Overstory #235 - Trees outside forests and production systems
Agroforests: a forest-oriented agricultural strategy?
Throughout the world (and most of history), peasant farmers have wandered, exploited and worked the forests, often refashioning them to suit their own needs. Ecosystems repeatedly subjected to human activity become heavily modified in their composition, structure and functions, sometimes losing a large portion of their tree cover. Some systems, such as the Indonesian agroforests, lean more toward the forest component, but they are nonetheless the outcome of extreme human ecosystem intervention in which farmers tended to singly and collectively appropriate the land and its resources.
The Indonesian archipelago is still one of the world's last remaining reserves of dense evergreen forest. But a complex reality lies beneath this green canopy. Extremely varied formations, compositions and status are all lumped together as `forest'. Most forms of arboreal vegetation found there have been reconstructed (or simply utilized) by farmers over an area comprising tens of millions of hectares. The originality and importance of the Javanese home garden are a familiar theme in the international scientific literature, where the system is often held up as a model of complex peasant agroforestry that successfully reconstitutes a multistory system of high biodiversity and amazing productivity on a few dozen square meters of land (Soemarwotto, 1987; Christanty, 1990; Karyono, 1990). These gardens form highly characteristics islets of trees within rice paddies, and comprise one of Java's most important off-forest tree reserves.
Less is known about the more extensive agroforestry models established on rather poor soils around the great forest stands in Indonesia's outer islands. These systems, often barely discernible from "natural" forest, nonetheless produce a large portion of the fruit, bamboo, rattan, resin, rubber and spices marketed in the archipelago (Michon, 1999). A prime characteristic of peasant agriculture in the outer islands is the integration of tree resources into agricultural systems which produce not only for the household but also (indeed primarily) for market. This forest/farm integration still functions today, as in the past, as a land clearing system in which so-called "natural" or "primary" forest cover or "secondary" vegetation is initially destroyed. Much of the land originally opened up for rain-fed rice cultivation is now given over to perennial crops. This peasant tree-growing effort does include exotics, but also (indeed mainly) local forest species such as cinnamon, nutmeg, clove, rattan, benzoic, dammar resin trees, and many fruit trees such as durian, langsat, rambutan, mango, ellipse butter tree, and latex-producing Ficus. Some of these trees are conventionally monocropped. Coastal forest long ago converted into village coconut groves can be thought of as deforested terrain, and the trees thriving there as "Trees outside forests". But most of these permanent crops grown by peasant farmers are managed in such a complex way as to spark discussion on whether these are "agricultural" or "forestry" systems. Damar, a local, resin-producing, forest dipterocarp, offers a good illustration of peasant tree farming innovations.
Forest gardens or plantation gardens?
The dammar example is repeated, with slight variations in the technical processes or prevalent social and institutional models, in the development of other tree crops of forest origin. Batak peasants in the highlands of northern Sumatra established benzoic forest-gardens (Styrax spp) to produce benzoic resin (Watanabe, 1990; Katz, 2000; Garcia et al., 2000; Angelsen et al., 2000). Rattan (basically Calamus caesius) is grown in "monitored fallow" that evolves over time into forest- gardens that can last up to fifty years (Fried, 2000). Other examples share a common shift from extractive techniques - the pivotal product originally collected in situ in the forest - to a production system per se. Spices such as nutmeg and clove, plus benzoic (Katz, 2000) and cinnamon (Aumeeruddy, 1993) are well-known examples. After 1910, Brazilian rubber-tree production quickly replaced the tapping of wild rubber trees, which had been of great economic importance during the last half of the 19th century for people clearing lowland areas in Sumatra and Borneo (Dove, 1994).
This shift generally coincides with a radical change in the status and functions of former forest lands, accompanied by major social upheavals. The resulting plantation-gardens are pivotal and well-established in contemporary agricultural production systems -those with a land-clearing component as the more established systems. All of them look more like "forests" than monospecific, even-aged plantations. Still, we may well ask whether they should then be actually thought of as forest-like, and whether they should be counted under the typical, conventional, forest inventory classifications of "primary forest", or degraded secondary vegetation".
The question of how to define such structures is of interest for several reasons. First, these systems occupy substantial acreage (garden- plantations and garden-forests are far from episodic). They cover tens of millions of hectares throughout the Indonesian archipelago. The small jungle rubber plantations alone account for 2.5-3 million ha in the islands of Sumatra and Kalimantan (Dove, 1993; Gouyon et al., 1993). In the provinces of Jambi, Riau and western Kalimantan, they definitely account for most of the area habitually inventoried as "secondary forest" or "exploited forest". The 60 000 ha of dammar gardens are now mapped as "intact primary forest". Almost the entire "forest" belt around the national park in the western part of the province falls into this category. The various fruit gardens ringing the villages of Sumatra, thought to cover 3 million ha, are also mapped as "primary" or "secondary". They undoubtedly occupy a comparable portion of land in the provinces of Kalimantan. Their more closely-monitored Javanese counterpart, known as home gardens, probably covers some 3-4 million ha. Benzoic gardens occupy most of the district of northern Sumatra. These figures are comparable to the 4.5 million ha of big oil palm plantations and 3 million ha of industrial forest plantations.
