Syntropic farming

I have just found out about syntropic agriculture from the book Abundance Agroforrestry. I am very interested to try it, but we are starting with existing plantings. Guavas planted at 3 x 3 m, which we keep to a maximum height of 2.5 - 3m and lakatan bananas at 2x2 m spacing. Any tips on how to convert these please? We don’t grow anything under either, just native grasses. We are in Mindanao, Philippines, lowland but not coastal.

many thanks

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There are some resources on ECHOcommunity that might be helpful to you and I’m sure some network members will join in with helpful comments.

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Hi Eric,

I’m glad to hear the book inspired you.

Depending on your goals and how complex you are wanting to get, there are many options. Assuming you just want to get some diversity into the property and add value, I would pick some trees from the other stratum levels and integrate them.

Since you have the guavas already established, you’ll have to be creative with your spacing. You’ll also need to do a heavy pruning of the guavas (apical cuts) when you plant the new trees, otherwise the mature trees will suppress their growth.

Guavas are medium stratum, so you can add some coffee or cacao as a low tree, then some high trees (jackfruit, mango, avocado, etc) and some emergent trees. You may also want some trees just for biomass that you would keep real short by pollarding (moringa, gliricidia, inga, albizia, etc). The branches from these trees make super fertile mulch and will help stimulate growth every time you cut them. After your bananas are done, remember to take the pseudostems, cut them lengthwise and place them around the trees that need fertility.

I highly recommend checking out these other English resources on syntropic farming, especially the practical manuals, especially “Agroforestring the world from tractor to machete”. There are some good lists of trees there to help you make choices:

Also you may enjoy joining this facebook group. The members are really active and I’ve learned a lot from them. I know for sure of at least one other guy from the Philippines who has posted there. Consider connecting with him and sharing ideas.

Lastly, I want to make a disclaimer about myself. Even though I have a good handle on the principles, I have a lot to learn about the practical management. In a few weeks I’ll be making my first visit to Brazil and will be working on some more mature farms. I’ll keep sharing whatever I learn in the guidebook, so check back for updates occasionally. This will probably be a work in progress indefinitely.

Best wishes with your project.

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Hi Roger,
Thank you for all this advice, very helpful. Some of the guava are recent replants, so we’ll start in those areas and do the ones with mature trees later. Thanks for the link, great to find all the English language stuff in one place. I look forward to your furhter updates and wish you a fruitful trip to Brazil

Best wishes

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One more thought. If you want to hire a professional consultant, I know this fella and can recommend him. There may be others as well:

Let’s see if ECHO can post that link that has all the English resources in one place.


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Hi Steve,

I think this link, which has all the good syntropic resources in English, in one place, would be good to post on the ECHO platform:

Are you able and willing to add it?


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Hi Roger,

One difficulty I’ve had is with plant heights for the low, medium, high, and emergent layers. I am trying to implement syntropic farming and was thinking about low <6M, medium 6-25M, High 25-35M, and emergent > 35M. The problem is that I can’t find many fruit trees for the emergent layer. So far, I’ve found brazil nuts, durian, and bunya pine. This short list of emergent layer trees tells me that I maybe on the wrong track in classifying tree heights for the different layers. Could you please give me some guidance on suitable heights for the four classifications (looking at edible fruit trees).

Thank you very much.


Does syntropic need to have large tall trees or can trees be kept cut short to allow the fruit trees to receive all or most of the sunshine? Seems like trees keep cut low could provide the biodiversity and the biomass for organic matter.

Hi Dinesh,

Glad to see you asking a question here. I can see where you are going astray. The different levels of tree strata are not determined by the final natural height of a tree, but instead by amount of solar needs of a tree. I wish it were more simple. Here is the best, succinct definition I can come up:

Plants that thrive on full sun and don’t tolerate shade. They reach above the top level of surrounding plants.

Plants that enjoy full sun, but tolerate a small amount of shade. They form the top level.

Plants that thrive on a mix of sun and shade. They do poorly in full sun or full shade. They form the middle level.

