Tag Archive for: Agroforestry

Agroforestry Systems May Play Vital Role in Mitigating Climate Change

Agroforestry could play an important role in mitigating climate change because it sequesters more atmospheric carbon in plant parts and soil than conventional farming, according to Penn State researchers.

Author: Penn State | Published: February 1, 2018

An agricultural system that combines trees with crops and livestock on the same plot of land, agroforestry is especially popular in developing countries because it allows small shareholder farmers — who have little land available to them — to maximize their resources. They can plant vegetable and grain crops around trees that produce fruit, nuts and wood for cooking fires, and the trees provide shade for animals that provide milk and meat.

The researchers analyzed data from 53 published studies around the world that tracked changes in soil organic carbon after land conversion from forest to crop cultivation and pasture-grassland to agroforestry. While forests sequester about 25 percent more carbon than any other land use, agroforestry, on average, stores markedly more carbon than agriculture.

The transition from agriculture to agroforestry significantly increased soil organic carbon an average of 34 percent, according to Michael Jacobson, professor of forest resources, whose research group in the College of Agricultural Studies conducted the study. The conversion from pasture/grassland to agroforestry produced soil organic carbon increases of about 10 percent, on average.

“We showed that agroforestry systems play an effective role in global carbon sequestration, involved in carbon capture and the long-term storage of atmospheric carbon dioxide,” he said. “The process is critical to mitigating or deferring global warming.”

However, carbon was not stored equally in different soil levels, noted lead researcher Andrea De Stefano, a graduate student at Penn State when the study was done, now at Louisiana State University. He pointed out that the study, which was published in December in Agroforestry Systems, provides an empirical foundation to support expanding agroforestry systems as a strategy to reduce atmospheric carbon dioxide concentration and mitigate climate change.

“The conversion from forest to agroforestry led to losses in soil organic carbon stocks in the top layers, while no significant differences were detected when deeper layers were included,” De Stefano said.


Cocoa Farming: The Key to Reversing Deforestation in West Africa

Authors: Dana Geffner and Alex Groome | Published: January 15, 2018 

The industrial chocolate industry is driving deforestation in West Africa on a devastating scale, according to recent articles published in The Guardian and Reuters. The Ivory Coast is the biggest victim—once 25% of the country was covered in rainforest, now less than 4% remains. Despite the widespread destruction it is responsible for, could agroforestry hold the key to restoring tropical rainforests and farmer livelihoods in the region?

A majority of the world’s cocoa (70%) is produced by two million small-scale farmers on less than five acres of land. Farmers are struggling to produce healthy harvests due to pests and diseases, aging cocoa trees and declining soil health. Farmers often lack access to information, technical assistance and financial resources to overcome these challenges, but more importantly, they are vulnerable to volatile international market prices and are often paid less than 80 cents (USD) per day.

Grown as a part of a diverse community-led agroforestry systems, cocoa may hold the key for small-scale farmers to tackle poverty, become climate resilient, cope with volatile market prices and restore and protect rainforests.

Agroforestry, Fair Trade and Small-Scale Farmers

Agroforestry is a dynamic, ecologically-based, natural resource management approach that promotes the integration of diverse food, fodder, timber and shade trees in agricultural landscapes. Once installed, well-maintained systems require little inputs like fertilizers and are naturally resistant to pests and diseases, cutting costs and labor for farmers.

Fair Trade small-scale farmer organizations and cooperatives provide one pathway for communities in the Global South to organize to effectively implement agroforestry and become more economically resilient by selling directly to customers and negotiating fair prices. In Konye, Cameroon, KONAFCOOP cocoa farmers are setting a hopeful exampleof this model. They’re producing a good quantity of excellent quality cocoa, regenerating land and mimicking natural forest systems to create a healthy and resilient agroecosystems.

Social enterprises, like Serendipalm, are pushing the envelope of diversified organic & fair trade production in Ghana. Serendipalm works with hundreds of small-scale farmers to produce organic and fair trade palm oil and cocoa on diversified small plots. Core to farmer livelihoods and ecological resilience is the drive to replant diversified and dynamic agroforestry systems on degraded land. Dynamic agroforestry systems can provide employment and multiple income streams, while fostering biodiversity and sequestering carbon.