Agroforestry reconstruction: the example of dammar
Peasants in southern Sumatra have a tradition of slash-and-burn cultivation, with rice and coffee or pepper alternating with long periods of tree fallow in a semi-commercial, semi-home production system associated with the gathering of forest products for consumption and sale. This mixed farm/forest economy made only very modest inroads on the "natural" forest up to around the turn of the twentieth century. But as the pressure of a burgeoning population on the land was unmatched by any evolution in cropping practices, forest cover declined. This meant a loss of major peasant resources such as wild latex and dammar resins. At this point in time, peasant farmers came up with the innovation of planting dammar (Shorea javanica) on plots cleared for rice. This did not basically modify the first stages of the former land clearing cycle. The cleared parcel was occupied first by rain-fed rice, then coffee, at the feet of which the peasants planted dammar saplings. But some ten years down the road, as coffee production declined, the picture began to change. Following a special technique to ensure the dammar would develop and thrive with a minimum of effort; peasants restored systems that came to be less and less conventional "plantation" and more and more "forest". (Michon et al., 1995; Michon et al., 2000). As the coffee plantations were abandoned, over time the parcel evolved into tree fallow, then secondary forest, gaining further complexity by the later re-establishment of forest species. Farmer intervention in this natural dynamic was minimal. Within the mature plantation, the play of natural dispersal allowed forest species to become re-established. Some 40-50 years later, the dammar plantation strongly resembled, in structure, composition and function, the forest it had replaced: timber forest, dense understorey, extensive biodiversity, and lasting structure. Even though dammar remains the dominant species, up to half the stand can be spontaneous growth. Dammar garden establishment can be interpreted as a true silvicultural process. But should these peasant dammar gardens be compared to "forest"? The point here is to go back to when the plantations began. In the late 19th century, peasant societies began to see rifts develop in the traditional economic and institutional systems which had ensured social reproduction (Michon, 2000). In this context, the innovation of dammar establishment is a clear social expression of a determination to refute a bankrupt forest economy and hierarchical model of agroforestry society. Dammar made individual appropriation of parcels possible within universally recognized borders, on former communal forests, and allowed the planter to establish land tenure for his descendants, a right formerly denied younger brothers. The parcel planted in dammars is a "garden" with all the social and institutional implications of the term.
The multiple benefits of agroforestry coffee-growing
Agroforestry coffee-growing systems offer numerous advantages from the ecological standpoint. In countries such as El Salvador, the coffee-growing zone constitutes the main area of manmade forest. The rugged landscape profile created by the tree strata increases ecosystem resistance to exceptional weather events such as hurricanes. The role of tree cover in soil conservation is primordial, especially on slopes. Trimming residue inputs checks rainfall runoff and constantly enrich organic matter in the soil. The nutritional requirements of shaded coffee are fewer than those of coffee grown in full sunlight, and at the same time the retention and recycling of mineral elements are greater. Both factors imply fewer fertilizer inputs and less soil loss from leaching and rainfall runoff.
Microclimate regulation and organic enrichment of soil also favour wildlife biodiversity. In Costa Rica, a highly diverse population of arthropods has been reported under shaded coffee (Perfecto et al., 1997). Cocoa and coffee plantations traditionally harbor at least 180 species of birds, many more than other kinds of farmland (Rice and Ward, 1996). Tree strata offer essential fauna habitat and indeed the agroforestry coffee systems are part of the biocorridors essential to the preservation of wildlife biodiversity. Mixed plantations of cocoa or coffee with banana and citrus, are, together with shaded coffee plantations, thought to contain some 75 percent of the specific wealth of a forest habitat.
These coffee-based agroforestry systems also function as carbon sinks for the reduction of greenhouse gases. Alvarado et al. (1999) estimate that Guatemalan coffee agroforestry systems store an average 30 t/ha of carbon in the biomass and leaf litter.
Diversified productivity in agroforestry coffee systems
Agroforestry coffee-growing systems are also economically advantageous because the trees ensure a more balanced income for coffee-growers. Diversified coffee farms are in a better position to withstand price slumps in the coffee sector (Bart, 1992). These growers tend to manage their holdings much less intensively, purchase fewer inputs, hire fewer labourers, and give more attention to their fruit and foodcrops.
Shaded plantations also have a great fuelwood potential, supplying 8.5 m3/ha/yr from 635 trees/ha of Mimosa scabrella; 1 250 trees/ha of Inga densiflora and 330 trees/ha of Gliricidia sepium (Beer et al., 1998). Household fuelwood needs alone would justify the presence of these tree species in coffee plantations. Some shade trees such as Cordia alliodora and Cedrela odorata also supply timber. Beer et al. (1998) report that the average commercial timber output of Cordia alliodora ranges from 4 to 15 m3/ha/yr. A stand of 100 Cedrela odorata grown in association with coffee on one hectare of land in Turrialba, Costa Rica, produced a commercial volume of 4 m3/ha/yr (Ford, 1979), generating an annual profit equivalent to 10-15 percent of the coffee harvest. Once the trees become harvestable at the age of 15 or 20 years, they generate an income two to three times as great as the annual coffee harvest.