Plants that thrive in shade and filtered sun. They form the low level.

As far as the height of the tree in a syntropic system, that can vary a lot, depending on multiple factors such as: what level the farmer wants to prune them (possibly for ease of harvest), the type of tree (some trees cannot tolerate apical pruning and so will reach natural height) and based on the trees nearby and their needs. Whatever the farmer does, the solar needs of the trees in a row need to be honored, if you wish to have thriving trees.

Syntropic farming has as a unique language and way of viewing things. It sometimes causes confusion when people are used to the same terms, but they are used differently. If you want to learn more, I am happy to help point you in the right direction. What has been the source of your learning so far and where are you located? This will help me know what the next best step is.

Best wishes,

Roger, as a follow up to my question above and your response to Dinesh, could the fruit trees be the Emergent level with the other trees kept cut lower?

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Thank you very much Roger,

I am in Sri Lanka and my land (18 acres) is in a semi arid area called Welimada at an elevation of approx. 1,000 metres. I was looking into permaculture and stumbled upon Syntropic Farming (SF) while researching food forests and SF seemed a much better way to set up a food forest, so here I am!. Much of the material is in Spanish (which I don’t understand) but your guidebook, Abundance Agroforestry, was very clear except for plant heights. It is my main source. Your advice to think about sunlight levels instead of height makes a lot of sense but also raises subsequent questions: how do I decide on the minimum level of sunlight needed given that most of these trees (E, H, and M levels) usually grow in full sun. For example, jackfruit and breadfruit trees grow both in full sun and partial shade. I’ve come across articles online saying they can grow upto around 100 feet (don’t think I’ve seen one actually that tall). How do I estimate if it is suited to be planted 2, 4, or 6M from a durian tree which is supposedly capable of reaching a height of 50M? Is the lateral sunlight sufficient? Can another Durian tree be grown on the same row 12M away and / or a different row 16M away?

I prefer to restrict pruning to a minimum if that was possible - just enough to manage sunlight levels to the system. I worry about attempting to prune heavily and causing damage - wouldn’t be the first time I messed up! My conditions are such that adequate mulching is impractical at the set up stage but your guidebook gives more than enough workable solutions for that from year 2 onwards.

I don’t have an agricultural background but am determined to secure our food supply and not use agrochemicals. I’ve tried many things, most of which have been depressing failures, but I’ve always managed to figure out what went wrong and adjust for it and try again. In this case, however, I cannot afford to find out 10 years later. I’ve also stumbled across a traditional astrological planting system. Most people would consider this nonsense, but my limited experience and knowledge so far is that it improves productivity but tree heights are lower. This creates additional questions with determining appropriate plant spacing. Is it better to be wrong and space plants too close for later removal or too far and plant more later? How do I manage a situation where I find out I should have planted a shorter / taller tree or wider / narrower canopy tree instead of the one that’s there 10 years after the initial planting?

As you can see, brevity and clarity are not my strong points! My apologies for the rant - I was trying to express where I am confused. I know there aren’t easy answers but any guidance on how to think about these issues will help. Again, thank you very much for the response.



Hi Dinesh,

Check out This is run by Scott Hall in Australia, he has some excellent videos on Youtube you should look at - including where he went wrong, and if you can afford it (US$36/mo) his training course and all the associated materials and network is excellent.

He stresses the absolute importance of having plenty of mulch, you do need it to build up the soil and also suppress the weeds in the tree lines. The initial spacing of your tree lines should be set by how much land you need between the lines to produce enough biomass for the tree line. Most of your trees should be purely for biomass too. Also it is better to sow too much than not enough. You can always cut them down, but gaps take a long time to fill - I’ve learnt that one the hard way. Pruning is also key - to providing the growth pulse and the mulch, but obviously this is mainly the biomass trees rather than the fruit trees.

Roger talks about the time factor too (p30-31) so while you will want to sow/plant your fruit trees at the beginning, it’s going to be short lifespan plants that dominate in the early years.



