checking whether the seedlings of over twenty species have been properly planted.

We plant both common forest species, such as oak, ash, maple and many others, but also xerophytic, drought-resistant species, such as downy oak, honey locust or Siberian elm,” explains Mihai Enescu. “We are testing various planting schemes and techniques, both for forest and agricultural species. We will also come up with irrigated rows, non-irrigated rows, fertilized rows, unfertilized rows to answer over 20 research questions.”

The final goal of the project, which will span the next five years, is the creation of a good practice guide for the benefit of Romanian farmers and foresters. A “handbook” for the use of agroforestry systems in our country, fully accounting for the local specifics – which species can be combined, where, how, when – and with what effects.

The results will be quick, maybe not from the first year, but in the second, third, and fourth years we will certainly have at least interesting results,” says Mihai Enescu.

As the sun rises over the planting site, a dry, warm wind begins to blow from the south, bringing with it an ominous feeling.

Unfortunately, climate change doesn’t wait for us to react,” says Marian Mechenici, “we must do our best to find solutions to reduce the negative effects of global warming. There are no other solutions, let’s just plant as many trees as possible and find solutions so that these seedlings are also viable .”

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