Sunday, November 4, 2012
At the Amazonia Reforestation La Pedregoza plantation we are experimenting with a number of innovative forestry systems. People often confuse or misunderstand the terminology used to describe those systems, so this article is meant to provide the reader with a better understanding of what those terms mean. The ultimate goal of eco-friendly tropical tree plantations like La Pedregoza is to either fully or partially implement some of these systems in their day to day operations.
The first term worth defining is silviculture. The word derives from the Latin words for forest and growing, and in its modern context describes managed forestry. The term silviculture includes the controlled planting, growth, composition, maintenance and health of a forest, established for various reasons or needs. Obviously, plantation forestry is therefore silviculture. The planter determines the type of forest to be cultivated, regardless of whether the forest is being deliberately planted or is being regenerated naturally or artificially, for example after logging. The woodlot or plantation owner chooses the type of trees, their density and the planting method to suit their objectives. It should be kept in mind that silviculture is about forestry in its narrowest sense, and is not about more expanded uses.
This brings us to the concept of agroforestry. The word is based on the idea that one can combine forestry with agriculture. Simply put, we are talking about trees on farms. The basic idea is to combine trees and shrubs with crops and with livestock. The planter combines forestry and agricultural technologies for a more varied and productive, profitable and sustainable use of the land. Three types of land use are therefore silviculture, agriculture and agroforestry. Sources like FAO (the UN’s “Food and Agriculture Organization”) and the World Bank estimate that 10% of the world’s small farmers practice some form of agroforestry, while 20% of the world’s population makes use of agroforestry products. The importance of agroforestry is best understood when one realizes that its theoretical basis is agroecology, in other words farming in an ecologically sound manner.
Agroforestry is all about intercropping, having two or more plant species growing in close proximity, and whenever possible interacting and providing benefits to each other. This is especially true for crops that enjoy a bit of shade, which trees can provide. The crops in turn might provide services to the trees, like weed control (water melons for example), or nitrogen fixing (beans for example). From the farmer’s perspective, this multiple use of the land often produces higher yields with lower input costs, and provides significantly more ecological diversity and services than do traditional monocultures. Agroforestry is more biodiverse, as it provides more habitats for birds, insects and other animals.
The benefits of agroforestry include increased wood production, as trees now grow on farmland, with more resources for local socio-economic development, like carpentry wood and wood fuel. Soil fertility is often restored in agroforestry settings, and water quality improves due to reduced nutrient and soil runoff. The trees prevent erosion and help maintain higher water tables, making areas more drought resistant, while providing food security to poor farmers with the additional planting of fruit, nut and oil trees. The planet benefits, because agroforestry reduces deforestation pressure by providing farm-grown firewood and carpentry wood. People practicing agroforestry have also noted a reduced need for the use of insecticides or herbicides. It enhances people’s health, by providing space for the cultivation of medicinal plants. The icing on the cake is the fact that agroforestry also provides long-term carbon sequestration, which helps prevent climate change, which benefits the entire planet.
At La Pedregoza our AmazoniaReforestation and CO2 Tropical Trees programs have added an additional dimension to pure silviculture and agroforestry. It is called Analog Forestry, which is a more biodiverse and environmentally friendly form of agroforestry. This is a practice that is gaining ground in a variety of tropical and sub-tropical locations. In Analog Forestry we employ a system of planned, managed forests whose function includes mimicking local ecologies and climax vegetation. Climax vegetation is best described as the tree and plant life that has established itself over millennia at a given location due to climate and other conditions. Old growth rainforests are examples of climax vegetation.
This means that the goal of Analog Forestry is to recreate as much native tree and plant life in its cultivations as possible, taking into account the dynamics of natural forest succession. Analog Forests are almost-natural forests, because they try to copy the functional and indigenous aspects of local forests as much as possible. This doesn’t mean that Analog Forests are trying to simply recreate a local ecology. They must also be able to render economic benefits. The key consideration is to first recreate local ecological conditions, before the economic values are considered. This means there is scope to mix native tree species with introduced species, and native plants, fruits and vegetables with desirable introduced ones. Each species in an Analog Forest is evaluated on the basis of its contribution to the functionality and composition of the local ecology one is trying to imitate.
La Pedregoza is a member of the InternationalAnalog Forestry Network (IAFN). The network has members around the planet who are able to contribute ideas, experiences and advice for others within the network. No one starts with an Analog Forest. It is an eco-system that is designed, planned, implemented and managed over a period of time, one that may take decades; much like a natural forest may take decades to mature. The vision is to have a forest that provides ecological, economic, social and environmental benefits that go well beyond silviculture or agroforestry. The use of non-native species, other than food crops, is carefully considered and weighed to address the needs of local biodiversity. This long term vision means that Analog Forests generally sequester carbon for longer periods than do plantation forests. Mixing a large number of species in the design reduces the economic risks that exist in cases where there is reliance on just one or two species. At La Pedregoza our long term commitment and vision is to slowly turn every area into Analog Forest for maximum ecological and biodiversity benefits, while still enjoying financial sustainability.