Most of the emergent trees are timber trees, but there are exceptions. So what we end up doing is selecting narrow canopy timber trees and removing the lower lateral branches. Then it’s easy to fit a fruit tree under it.

Also to avoid crowding, we put the emergent along side medium trees in one row. And in the next row it’s high along with low. This avoids having 4 levels all in the same row, which gets difficult to manage and keep all the trees happy.

About pruning the trees, yes, almost all the trees are regularly pruned. That is the trick in syntropic farming. There are many benefits, but in regards to managing the stratums, it allows you to sculpt the tree lines so every tree is happy.

Does that answer your questions?

Eric has some good points. Scott Hall is a very capable teacher. I highly recommend his program. Also Syntropic Solutions has a webinar, by Thiago, which is equally as good. I was also going to recommend that you go deeper with your study. Reading books is good, but a real workshop is better (even if it is online). After that, there is a woman in India who has a syntropic food forest that is a couple years old. I think you would benefit greatly from visiting her. You can learn more here:

About the sunlight needs of the trees, YOU don’t decide the level of sunlight a tree needs, that is written into their DNA. The tree thrives on the amount of sun that it thrives on. Your job is to learn its needs and plan (and manage) your farm in a way to meet the needs. If you want to know some of the strata of different trees, take a look at this excel list created by others (it is a work in progress and some species info is not yet determined, but many are listed). It gives many species and both their srata and succession level. This info is critical for planning.

What you might discover is, many fruit trees that conventional farmers grow in full sun (coffee and cacao for example) actually thrive in shade or partial shade. So either you have to know how the tree grows in nature, or just use that database to look up the correct level. You cannot figure this out by just looking at how conventional farmers grow their trees.

About spacing the trees, unfortunately there is no recipe for this. I provided a table with that info in my guidebook, and most of the time that will work, but in some cases it will cause problems. For example, if you have coconut for an emergent, those trees can be spaced closer together than other emergent trees.

Yes, many farmers plant 2 or 3 times the number of trees they plan to have in the end. That way you can select the strongest ones and remove the rest.

I understand your concern about pruning the trees. That is natural if you haven’t done it before. Go visit Kamba farm and work with them for a week or two at a time when they are pruning trees. You’ll overcome the fear right away and probably be amazed at how happy the trees are after they are pruned. There is a right and wrong way to do it, so you need to learn first. Once you do it, it will come natural and you will know that the food forest benefits from this action. Anyways, it will be many years before you need to cut the tops on your fruit trees, so you’ll have time. But I encourage you to face that fear.

About the mulch, I agree with Eric. Since I wrote the guidebook, we make way more efforts to find material for mulching. We cut limbs out of old trees in the area or cut grass and pile it up. You can use anything as long as it doesn’t have thorns. If you really are limited, you can cover the soil with plants! Just plant a diverse consortium very densely and remove or prune as they get to crowded, selecting for the best plants and trees.

Really, to learn more, you need to take an online workshop. It is not feasible for me to type answers like this, and I suspect they will just lead to a series of more questions. Because until you get the big picture, then learning by reading will just cause confusion.

Let me know if you have trouble connecting with any of the teachers we mentioned.

Thank you very much Eric. Mulch has been a much bigger problem than I expected. My property is filled with manna grass (Glyceria sp?) a type of clumping grass that has a nasty habit of burning up as grassfire and coming back again in a couple of months. I’ve been using it as mulch but its very tiring to cut and carry when fresh. I’ve experimented with both pigeon pea and vetiver. Vetiver forms huge clumps in Colombo within 6 months, but struggles on my farm. Same with pigeon pea, madre de cacao. But somehow banana works - something I never expected given that its supposed to be a water loving plant. I will checkout

Best regards,


Thank you very much Roger,

You have been very generous with your time and I am very grateful.