Scaling Agroforestry Initiatives

A little-known tool for scaling out ecological and regenerative farming practices, like agroforestry, rapidly and effectively is peer-to-peer, farmer-to-farmer training. Emerging from Central America in the 1970s, the farmer-to-farmer movement has fueled the training of thousands of peasant farmers by facilitating the exchange of practical experiences and best practices.

Crowdfunding for Community-led Solutions

Grow Ahead, an initiative of Fair World Project, is crowdfunding for a farmer-to-farmer training for small-scale farmer cooperatives in the region on dynamic agroforestry. Set to take place in 2018, the training will bring together 10 organic and fair trade farmer organization representatives from Ghana, Ivory Coast, Togo and Burkina Faso. The goal? Train farmer “pollinators” to implement and scale out agroforestry practices in their home communities and organizations.

Grow Ahead is also crowdfunding to plant trees in agroforestry systems to support climate resilience, community food security and carbon sequestration. Three of the 100 top climate solutions identified by Project Drawdown are agroforestry-based and if implemented globally could sequester 57.67 gigatons of CO2.

“The program is geared towards boosting the economic resilience of farmers by diversifying their sources of income. Through agroforestry we can tackle climate change and grow vibrant food forests around the globe while maintaining and preserving biodiversity,” says Ryan Zinn, Director of Grow Ahead.


Forest Gardening with Space and Place for Wild Elephants

Date Published: January 11, 2018 | Author: Michael B. Commons

In my collaboration with Terra Genesis International, I have been given space and support to investigate what we may call “Regenerative Pathways” looking at real life examples of functional farming systems that we can identify as being on the “Regenerative Agriculture Pathway.”

While these farms/farming systems might be called “Regenerative Farms,” we see regeneration more as a long term process and continuum that we can evaluate through indicators such as soil health, water retention, biodiversity, community health and more.

Of particular interest for us is to look at farms/ systems that are producing “key economic crops” as so much of our land area is now dominated by “economic crops” and these crops link to larger trade systems. With such a link there is the possibility to develop collaborative relationships to support regenerative practices and systems between farmers, consumers and intermediaries.

My wife and I, for many years, have been active members of the Thai Wanakaset (Agroforestry and Self-Reliance) network, which has a number of farmer members who live at the edges of natural forest reserves with wild elephant populations. For most Thais in this situation, as well as farmers with whom I have spoken from Sri Lanka and Bhutan, this relationship and interaction is much more confrontational.

Generally, forest and wild areas are being reduced and transformed into farming monocultures, while the Thai wild elephant population is actually increasing seven percent a year, according to a recent Thai PBS article. 

From my own observations living in this area around the Eastern Forest of Thailand, most all of the small marginal wild areas that served many species of wildlife have been removed in the last decade (converted to farmland or other uses). Therefore, the elephants are increasingly going out of the preserves and national parks to farms for food.

From what I have learned talking with those who live in and around the elephants, these four-legged beings are incredibly intelligent and adept learners, so they have learned and adapted to eat many new foods, like pineapples, corn and rice. My colleagues have told me that elephants can choose to politely harvest from fields rather than to destroy them. Yet for most Thai farmers, they don’t accept any such sharing of their harvest. Thus, the greater focus has been on converting to crops that elephants don’t like to eat, or using measures to prevent their entry or scare them away.

Kanya shows banana trees next to her home that they have planted for the elephants. If the elephants are courageous to show themselves so close they can enjoy the banana stalks- which is what usually happens. Photo Credit: Michael B. Commons.

The Wanakaset members of Pawa subdistrict, Chantaburi, have taken a very different path. They have developed diverse forest garden systems that allow space and place for wild elephants. Their farm environments have many different plants that the elephants can eat without needing to take or destroy the family’s key crops. The stories these farmers tell are also quite amazing and inspiring. It seems that the elephants are completely aware of what the forest gardeners are doing and the lands they manage. They hold this coexistence in regard, coming regularly into these shared spaces and largely respecting the crops the humans ask to be left alone, while they enjoy other crops and places provided for them.

In my deeper vision of “Regeneration,” I believe we need to heal the divide between humans and non-humans, and that humans can be stewards of lush gardens that provide valuable yields for humans and food and habitat for other living beings. As elephants are such a key species with great power, including the power to destroy, that we can find examples of a peaceful, balanced co-existence, gives much hope.