Trees on coffee farms can normally be cut for household use of the wood, but a permit is required for transport and sale. This permit is not easy to obtain, a disincentive to coffee-growers who might otherwise plant timber species on their farms. Legislative progress has been made in some countries, however. In Costa Rica, the new 1996 Forest Law authorizes the logging and sale of wood and tree products from forest plantations, which includes the agroforestry systems. This legislation, combined with subsidies for reforestation, induced many farmers to replace traditional shade tree legumes by commercially valuable timber species, with an eye to diversifying their sources of income or accumulating savings (Tavares et al., 1999).
Agroforestry coffee systems in Mexico and Central America are ecologically and productively important. They are better-suited to environmental constraints than monocropping, ensuring economic viability and sustainability for family farms through product diversification.
Peasant forests, a unique forest category
At issue here the fact that the term "forest", customarily used to designate a specific plant fancies, most often describes four distinct and not easily super imposable entities. These are: a biological and ecological system (ecosystem, fount of biodiversity); a collection of economically trappable resources of wood and non-wood resources; a reservoir of collective or individual social value (land-as-legacy, water); and a geopolitical entity (land as territory, already under control or potentially so).
The question is how the agroforestry transformation carried out by Indonesian peasants modifies the components of this multifaceted entity we call "forest". Undoubtedly, is does disturb the structures and some functions of the ecosystem, somewhat reducing biodiversity. But many studies have demonstrated the similarity of the resulting systems to what we call forest. For a biologist, an agroforest is as much "forest" as is undisturbed forest fallow which has grown back. The important thing to note here is that in this case the resemblance to forest is the outcome of technical decisions and not an end in itself. Biodiversity is not a specific production goal for these peasant farmers.
Agroforestry transformation has a strong impact on the natural levels of resource stocks available for adaptation to the economic needs of the moment. Here again, studies have shown that certain typically "forest" resources were actually the product of conservation or restitution, and that most of the pivotal resources of established systems were also conventionally considered by foresters as "non-wood forest products" (even pending prequalification as "agricultural products"), but that peasant farmers view these products as "garden" products, a designation which takes account of the physical labour, social stakes and various inputs invested.
Agroforestry transformation often provides an enabling environment for changes in the legal status of land and its resources, i.e., changes in the social context governing these resources. At the local level, agroforestry is viewed as an actual process of appropriation that can transform an area initially collectively owned - the village forest - into private land held by individuals or clans (Peluso, 1993). In the context of interaction between the state and local communities, it puts peasants in a better position vis-à-vis the sovereign State to stake a claim to contested forest lands, at least in terms of customary ownership of land traditionally part of the village territory. With respect to access and control over vital land and resources, agroforestry transformation is always helpful in redefining the basic relationship among the various categories of actors (Dove, 1995; Michon, 2000). In the end, acknowledged appropriation of land by the individual responsible for transforming it makes it possible for future generations to inherit land. This is fundamental in the foundation of families, lineages or clans (Mary, 1987; Michon, 2000).
Most current discussion on the forest centres around the structural, biological or environmental aspects: the economic aspects tend to be viewed primarily in accounting terms. Of course these are the easiest features to grasp, or at least the easiest to enumerate. But definitions, inventories and economic assessments obscure the real discussion. The point is not to precisely chalk up the total forest resources now remaining in the world or to determine their real or potential worth. The issues which these examples of peasant agroforestry raise lie largely outside the need to inventory tree resources at the national or regional levels. They go beyond the confines of an academic debate over the scientific definition of a forest. They get back to the very concept of the various systems of land and tree use as a stake in the web of economic, social and political interaction among the various categories of actors -states, foresters, local communities, or within the community itself.
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This article was excerpted with permission of the publisher from:
Bellefontaine R., Petit S., Pain-Orcet M., Deleporte P., Bertault J.G. 2002. Trees outside forests : towards better awareness. FAO Conservation Guide 35. FAO, Rome.
This work summarizes the growing role of trees outside forests in land development, landscape management, and improvement of production and food security. The entire text of the book can be viewed at: http://www.fao.org/DOCREP/005/Y2328E/y2328e00.htm
About the Author
34398 Montpellier Cédex 5
Sandrine Petit has a doctorate in geography from the University of Orléans in France, has conducted research in Burkina Faso with IRD, CIRAD and CIRDES, explored agroforestry practices in the Caribbean Islands and Indonesia.
Campus international de Baillarguet
34398 Montpellier Cédex 5
BP 1292, Pointe-Noire
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Tel : +242 94 47 95
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Research countries: Africa, Cameroon, Côte d'Ivoire, French Guiana,
Keywords: agroforestry, arid lands, biodiversity, botany, ecology,
economics, forest management
The Soil and Water Conservation Society fosters the science and the art of soil, water and related natural resource management to achieve sustainability.
The World Association of Soil and Water Conservation (WASWC) is an international non-government organization of professionals and informed laypersons dedicated to promoting the sustained use of the earth's soil and water resources.
The US Department of Agriculture's Natural Resources Conservation Service provides helps people conserve, maintain, and improve our natural resources and environment.
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