Food forests have existed in the world for thousands of years, but have yet to be fully adopted as a profitable and effective farming model. This is mostly due to the fact that existing food forests are oriented towards long-term benefits, while mainstream farming practices are geared towards short-term profitability. This creates hurdles for the implementation of food forests as a viable agribusiness option.
Can a food forest be profitable?
A food forest that’s well-designed, cared for and harvested can be very profitable. However, many farmers are skeptical of adopting it as an economic venture due to the uncertainty around productivity.
Food forests require little input in terms of irrigation and labor, yet they are very productive. A food forest does not require continuous tilling, weed removal, or human intervention. With high output, food forests are a good source of healthy nutrition and high business returns.
What makes a food forest profitable?
Diversity of crops
A high diversity of plants in your food forest increases the variety of edible options for consumers. You should do extensive research on native plants, crops with high economic value, and trees that will produce reliable yields at maturity.
Know which plants the locals like to eat and which are favorable for wildlife. This ensures your food forest benefits both humans and wildlife and keeps the forest ecosystem alive.
If you plant during the right season, you get timely yields and can take your plants to the consumers on time. Choose a matrix of crops and trees that simulate the features of a natural ecosystem. Your food forest should include plants that produce timber, vegetables, fruits, and spices.
Perennials mixed with annuals in your food forest means you will have a yield all year round with minimal effort. Ensure you have the right mix of sun-loving and shade-loving plants in your food farm for the best yields.
Reducing input Costs and scaling up
Currently, the high cost of inputs like land, seedlings, mulch and manure discourages small farmers from fully adopting food forests, especially knowing it will take a few growing seasons to become profitable.
However, community-based food forests allow farming in cheaper lands which makes it easier to scale up food forests. Food foresters sharing knowledge, seeds and equipment reduces the barriers to entry and will encourage more farmers to practice farming in food forests on a large scale. But you don’t have to go big, you can do it on your backyard.
Factors that affect the success of food forests include farming knowledge, securing funds for infrastructure, and long-term access to land. Government schemes that allow communal land ownership and support food forest entrepreneurship would go a long way in encouraging food forest farming. This would alleviate the need for farmers to own land in order to grow a food forest and also remove limitations on the long-term use of the land for crop growth.
Collaborations between governments, farmers, and NGOs can help alleviate the issues of land access. Professional support is needed for first-time farmers to ensure they have the necessary skills and knowledge needed to get the most out of their food forests.
Local Market Demand
If you seek to make a profit through food farming you should plant 2 to 3 mainstay species on your land. Invest in perennials with high consumption rates and low input in your food forest.
Vegetables, spices, and herbs used for local delicacies might offer the highest value in your forest garden especially in your first year as they are fast-growing. Food forests can especially produce high profits around urban centers.
The majority of the population buys their vegetables and fruits from the grocery store. Do your research on the most consumed products and make them the highlight of your food forest. You are guaranteed long-term profitability.
A food forest can be profitable, monetarily and nutritionally. Farmers can sell the surplus produced from the food forest to earn some money. You save on your own food budget whilst making money from selling organic produce.
As a result, more food forests will lead to increased food production and a higher supply of food to urban centers. With food forests, you can feed a very large population with reduced negative environmental effects or land degradation.
How to make a profitable food forest.
To make a profitable food forest, you need to have a plan in place for your land design, the resources and inputs you’ll need, your market, the size of your land, and the plants you want to grow.
Most importantly, you’ll need water access and storage structures. Boreholes, tanks, pipes and taps, well designed to be accessible but also minimize the footprint of these structures on your land. Good water infrastructure helps in reducing maintenance costs and improving productivity.
List the plants you desire to keep in your food forest. Consider the ecological functions such as food production, retention of nutrients, and ground cover to control weeds. You can choose to model your food forest from the local ecosystem or carefully choose the plants depending on the information available on them. ,
Plant your preferred trees and crops gradually rather than all at once, to allow the ecosystem to establish itself in the food forest.
Growing high-value perennials such as pistachios and walnuts is a good way to earn profits from food forests. Fruit and nut trees will ensure regular, dependable profits in the long term.
Creativity in your variety of crops in the food forest is key to getting the best value. Identify native plants and mix them with artisanal plants with culinary value and rare species that have high market demand. This way you will be able to reap the financial benefits of your food forest both in the short term and long term.
Save on labor and do the work yourself, or recruit friends and family. You should learn to plant, care and harvest most of your own plants as it is less expensive.
Why food forests are not as popular as conventional farming
Currently, there are few investors in food forest systems compared to mainstream farming processes. While food forests offer more value for money (due to reduced annual input costs while output increases as the forest matures) and is more sustainable, many farmers are wary of using them as a primary means of food production as there are very few case studies on profitability.
Climate change is necessitating a rethink of how food consumed globally is produced. More farmers are looking at resilient food forests as a way to sustain themselves and make profits from the high yields.
Food forests can be profitable if planned well, market research is done and input costs are minimized. Food forests offer good value with little investment, limited maintenance, and high environmental value.
Farmers are faced with the challenge of land ownership and high initial investment costs in setting up food forests. These challenges can be offset by increased government support through subsidies and advocacy for sustainable farming as a means of food production.
Good plant variety in your food forest, coupled with an understanding of the food needs of the population is key to achieving a profitable food forest.