Thus I decided to embark on a journey to learn more from my farmer colleague, Ms. Kanya Duchita, to understand and share with others.

Kanya Duchita and her parents are students of Pooyai Viboon and practitioners of “Wanakaset,” the philosophy and system of organic agroforestry and self-reliance that he taught. Wanakaset, like permaculture, is a design system that reflects the land, situation, needs, skills and interests of the people involved. The process should arrive at some form of an integrated forest garden system that meets the needs and interests of the farmer/gardeners who live in it and who guide its evolution. The land and climate of Pawa are favorable for wet tropical fruits (durian, mangosteen, langsat, rambutan) and rubber. Kanya’s family land sits very close to Khao Chamao National Park, a healthy forest with a large number of resident wild elephants.

Michael Commons (MC): “Kanya you once told me that you practice Wanakaset because you are a lazy person. Can you really be lazy and practice Wanakaset (forest gardening)?

Kanya Duchita (KD): “The work of Wanakaset is light work all of the time, compared to conventional farmers who need to work very hard in periods, having to rush to complete their work. As forest gardeners we just need to do some light work and observation all of the time.”   

“As we work a bit all of the time, you might say we are not lazy, and we can choose to do more management and get better yields and returns, but at the same time our trees take care of themselves. If we just leave them alone they will be fine and we will still be able to harvest from them.”

“We also have many diverse resources in our forest gardens during the whole year. Herbs such as bamboo grass (for heavy metal detoxification), Chamuang leaf (Garcinia cowa for heart disease and weight loss), we can harvest and process any time. That is, if we want to spend the time to harvest and process them. Even with fruits which are seasonal, we can sell fresh, but also process them for more value.”

A Mapram (Garcinia species) growing to the right of a productive rubber tree. This medicinal fruit tree came naturally once this rubber plantation was allowed to become a rubber forest. Photo Credit: Michael B. Commons.

MC: “As I see most tropical fruit orchards are integrated and have durian, mangosteen, langsat, and rambutan, how does your garden differ?”

KD: “As forest gardens we integrate more, like fiddle head ferns, pak wan pa (Melientha suavis) and different types of gingers and herbs that can live under the shade of these trees. We also plant pepper vines (black and long pepper) to directly climb up our trees. Most farmers would plant these separately, but we just let them grow up our trees and don’t provide any other care. This is methodology derived from laziness.”

“Most fruit gardeners don’t like to have other trees around their durian trees as it can make harvesting (catching) the durian difficult. But we have observed that with this mix the soil quality is better and holds moisture much longer—meaning in dry season we need to water much less than conventional farmers, and when tropical windstorms come through we don’t lose branches from our durian trees.”   

“Wild elephants are a big part of the reason we choose to practice forest gardening, if we only grow fruits (that we harvest and sell), then the elephants often come and eat this fruit and damage the trees. But in our very integrated system, we have many other trees with foods that elephants also enjoy to eat at the edges of our land, like bamboo and fishtail palms, which we do not mind at all if they eat. We have learned a lot from experience what is the best way to garden that can work for us and the elephants who are our neighbors and also come into our gardens.”

MC: “You grow rubber as well, which we normally see only as a monoculture, but you have it in a very integrated garden system, does this affect yields?”   

KD: “The yield (in rubber) per tree is not really different than in chemical plantations, but very different in terms of costs (much lower). In transitioning (to organic) we used manure for four or five years but since then did not need any fertilizer at all. Many older wild plants and trees came back after we stopped using herbicide. This includes wild vegetables, wild fruits, herbs and hardwoods. These produce valuable yields for us on top of the rubber. Now we are expanding our focus and cultivation of Mapram—a wild forest fruit related to mangosteen—which does very well in the shade of the rubber and is increasingly valued. (probably Garcinia hombroniana)”

“So in some cases we have allowed the forest to come back under our rubber plantations—now rubber forests—but we also have planted rubber along with other species in integration from the start: sator beans (Parkia speciosa), boon nak, jantana (wood used for incense), dipterocarpus and ginger species, in between the rows of rubbers. In this case the rubber production is good for the whole year except for a break in the driest months, and then we have other valuable yields, such as sator-tree beans. My older brother also harvests many seeds for propagation as seedling trees to sell. The rubber yield is as good as others obtain with no use at all of fertilizer (including organic fertilizers beyond the first years). This rubber forest is still organized in rows and easy to enter and harvest.”

