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Reforestation of Marginal Agri Lands to Reduce Desertification

Reforestation of converted agricultural lands can replenish ecosystems with water, soil and forest wildlife.

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California water conservation in watersheds Today, the deserts are spreading at the rate of five million hectares a year worldwide (not yet quite as fast as the forests are vanishing).

A third of the world's land surface is at risk from desertification, threatening the livelihoods of more than 850 million people. (United Nations Development Program)

Forestry Investment as Permanent Agriculture

American researcher J. Russell Smith charted how this disastrous progression could be reversed by using special trees, especially in the hills. "When we develop an agriculture that fits the land, it will become an almost endless vista of green, crop-yielding trees," he wrote in Tree Crops: A Permanent Agriculture (1929).

We have the technology -- now for the education and will to implement sustainable systems. Agricultural methods have a dramatic effect on not only the farm on which the practices have immediate impact, but on the entire watershed. Removal of trees tends to leave thin soils that are not appropriate for row crops, etc. Trees are a deep-rooted crop. Maybe with finding that trees can be a useful crop for energy use, those farmers needing subsistence agriculture can grow these deep rooted plants that stabilize the soil and regenerate the nutritious organic material that replenished the skin of our planet.

Forestry Economics

"Agriculture in mountainous, rocky or dry regions is a disaster, but trees are salvation," wrote Fritz Schumacher, author of "Small is Beautiful: Economics As If People Mattered" and founder of the Intermediate Technology Development Group.

"Re-forestation" often replaces a mature forest rich in biodiversity with a biologically simple plantation.

Reforestation Investment in Marginal Agricultural Lands

Historically, some highly erodible agricultural lands have been reforested by natural regrowth. New England, a geographically rugged region of the United States, was reforested beginning a century or so ago. Settled early by Europeans, this mountainous region was having difficulty sustaining cropland productivity because soils were thin and vulnerable to erosion. As highly productive farmland opened up in the Midwest and the Great Plains during the nineteenth century, pressures on New England farmland lessened, permitting much of the land that was cropped to return to forest. Although the share of New England covered by forest has increased from a low of roughly one third two centuries ago to perhaps over three fourths today, this reforested area still has not regained its original health and diversity. (See Earth-Policy for more info)

Agriculture Development Must Fit the Land

Henry Doubleday Research Association -- Britain's National Organic Gardening Association

That agriculture must "fit the land" is a basic organic concept. The conviction that encroaching deserts can be pushed back is at the heart of the HDRA's overseas work.

The HDRA has assisted hundreds of projects in Third World countries, helping to plant millions of drought-resistant trees -- at a cost of less than a penny a tree.

Desert Forestation for Sustainability

The project developed out of an interest in the extraordinary capacity of some trees to tolerate arid conditions. Prosopis trees, for instance, live in deserts. They need almost no water, they grow rapidly and soon yield crops of firewood, they provide excellent forage for livestock, and they can be used to stop soil erosion. The HDRA had funded laboratory and greenhouse studies of such trees at three British universities, which had confirmed the drought tolerance of many potentially useful tree species.

Since the Tree Seed Distribution Project began in July 1989, we have provided information and advice to 194 projects in 38 African countries and have sent seed of 106 different selected tree species to 110 of these projects -- enough to plant 3,281,952 trees.

Agroforestry Investement in Ethiopia

Seed for well over a million trees has been provided for agroforestry projects in the Ethiopian Highlands, with excellent results. This has all been achieved at a total cost of less than a penny a tree. They have also assisted 30 projects in Asia, the Pacific and Latin America.

"Cineraria is one of the few Old World species of Prosopis," says Dr. Phil Harris. "In Rajasthan and Pakistan, it has been the mainstay of the local economies for thousands of years. This is one of the great traditional agroforestry systems of the world.

The people totally rely on the Prosopis tree: they lop it for fodder, they eat the pods, they interplant other crops with it. It tolerates incredibly dry conditions. However, very little has been done to conserve it, and it is threatened by over-population. There is tremendous scope to conserve, investigate and improve the tree, and to extend its use."

Organic Systems for Sustainability

Organic principles apply universally, from amateur gardening and agriculture in the 'developed' countries through to food production in developing countries. We do not want to see these countries suffering the disastrous consequences of high-input agriculture. They should choose the organic way as the only truly sustainable system.

Trees for deserts

Edited by Carolyn Allen
| soil | trees | reforestation |


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