Given my current situation, attending a workshop is impractical unless it is local but I haven’t come across one as yet in Sri Lanka. The guidance on tree spacings gave much needed clarity to the way I thought about the topic. I use locally available material for mulch - its not enough but that can be sorted within a reasonable time. My biggest residual problem is unrelated - wildlife. They really mess up the placenta, destroy the banana while young, re-distribute the mulch, and then I lose the cut and carried mulch as carbon dioxide :(. I am still searching for a practical solution to that but until then, I can get the trees going :).



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My pleasure.

Yeah, for your context, it doesn’t make sense to travel for a workshop. That’s one of the reasons I made the guidebook freely available. There are many who would benefit from learning the principles that cannot justify going to Brazil for a trip.

Anyways, if you are open to more online learning here are some options:

Happy planting.


You have just read about Syntropic agriculture and I am curious about your goals. What do you really want to do, be more productive with agroforestry techniques? Is this a hobby or a demonstration farm area? There have been many new types or fads in agroforestry techniques starting with farm forest and edible landscaping, xeroscaping, permaculture, and now syntropic as well as many others. Increasingly over time we have shifted from justification for agroforestry for increased productivity to eccentric New Age ideologies or “animistic” spiritual unscientific elements. I get the “blessed to maximize the blessing” to others side of spirituality and increase the beauty and increasing productivity so people benefit. However, some people’s goals are diversity for the sake of diversity which does not make a lot of sense to me but maybe that is just me. I want to see people using the basic agroforestry principles of “companion compensation”, “differential use of resources”, provision of partial or diffused shade for crops and the ability to change shade regime from rainy season to dry season when you need more shade. In most cases we are going after maximizing productivity or even moreso to maximize income with any subsistence benefit calculated at the market rate+transportation. We could also give priority to positioning the location where most people can see it or where it will be seen at a farm tour so people can maximally benefit. We can also consider the number of jobs or apprenticeships that are provided. It is all about human flourishing for me. If we set that as the standard we can work backwards to the goals that maximize that. If you have bananas and guavas then in my opinion if you want to maximize income then you want to grow something very high value underneath and potentially on the trees/plants. Vanilla can grow up banana and up the guava if you prune to let in light which will also make your guava bigger. You could consider topwork grafting your guava to a marketable type, such as a larger size more desirable in the market. You can gradually shift the focus of the tree to the new grafts if you like while temporarily keeping the trees producing giving your grafts more and more light over time and more prominence in the tree. The highest income per unit space comes from small animal production and from tree nursery production and vegetable transplants all of which can benefit from some managed shade. Then herbal medicine or things sold for condiments or spices for flavoring food or garnishing food which is very lucrative. Then things that make products such as specialty soaps, essential oils, or other processed items which is a great fit for the dry season processing. The specialty crops for restaurants such as special colors or minigreens or some other crop that is exported that is high value. You can keep working your way down to lesser and lesser value crops depending on your knowledge in management or time you have available to manage. Here in South Sudan I teach people to start with what they have such as human urine, organic matter on the surface as mulch and in the planting hole (Zai holes & double dug trenches work great but better in most cases to plant a bigger area with less digging and put organic matter in the hole/trench but not dig so deep since that is too labor intensive). You get compost this way with no need to make compost when you combine putting lots of organic matter in the planting hole. Focus on collecting and bringing volume of organic matter (dry material moves easily from neighbors in a tarp–give them something for it) instead of composting or quality because quantity in the hole and on the surface as mulch will always win out for smaller areas and generally herbaceous legumes and leguminous trees for larger scaling up beyond what the urine/planting hole amelioration system can produce. This is the common sense conclusions I have come to but great to discuss with others what they are doing since we are all learning from one another. I am a little “put off” by some of the foundational unscientific eccentric New Age ideology that I read about as a basis for syntropic farming but when it is practiced I see just the same basic agroforestry principles being used that we have known about for many years, hence the good results. To me it seems a lot like the school of chiropractic medicine. There were some really “weird” ideas at first being espoused by the founders but later the practice moved toward more basic principles of spinal manipulation from a more scientific basis and most of the original New Age ideology was eventually lost. This could be the same with syntropic farming.