Analog Forestry: re-establishing natural biodiversity

Lush beauty, food security and carbon capture in compact packages. Photo Credit: Eskil Mattsson
Lush beauty, food security and carbon capture in compact packages. Photo Credit: Eskil Mattsson

Agroforestry must be hailed for its decisive implications for small-scale and marginal farmers. Besides producing a wider assortment of crops agroforestry also provides important benefits in terms of ecosystem services and local biodiversity. As we mark the 2014 International Year of Family Farming, lets understand – It’s not about best practice, but best fit. In practice, this new paradigm reflects the changed needs; recognizes the need for agricultural research to become more focused on and accountable for its impacts on people’s livelihoods and health, on the environment and above all the natural biodiversity.

In a globalized world where monoculture plantations are funneled towards production of single commodity, analog forestry has a crucial role in sustaining rural livelihoods as well as natural biodiversity. At present, we have come a long way in adoption of analog forestry however, there’s still urgent requirement to push ourselves further.

Sustaining the livelihood of rural farmers and folks along with re-establishing biodiversity and ecosystem restoration has been at forefront of research in agroforestry. The obvious question is – How can we achieve this? Analog forestry provides one of the means to reach these elusive goals. Analog forestry has been primarily practiced in tropical or subtropical areas with the aim to plan and manage natural forests dominated by woody perennials designed to provide economic, social and environmental benefits.

Forests harbor a diversity of canopies and growth types. The canopy is dominated by tall trees; lower strata are occupied by smaller shade-loving plants and shrubs, whereas the forest floor is infested with the repertoire of small herbs and shrubs, with the vines intermingling within the system, making it a contiguous entity.

The underlying principle involves analyzing the structure of the forests of the areas and identifying economically important species and fill a certain structural niche (where there wasn’t a market before), the producer accesses new sources of income. For example, Edible mushroom, pineapple, medicinal/aromatic plants might be used in an area with numerous vines in the natural forest, and shade-tolerant crops such as banana, cacao or coffee fills the structural gap in areas between the forest canopy and the ground cover.

Ecological succession is a key concept in analog forestry; where forests though are slow growing, taking often long gestation periods; the complexity is achieved by raising diverse range of plant species, with varying rate of growth, all interplaying with the nutrient profile and soil environment.

The contribution of analog forestry is ecological more than it is economic, but if it can successfully be dual purpose, even better. The principal challenge is to sustain the analog forestry site in the long-term. With the introduction of plants, flowers, medicinal plants (short-term), fruit trees (medium-term) a better economic sustainability of these sites can be achieved. These go a long way to achieve economic sustainability of analog forestry systems. Annual crops mixed with long term plantations like fruit trees and timber are ideal for farmers leading to a farm that have production both in short and long-term time duration.

Over the last two decades, massive efforts have been made linking together researchers and practitioners of analog forestry all over the world. From its humble beginning in Sri Lanka, analog forestry is now practiced in more than 20 nations under the aegis of the International Analog Forestry Network.

The practitioners of analog farming gain strength from notable success stories have come up from disparate areas and localities, like in Sri Lanka where tea plantations have adopted analog forestry; in the Dominican Republic and Cameroon in generating greater income from timber along with raising traditional crops, In Honduras by introduction of medicinal plants.

Analog forestry stabilizes the environmental damage by intense intervention of architectural structures of vegetation that mitigates soil erosion, provides adequate settings for the development of flora and fauna and re-establish forests and provide habitat for species and upholding the natural biodiversity. The very fact that the analog forestry concept is adaptable to every local context, in line with the needs and aspirations of the rural communities, is a positive aspect worth hailing.

It’s my expectation that the congress would provide opportunities for interactions to develop and formulate collaborative programs on analog forestry with the noble objective of re-establishing the natural biodiversity.

Written by: Abhay Kumar
Affiliation: ICAR- Directoriate of Groundnut Research
Country: India

This post is entry #19 in the #IUFRO2014 Blog Competition. The most popular entry will receive a certificate and 500 USD. The second and third most popular entries will receive a certificate and copy of the new book, “Forests and Globalization: Challenges and Opportunities for Sustainable Development”.

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