A section of rubber integrated into a fruit and herb forest.  Photo Credit: Michael B. Commons.

MC: “How about native biodiversity and wildlife?”   

KD: “All three of our gardens have good edible mushrooms growing with them, mycorrhizal and termite mushrooms. There are many birds everywhere and of many different species. These birds also help us in propagation—they have seeded rattan and pak wan (a delicious edible perennial vegetable) all around and brought some unusual varieties to our garden from afar. We also have many squirrels who do eat and sometimes damage our fruits. While many other gardeners shoot squirrels, we just leave damaged and unattractive fruit for them on the trees.”

MC: “What about snakes as I have heard many rubber growers say that snakes are a threat harvesting in the very early morning?”

KD: “While snakes can be scary, I don’t really feel we have more snakes, and maybe even less problem as it seems they have their own space to live and be apart from humans (in our garden) and don’t bother us.”

With Kanya, we see three gardens types showing three different pathways to integration.

  1. Fruit forest, with rubber and herbs. This was their existing tropical fruit orchard—still with strong valuable productive fruit trees like durian. In some areas, they then added rubber trees into this mix as well bringing in and allowing many smaller herbs, vines and more to be under, on and around the trees. While there is ample space for access (and even to allow elephants through) the rubber is not at all in rows and the feel is like a mature forest.
  2. Rubber forest: Let the rubber plantation evolve into a rubber forest—allow herbs, wild fruits and trees to come back. This seems like the easiest path towards regeneration, allowing Mother Nature and her helpers to take to the task. It is clear from what Kanya explained that there are seed and root reserves under and around always, so just by stopping the use of herbicide and allowing the forest to come back, it will. Birds also clearly play a key role in propagation. Then the gardener just manages to allow and support what comes, and removes what is not convenient or of particular interest or ready to be harvested.  
  3. Strip intercropping: Plant rubber trees in rows (7-8 meters between rows—according to best practices such a distance is needed for good production in any case—being closer creates too much competition between the rubber trees and less yields) and in between plant a row of different forest and fruit trees that do well in a garden forest environment and provide yields that the farmer/gardener knows how to use. This seems like the best path if starting fresh, however; Kanya and her family have developed a lot of knowledge and experience both in what grows well together, and in the different uses of many different species of trees, fruits and herbs. While the Duchita family shares their knowledge freely and encourages other to practice forest gardening, even someone without such contacts and with little experience can try and plant different trees and herbs that are interesting and may do well, but then observe, learn and evolve (with) his/ her forest garden over time.

From an economic basis, this system wins on many levels: less cost, less work, no less yield in the key economic crops (rubber and tropical fruits), and far greater diversity of total yields. While there are many other indicators, just the peaceful co-existence of the wild elephants in these forest gardens is proof of their ecological success. Most farmers do not appear to be prepared to accept living in and around diverse forest systems with wildlife; adoption is quite low. However, the third method explained above could be easier to accept and adopt for someone who wants an organized and orderly system.

Another Wanakaset farmer who lives not too far away, Ms. Kamolpatara Kasikrom, explained to me more about elephant behavior.  She said that resident elephants are territorial and spread out to different areas to feed. For a given territory, about one to three elephants will manage and eat from it. It seems clear that the forest gardens are considered by the elephants to be part of their managed territory, whereas most all farms where humans try to keep elephants out are not part of their territory. The greatest damage from elephants can come when a large herd transmigrates. Resident elephants will protect their territories from such herds and the damage they can bring. No such protection is offered to an unfriendly parcel. While elephants are exceptionally intelligent beings, I believe this may touch to the very core of both our problem and the solution. Here we see that if we consider our land not to be exclusively ours, but also to belong to the many other lifeforms, and we manage it accordingly, these other beings will come to hold the same vision and practice, also working to manage the land for sustainable health and productivity.


