U.S. Department of Agriculture: Forest Service -- National Agroforestry Center


Date of this Version

April 2004


Published in Agroforestry Systems 61: 401–421, 2004.


Successful design of agroforestry practices hinges on the ability to pull together very diverse and sometimes large sets of information (i.e., biophysical, economic and social factors), and then implementing the synthesis of this information across several spatial scales from site to landscape. Agroforestry, by its very nature, creates complex systems with impacts ranging from the site or practice level up to the landscape and beyond. Computer-based Decision Support Tools (DST) help to integrate information to facilitate the decision-making process that directs development, acceptance, adoption, and management aspects in agroforestry. Computer-based DSTs include databases, geographical information systems, models, knowledge-base or expert systems, and ‘hybrid’ decision support systems. These different DSTs and their applications in agroforestry research and development are described in this paper. Although agroforestry lacks the large research foundation of its agriculture and forestry counterparts, the development and use of computer-based tools in agroforestry have been substantial and are projected to increase as the recognition of the productive and protective (service) roles of these tree-based practices expands. The utility of these and future tools for decision-support in agroforestry must take into account the limits of our current scientific information, the diversity of aspects (i.e. economic, social, and biophysical) that must be incorporated into the planning and design process, and, most importantly, who the end-user of the tools will be. Incorporating these tools into the design and planning process will enhance the capability of agroforestry to simultaneously achieve environmental protection and agricultural production goals.