Foresting the analog way | Daily News

Foresting the analog way

Ranil Senanayake, the architect of Analog Forestry at Belipola Arboretum, Bandarawela.
Ranil Senanayake, the architect of Analog Forestry at Belipola Arboretum, Bandarawela.

Analog forestry was developed by a group of scientists and researchers led by Dr. Ranil Senanayake in 1980 at the Belipola Arboretum, Bandarawela.

Analog forestry was conceptualized at this time to meet the challenges brought about by conventional thinking to forestry.

The main principle of Analog forestry is to work on bringing the natural vs. anthropogenic needs back to harmony. This objective was reached through design approaches to reforestation which have been influenced by natural systems.

Analog forestry is a specific approach to agro-forestry developed in Sri Lanka. It restores the productivity of degraded land and provides new sources of food and income to local people.

An analog forest is designed in such a way that it imitates the original native forest in an area and has similar (analogous) structures and ecological functions.

Trees and crops are planted in different layers, providing food and marketable products such as spices (pepper, cinnamon), fruit (mango, citrus) and tea and coffee, which grow particularly well in the shade of the trees.

The analog forest also provides firewood, fodder, construction materials and medicines for daily use. Analog forestry minimizes the use of external inputs such as agrochemicals.

The method enhances biodiversity, soil fertility as well as water retention and quality. Analog forests serve as a buffer against climate change.

The principles of analog forestry can be applied in many different ecosystems and climates as long as they are adapted to the local situation.

Analog forestry is a method which has immediate results and can be applied everywhere Analog forestry can be applied in many different ecosystems and climates. There are successful analog forests in Sri Lanka, Burkina Faso, Costa Rica and 18 other countries around the world.

The basic principles of the method need to be adapted to the local ecosystems and the situation of the local communities.

In Ecuador it has been used to successfully regenerate abandoned pastures whose soils had become completely degraded. After the first year the farmers were already harvesting fruit and spices.

The shade provided by the trees and other plants was favourable to commercial crops.

Within 5 to 8 years they had established diverse agro forests that were highly productive.

In Sri Lanka analog forests provide local food crops as well as commercial crops such as tea, coffee, cinnamon, ginger, cardamom, pepper, cashew nuts, mango, papaya, etc. Within these forest gardens a small plot is set aside for household consumption.

One farmer increased her yearly income from 7,000 to 27,175 SL Rupees in just 4 years. Such results can be achieved without chemical fertilisers, herbicides, pesticides or heavy machinery, but by creating compost, plant nurseries and combinations and successions of species.

Analog forestry and integrated landscape management in Sri Lanka

Belipola, is a 17 acre oasis, where lush vegetation rises high above the forest floor.

The massive broadleaved evergreens, stately palms and various fruit trees support an array of vines, lianas, orchids and other epiphytes, while a host of herbs, shrubs and cycads crouch below.

The air is cool and humid; the earth is soft and damp. Majestic Hornbills can be seen perched among the branches. Although it was founded relatively recently, the area very nearly resembles an old-growth tropical rainforest.

Briefly, the method consists of selecting forest species – both native and introduced – which are economically valuable while at the same time analogous, in physical structure as well as ecosystem function, to those present in a naturally occurring forest at various stages of succession (in this case, the climax profile of an upland tropical rainforest).

In this way, the land serves to support biodiversity and maximize ecosystem services while at the same time bolstering rural livelihoods and promoting food security.

Principles of analog forestry

* Observe and record: knowledge of the terrain one is working with is highly important in restoration.

* Understand and evaluate: in order to understand an ecosystem, one needs to make use of local knowledge, field surveying, and ecological evaluation.

* Know the land: knowing the lay of the land extends to watercourses, slopes and microclimates.

* Identify levels of yield: restoring an ecosystem can increase biodiversity, ecosystem services and economic production, but one must be aware of the capacity of the land.

* Map flows and reservoirs: water, light, air and nutrients flow through, and are stored in, ecosystems Knowing the enrgy flows in an ecosystem can help in planning future actions.

* Reduce external inputs: an ecosystem with a high level of biodiversity has the advantage of providing a large portion of the necessary inputs that are necessary for the functioning of the farm.

* Be guided by the needs of the landscape: each area forms part of a landscape, whose characteristics must be taken into account in the design process.

* Follow ecological succession: like a person, a forest matures in phases. Some plants grow early on, before being replaced by others and yet others, as the ecosystem progresses to a stable state.

* Use ecological processes: the idea is to imitate nature, not to struggle against it. It is important to look at the ecosystem in a different way and understand the uses of its diverse elements.

* Value biodiversity: a variety of plants and animals is the source of vitality for the ecosystem, as they contribute nutrients, drive ecological processes, and are indicators of environmental resilience.

* Respect maturity: the mature forest provides many environmental services and increases its productivity.

* Respond creatively: prepare for the unexpected, and always be aware that there are alternative ways to reach your goals. 

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