About the author:

Michael B. Commons lives with his family in Chachoengsao, Thailand where they practice Wanakaset (forest gardening and self-reliance) and are active in the Wanaksaet Network. For over twelve years he has worked with Earth Net Foundation to support small-scale farmer groups and associated supporting organizations from South and Southeast Asia to develop organic and fair trade supply chains, regenerate ecological and community health, and build their resilience capacity. Two years ago he joined Terra Genesis International to use his skills to help link and assist concerned and innovative companies, their consumer networks and farmers’ groups to collaborate in developing regenerative pathways together.

At the Market: Healing People and the Planet

Author: Elizabeth L. Woessner | Published: January 3, 2018

If asked what he does for a living, Marcus McCauley, owner of McCauley Family Farm in Longmont, would say simply, “I heal people and the planet with delicious food.”

Given his background as a biomedical engineer and the son of a physician with a long family history of ranching and farming, McCauley comes to this passion for healing naturally. In 2012 his family sold its ranch in Oklahoma and moved to Colorado in a quest for healing — for him, his family and his community.

His first attempt at planting grasses on his new 40 acres was not successful because of what McCauley calls the desertification of the earth from a broken ecosystem. He quickly realized he needed to create a permaculture with a multi-species grazing system to benefit the soil. He also uses a keyline plow that cuts right into the subsoil and drops water right where it is needed.

“You need to nurture the soil if you want it to grow healthy plants and vegetables,” says McCauley.

He is currently planting a food forest that mimics the growth of a natural forest, using fruit trees, shrubs, culinary herbs and vegetables. Much like a natural forest, once the food forest takes roots it will provide fruits, herbs and vegetables with little or no interference. These regenerative farming practices create and maintain a vital, healthy soil, which in turn provides healthier, nutrient-dense produce.

Most of the farm is used for grazing sheep and chickens, with about 5 1/2 acres of cropland. The chickens are moved every six days and as they feed on bugs, worms, and insects and scratch through the soil, they regenerate it and enrich the pasture.

“To raise a chicken outdoors anywhere is very difficult, but especially here,” McCauley said. “There are not many places where chickens forage for food outside. Eating our chicken regenerates pasture here in Boulder County where land is rapidly turning into a desert. Some people say the landscape will look like Albuquerque in 20 years if we keep desertifying at this rate.”


Kenyan Farmers Reap Economic, Environmental Gains from ABCDs of Agroforestry

Author: Sophie Mbugua | Published: December 4, 2017

KERICHO, Kenya – Less than a decade ago, the hills of Tuiyobei village in Kenya’s Rift Valley were nearly bare, with few trees or shrubs beyond the coffee plantations that yielded very little. The rain was sporadic, temperatures were rising, and crop yields and livelihoods were deteriorating. High deforestation triggered by increasing demand for firewood, lumber and charcoal had degraded the ecosystem.

These factors, plus high erosion rates after rains and chaotic winds, prompted Maureen Salim and five others to form the Toben Gaa self-help group to improve their standard of living through environmental conservation.

Some in this community are descended from the Ogiek people, a group indigenous to the Mau Forest. But they no longer practice the traditional ways of their forefathers, like gathering honey, and instead farm the land, like their neighbors. To improve their food security and nutrition, Salim says the group has embraced trees.

“We came up with a community action plan to plant 50 trees a year per household as access to energy, wind [protection] for the coffee, and improving the village vegetation cover by 10 percent,” the 32-year-old mother of five and Toben Gaa self-help group secretary told Mongabay.

The action plan came as a result of training in the Asset-Based Community Development (ABCD) approach by the World Agroforestry Centre (ICRAF). The group has now grown to 46 members, 22 of them women. ABCD aims to empower communities to develop themselves through the assets they already have access to, along with some minimal support such as the sharing of skills and knowledge.

Today, trees species such as acacias, Casuarina, silky oak (Grevillea robusta), Nile tulip (Markhamia lutea), moringa (Moringa oleifera), agati (Sesbania grandiflora), neem (Azadirachta Indica), Tasmanian blue gum (Eucalyptus globulus) and mwalambe(Terminalia brownii) are intercropped with coffee, fruit trees such as guavas and tree tomatoes, and crops such as maize, beans, watermelons, papayas and pumpkins. Depending on an individual farmer’s interests, animal fodder such as Calliandra plus Boma Rhodes and Napier grasses are also intercropped. Others invest in woodlots for lumber and charcoal. Silky oak is widely planted along farm boundaries, with mwalambe grown in higher areas susceptible to soil erosion.

The Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (FAO) states that by 2050, food production will have to increase by over 60 percent to meet the increasing global demand for food, as the world’s population swells to 9.3 billion people. The FAO recognizes agroforestry — farming using trees — as one of the means to help meet the rising demands for food and fuel.

Trees also store carbon dioxide and improve microclimates through the capture of moisture, and improve soil fertility as leaves fall and decompose, while providing habitats for creatures such as birds, insects and fungi, as well as providing shade and shelter from wind for animals, plants and humans.


Farm to Shampoo: Organic Apples and Offsetting Carbon Emissions

Published: December 21, 2017

Regeneration CanadaDocTerreOneka, and Propagate Ventures have teamed up to plant an organic apple orchard that will offset the carbon footprint of the Living Soils Symposium Montreal.

In October 2017, the Living Soils Symposium Montreal – hosted by Regeneration Canada – brought together farmers, soil scientists, practitioners, politicians and citizens to discuss and define our role in healthy soils. Over three days, we presented, learned, exchanged experiences, and built relationships. Participants came in from Canada, the United States, and as far away as France, Uruguay and Hong Kong. Having arrived by train, plane, and automobile, our carbon footprint was measurable: we’ve decided to sequester that carbon back into the ground, using agroforestry, which sequesters carbon in both the above-ground biomass and the soil, while creating economic value.

Agroforestry is the intentional integration of trees and shrubs into row-crop and livestock farms to serve people, place, planet and profit. Rows of timber trees slow the wind. Blocks of evergreens provide cattle with shelter in the winter and shade in the summer, decreasing stress and increasing weight gain. Orchards produce food and diversify farm income. In the context of carbon, a tree is the opposite of a smoke stack. Trees sequester carbon in their trunks, branches, and roots, and in the soil beneath, all the while cleaning our air and water.


Agroforestry Should Play a Bigger Role in Tackling Climate Change

Author: Cathy Watson | Published: December 13, 2017

Never has it been so pressing to address climate change. So let’s hurry to embrace a proven part of the solution. The radical (but not new) concept of agroforestry – be it integrating trees to create shade over coffee bushes, adding trees to Colombian cattle ranches, or managing and encouraging shea trees to flourish amid millet crops in the Sahel – must move to centre stage.

The Global Carbon Project estimates that 2017 will see a two percent rise in worldwide carbon dioxide emissions, reversing the downward trend of the previous few years.

Almost a quarter of these emissions come from agriculture and the conversion of forests and wetlands into farmland.

This year is also set to be one of the hottest three ever recorded, according to the World Meteorological Organization. And, unlike 2016, 2017 has managed this even without a temperature-boosting El Niño weather system.

Flash floods in Southeast Asia, drought in East Africa, and melting glaciers in Latin America are just three examples of the extreme weather events linked to climate change that affect all corners of the world.

This is, truly, a global disaster, and one largely of our own making.

Solution at hand

But we also have the power to mitigate global warming, through reducing emissions of CO2 and increasing its absorption by expanding or protecting “carbon sinks” such as forests.

One especially effective but still yet to be fully recognised mitigation strategy is agroforestry – the purposeful regeneration, planting, and maintenance of trees and woody bushes on farms and rangeland.

Already, almost a billion hectares of agricultural land across the world contains trees that farming families deliberately manage side by side with their crops and livestock. Around 1.2 billion people depend on these agroforestry systems.

The soil, vegetation, and biomass on every hectare of such land can capture 3.3 tonnes of carbon per year – much more than that captured by land without trees.

Recent research indicates that tree cover on agricultural land across the planet absorbs some 0.75 gigatonnes of carbon a year. That’s a sizable chunk of the 9.75 gigatonnes of CO2 the world emits annually.


Reclaiming Appalachia: A Push to Bring Back Native Forests to Coal Country

Previous efforts to restore former coal mine sites in Appalachia have left behind vast swaths of unproductive land. Now, a group of nonprofits and scientists are working to restore native trees to the region — even if it means starting the reclamation process from scratch.

