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Forests-Beyond The Wood VIII


By Dr. Ranil Senanayake

It is now clear that a forest is not just a collection of trees and that just ‘tree planting’ can never restore a forest. It is also clear that although restoring as much as possible of the lost forests is an essential activity, much of what was once occupied by forest is now occupied by peope. So how do we do it ? How can we address the question of restoration of our lost forests ?

On these critical questions , work on forest restoration suggests that mimicking the local forest and its processes are the best way to respond. Using crop species that are analagous or similar to native species, but have economic or other utility value have given rise to response processes like Analog Forestry. As these process are all ecolgically based they have moved the dialogue on the market for' Eco-friendly' products to a new arena, that of biodiversity development and ecosystem restoration. An intrnational certification called Forest Garden Products (FGP’s) has arisen to reward farmers who follow this system. When such ecosystems are designed into the landscape, the dependent animals or plants become the biodiversity indicators of the health of that eco system.

It follows that such a system of land management will best be monitored by a suite of bioindicators . In Sri Lanka a system of certification (FGP) based on biodiversity indicators have been developed over the last 20 years. Indicators are currently being developed for 20 more countries. The system operates on the assumption that biodiversity provides the most accurate indicators of a sustainable ecosystem and that with the use of biodiversity indicators, the credibility of organic or biodiversity friendly production systems will be increased. There are negotiations underway currently to share and harmonize standards with other national certification systems.

This critical issue of forest restoration must be central to any watershed management activity. Restoration has been defined as :

" The return of an ecosystem to a close approximation of its condition prior to disturbance". In restoration, ecological damage to the resource is mitigated and repaired. Both structure (biomass) and functions (biodiversity) of the ecosystem are restored. Merely recreating the form without functions or the functions in an artificial configuration bearing little resemblance to a natural resource does not constitute restoration. The goal is to ‘emulate a natural, functioning, self-regulating system that is integrated with the landscape in which it occurs’.

Analog Forestry is an promisng approach to restoration has been described thus :

= designed as an act of compensation perhaps for an abused area.

= designed from a perspective of architecture, with overstory, understory etc.

= designed from an understanding that Nature will self-complicate, given the opportunity.

= designed speculatively, based upon best understandings.

= Its design reflects the personal aesthetic preferences of the designer. For instance, another designer, with the same knowledge, might well create a somewhat different forest, but that had the same outcomes as another analog forest designer.

= designed as a piece of eco-social work. By this it is meant that, the species selected that in due course, self-complicate, are designed to be of use to society, with the express intention of giving society the task of protecting, enhancing and benefiting from this act of creativity.

But in the end such work can only be undertaken by the rual sector. Consideration of the rural populace as key players in land management is important because it is the rural person who will often be responsible for the acts that destroy or develop biodiversity. A farmer can grow a crop in the conventional manner with heavy inputs of biocides and wind up with a field of low biodiversity or grow the same crop in an organic system of management and wind up with a field with high biodiversity. The income that the farmer gets may be similar in both instances, but the impact on biodiversity , rural landscapes, environmental sustainability and human well being is radically different. Rural out-migration is often a consequence of an inability to make a decent living on the land. It has been inability to place value on environmental services that reduces the development of new rural opportunities, beggaring the farming communities and their attendant biodiversity.

If economic and policy desicions create a climate condusive to placing a value on restoration, critical activities can be developed and the current negative trend can be addressed. The greatest resource to respond to these goals of restoration is the rural popuation. Consideration of the rural populace as key players in land restoration is important because It is only the day to day attention to new plantings in the field and an increasing knowledge on the theory and practice of restoration that will produce the healed environments of tomorrow. The major obstacle for such activity is the fact that a crop tree does not provide income for at least four years and the farmer finds maintainence for four years without an income diffcult. In order to overcome this obstacle and encourage restoration activity a measure of the Primary Ecosystem Services (PES) produced by participating farmes and a reward system for the PES that they produce can lead to a new economy, one that will generate a more equaitable state of urban-rural financial relations.

As all PES is produced by photosynthetic biomass it is a valid proxy for environmental services, increasing its volume can contribute to reversing the negative trend.

As photosynthetic biomass can retain value only as long as it is living, the dependence of exporting a product to sustain economic activity ceases. Any person should be paid for the amount of photosynthetic biomass that they maintain alive on their land. Work on restoration suggests that the higher the complexity of vegetation the higher its photosynthetic biomass. Systems like Analog Forestry increase this vegetation complexity and its PES. Finances can be now directed towards sustaining life rather than destroying it!

Such a paradigm change brings with it innumerable opportunities for research, business and market development. Such a move can indeed put us on a better track towards a heathy, sustainable future. (Concluded.)

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