Photograph courtesy Carl Frederick Huber (c) 2004

Agro-ecosystems

Background

In many areas, especially in Southeast Asia, most original, high-diversity, lowland rainforests are already logged. The land has been converted to other uses or abandoned. Conventional logging disrupts natural communities of trees and other plants to an extent that makes restoration of the original diversity and genetic wealth extremely difficult. Forest would be re-established over time, but most of it would be a mere shadow of its former self.

 

Reforestation has not been successful. Why?

Costs

Where reforestation has been attempted the costs exceed the expected financial returns. At Indonesian labor rates (one of the lowest), the costs are about $2000.00 per hectare (2.5 acres) per year. These costs include raising seedlings, planting, watering (during dry periods), and clearing of rapidly growing vinaceous vegetation which tends to choke out the young trees. A typical lowland forest may have 6000 trees per hectare, including seedlings. That is a lot of work!

Species Diversity

Our knowledge of the ecological requirements of the thousands of species of trees and other plants is still insufficient. A typical lowland rainforest in Malaysia may have 800 species of trees per 50 hectares (125 acres) plus many more other plants. Each species has its own requirements for soil type, slope, drainage, elevation, and commensal bacteria and fungi to help it obtain nutrition and minerals. In an area the size of Malaysia over 4000 species of trees have already been described, plus many more other plants.

The task would be staggering! But, it can be greatly simplified.

ICR's Strategy

  1. Work with nature
  2. Work with people
  3. Provide economic incentives
  4. Learn from past failures
  5. Set achievable goals
  6. Apply research results now! Do not wail till it is too late
  7. Set up management structure and resources for the whole job, not just part of it (Do not join the global graveyard of well-intended partial projects)
  8. Do not try to save the world (diluting resources). Establish a few successful demonstration projects that provide incentives for the- world to save itself
For more details ...

See UNESCO's Man and the Biosphere (MAB) Program's MAB Digest No. 15, by Illar Muul, 1993,

Tropical Forests, Integrated Conservation Strategies and the Concept of Critical Mass.

Also, see other MAB Digests in this series, especially 2,3,5, and 8.