Author: Elizabeth McGowan | Published: December 14, 2017

Near the top of Cheat Mountain in West Virginia, bulldozer operator Bill Moore gazes down a steep slope littered with toppled conifers. Tangled roots and angled boulders protrude from the slate-colored soil, and the earth is crisscrossed with deep gouges.

“Anywhere else I’ve ever worked,” Moore says, “if I did what I did here, I’d be fired.”

Moore is working for Green Forests Work, a small nonprofit, as part of a project to rehabilitate a rare red spruce-dominant forest on 2,000 acres that were mined for coal in the 1970s and 1980s. The mine became part of the Monongahela National Forest in 1989 when the U.S. Forest Service purchased more than 40,000 contiguous acres known as the Mower Tract.

Moore and other bulldozer operators hired by the nonprofit first knock down non-native Norway spruce and undesirable red pine. Then they score the heavily compacted dirt with three-foot-long steel blades; openings formed by this “deep ripping” allow newly planted native saplings, shrubs, and flowering plants to take root and thrive. The downed trees are left in place to curb erosion, build soil, and provide brushy habitat for birds and mammals.    

“Ripping so deep might seem extreme, but it’s the only way to give these native trees a chance,” says Chris Barton, co-founder of Green Forests Work and a professor at the University of Kentucky who specializes in forest hydrology and watershed management. “What’s on top of this mine site isn’t soil. It’s the spoil created when rock was blown up to expose the coal seam, and it’s really compacted.”

Such aggressive bulldozing is part of a new and evolving approach to healing forests destroyed by decades of surface coal mining in Appalachia, from Alabama to Pennsylvania. These lands were supposed to have been reclaimed in recent decades under the 1977 federal Surface Mine Control and Reclamation Act. But scientists and conservationists say that many of those reclamation efforts were failed or half-hearted efforts that did little more than throw dirt, mining debris, grass, and non-native trees over scarred lands.

Now, Green Forests Work and other groups are attempting ecological do-overs with the aim of restoring native forests on large swaths of previously reclaimed public and private lands throughout Appalachia. The deep-ripping technique developed by Barton, with support from a team of other scientists, involves uprooting the non-native trees and grasses planted by coal companies and starting the entire land restoration process from scratch.

At 2,000 acres, Cheat Mountain is Green Forests Work’s largest undertaking since it began operating as a nonprofit in 2013. Barton has partnered with public and private funders to coordinate the planting of more than 2 million trees on 3,300-plus acres in Appalachia. Other former mining sites that it is tackling include a 130-acre plot within the Flight 93 National Memorial near Shanksville, Pa., the former mine site where one of the four hijacked planes crashed on Sept. 11, 2001; a 110-acre site near Fishtrap Lake in Pike County, Ky.; and a 86-acre area within the Egypt Valley Wildlife Area in eastern Ohio. These and other planned restoration sites are part of an estimated 1 million acres that the federal Office of Surface Mining Reclamation and Enforcement (OSMRE) has designated as legacy coal mine sites.


Large Scale Forestation for Climate Mitigation: Lessons from South Korea, China, and India

Author: Michael Wolosin | Published: September 2017 

This study explores the empirical basis for large-scale, government-led afforestation, reforestation and forest restoration (A/R/R) efforts to be an effective climate mitigation strategy. It does this through a close examination of three country case studies (South Korea, China and India), addressing the following questions:

  • How much forest expansion and climate mitigation has been achieved through large-scale A/R/R efforts? At what cost?
  • How successful have large-scale A/R/R efforts actually been as mitigation tools?
  • Are there information and reporting gaps that hinder assessment of forestation’s potential role in climate mitigation?

Overall, this study suggests that large-scale A/R/R should be taken seriously as a major focus for additional climate mitigation action around the world. It suggests that A/R/R goals in a climate context should be outcome-based (e.g. area of forest expansion, volume change in forest stock, tons of CO2 sequestered) rather than input-based (hectares planted or restored, trees planted), and linked directly to the forest carbon statistics that countries tracks in national forest inventories and use for compiling GHG inventories. The paper also demonstrates that three countries have achieved very significant forest turnarounds and tree planting, yielding mitigation of over 12 GtCO2 in the past two decades. Such large-scale sequestration may be replicated, under the right conditions, thereby contributing to Paris Agreement goals.

