Laidlaw Summer 2023 Research Proposal

I will be working with Dr Elizabeth Orr on my research project titled: 'Examining the Success of Syntropic Agroforestry as a Sustainable Agricultural Method for Achieving UN Sustainable Development Goal Two', aiming to directly address the issues of food scarcity and unsustainable agriculture.
Laidlaw Summer 2023 Research Proposal

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Examining the Success of Syntropic Agroforestry as a Sustainable Agricultural Method for Achieving UN Sustainable Development Goal Two


Background and Summary:

‘Syntropic Agroforestry’ was a concept first named by Ernst Gotsch, a Swiss farmer who migrated to Bahia, Brazil in the 1980s (Gotsch, n.d.). As an early career researcher, Gotsch focused on the genetic enhancement of crops. He later went on to develop the novel agroecological practice of syntropic agroforestry. This work looked to identify beneficial cooperations between vegetables, roots and grains which would lead to better productivity, an idea inspired by the theories of Hans Peter Rush and Hans Müller on ecological agriculture.

The central principle of syntropic agroforestry is mimicking natural ecosystem but accelerating processes such as pruning or herbivory using innovative approaches (Gotsch, 1995). In simple terms, this involves following natural ecological succession in order to regenerate nutritionally depleted soil (Global Freedom Project, 2021). During the initial stage known as colonisation, microbes mobilise minerals from the bedrock, which enables the growth of herbaceous pioneer plants. The pioneer plants are able to adapt to a lower fertility soil with less water-availability. They then withdraw additional nutrients from deeper within the soil profile before eventually dying; their decay returning organic matter back to the soil (Andrade, 2019). This increased soil fertility then allows for the growth of more demanding plants, and the same life cycle continues in a phase called accumulation. After each growth phase, the nutrients in the soil are replenished and more complex plants can grow. Eventually, a climax is reached, where a biodiverse ecosystem of crops has been created that can maintain its own nutrient cycle, independent of fertilisers and external inputs such as irrigation (Andrade, et al., 2020). Despite these clear benefits, a critical review of the efficacy of syntropic agroforestry as a sustainable and successful agricultural method is lacking. Moreover, it is unclear how the efficacy of this approach may vary with climate or whether this approach can be upscaled and applied more broadly across commercial food production systems. The aim of this project is to begin to address some of these uncertainties.

This research project will investigate the efficacy and sustainability of syntropic agroforestry in Brazil, as this technique has been applied widely throughout the country (Kirton, 2022). Therefore, it is more widely understood and with more data available. I will share the results of this project with the affected local communities of Brazil and the wider research community.

This research is timely and has real-world relevance as it directly addresses the global issues of food scarcity and unsustainable agricultural systems. Food can be considered as a ‘fossil food’ due to its depletion of non-renewable resources, environmental impact, and destruction of the soil (Holden, et al., 2018). 820 million people are starving globally yet we have enough food to feed 1.5 times the population (FAO, 2022), with that in mind, in order for the planet to have a viable future, a sustainable food production system must be developed. I will evaluate the potential contribution of Syntropic Agroforestry to obtaining specific targets of the UN’s Sustainable Development Goal Two: End World Hunger (United Nations, 2015).


Research Aims and Objectives:

  • To what extent is syntropic agroforestry a sustainable method of producing high-yield crops in Brazil?
  • I will conduct a primary survey of the Syntropic Agroforestry Facebook community (18,000 members) to investigate the first-hand experiences and perspectives of farmers and local stakeholders in Brazil.
  • This data will be evaluated alongside secondary data collated and synthesised from research articles, policy reports and other legislation.
  • Would syntropic agroforestry be applicable on a large-scale in temperate regions?
  • I will combine secondary data and literature to evaluate the feasibility to upscaling and applying this approach in temperate climates.
  • Could syntropic agroforestry have a part in achieving the targets of Sustainable Development Goal Two
  • Using the results of aims 1 and 2 and the policy surrounding SDG 2 I will assess the extent to which Syntropic Agroforestry could obtain the targets of SDG 2.


Andrade, D., 2019. Agenda Gotsch. [Online]
Available at:
[Accessed January 2023].

Andrade, D., Pasini, F. & Scarano, F., 2020. Syntropy and innovation in agriculture. Current Opinion in Environmental Sustainability, Volume 45, pp. 20-24.

Eills, A., 2021. A Year in Syntropy: Exploring Syntropic Agriculture. Worcester: College of the Holy Cross.

Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations, 2022. The State of Food Security and Nutrition in the World 2022, Rome: FAO; IFAD; UNICEF; WFP; WHO;.

Global Freedom Project, 2021. The Syntropic Guide. s.l.:Global Freedom Project.

Gotsch, E., 1995. Breakthrough in Agriculture. s.l.:AS-PTA.

Gotsch, E., n.d. Agenda Gotsch. [Online]
Available at:
[Accessed January 2023].

Holden, N. M., White, E. P., Lange, M. C. & Oldfield, T. L., 2018. Review of the sustainability of food systems and transition using the Internet of Food. npj Science of Food, Volume 2.

Kirton, J., 2022. MicroFarm Guide. [Online]
Available at:
[Accessed January 2023].

United Nations, 2015. The 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development, New York: United Nations.

United Nations, 2015. Transforming our World: The 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development, New York: United Nations.

von Cossel, M. et al., 2020. Adapting Syntropic Permaculture for Renaturation of a Former Quarry Area in the Temperate Zone. Agriculture, 10(12).

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