Funding for this report has been provided by the Climate and Land Use Alliance. The author is solely responsible for its content.


New Research Shows Why Forests Are Absolutely Essential to Meeting Paris Climate Agreement Goals

Author: Mike Gaworecki | Published: November 9, 2017 

  • It’s widely acknowledged that keeping what’s left of the world’s forests standing is crucial to combating climate change. But a suite of new research published last week shows that forests have an even larger role to play in achieving the goals of the Paris Climate Agreement than was previously thought.
  • In order to meet those goals, the global economy will have to be swiftly decarbonized. According to a new report from the Woods Hole Research Center (WHRC), by taking aggressive action to protect and rehabilitate tropical forests, we could buy ourselves more time to make this transition.
  • Deforestation is responsible for about 10 percent of global emissions, but removing that source of emissions is only half the value of forests to global climate action. Other research shows that planting trees and rehabilitating degraded forests is just as critical to climate efforts as stopping deforestation, because of how reforestation efforts can enhance forests’ role as a carbon sink.

By now, it’s widely acknowledged that keeping what’s left of the world’s forests standing is crucial to combating climate change. But a suite of new research published last week shows that forests have an even larger role to play in achieving the goals of the Paris Climate Agreement than was previously thought.

The research was released on the eve of the annual United Nations climate conference (the twenty-third conference of the parties to the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change, or COP23), which kicked off in Bonn, Germany on November 6.

The UN’s program for reducing emissions from deforestation and forest degradation, known as REDD, was included in the Paris Agreement as a standalone article, signaling its importance to broader efforts by the international community to halt global warming. The Agreement was signed by nearly 200 countries in December 2015 and set a goal of “keeping a global temperature rise this century well below 2 degrees Celsius above pre-industrial levels and to pursue efforts to limit the temperature increase even further to 1.5 degrees Celsius.”

In order to meet those targets, the global economy will have to be swiftly decarbonized and the use of fossil fuels sharply curtailed, while the use of clean, renewable energy will need to be scaled up just as rapidly. According to a new report from the Woods Hole Research Center (WHRC), by taking aggressive action to protect and rehabilitate tropical forests, we could buy ourselves more time to make this transition.

“[E]nding tropical forest loss, improving tropical forest management, and restoring 500 million hectares of tropical forests could reduce sufficient emissions to provide 10-15 years of additional time to dramatically reduce our use of fossil fuels,” the report states. “The potential is even larger if the role of the entire land use sector is considered.”

Deforestation is responsible for about 10 percent of global emissions. But removing that source of emissions is only half the value of forests to global climate action. Restoring degraded forests has come to be recognized as perhaps just as critical to climate efforts as stopping deforestation, because of how reforestation efforts can enhance forests’ role as a carbon sink.

While forests currently remove an estimated 30 percent of manmade carbon emissions from the atmosphere, they could be sequestering far more. If we allow young secondary forests to regrow and improve forest management in addition to stopping deforestation, WHRC notes, “the cumulative size of the forest sink could increase by 100 billion metric tons of carbon by the year 2100 — significantly larger than it is today.” That’s roughly equivalent to the amount of emissions we create in a decade through our use of fossil fuels.

“We cannot meet the Paris Agreement’s goal of limiting warming to 1.5 °C without utilizing the potential of forests and agricultural soils to store more carbon,” said Philip Duffy, WHRC’s president and executive director. “This requires avoiding future emissions as well as using these resources to remove CO2 from the atmosphere. The relatively small net CO2 emissions from land use—about 10 percent of total human emissions—is the difference between much larger emissions and removals. This masks the great potential of forests and soils to contribute to climate mitigation.”

There are actually three distinct activities, besides stopping deforestation, that can boost forests’ role in halting global warming: afforestation, or planting trees on land that was not previously forest; reforestation, in which forests are replanted on land that had been forest in the past; and forest restoration, which involves planting new trees to improve the health of a degraded forest.

Another report, also released last week, by Forest Climate Analytics, looks at large-scale afforestation, reforestation, and restoration efforts in China, India, and South Korea. Through their tree planting efforts, these three countries removed more than 12 billion metric tons of carbon dioxide from the atmosphere over the past two decades, according to the report, providing “evidence for the scale of carbon removals that are achievable through active interventions centered on tree planting and maintenance.”