By Trees for the Future
Upon establishment of a Forest Garden, a farmer’s land will go from hosting approximately 20 trees to over 2,000 trees! This benefits a farmer’s land, soil, and productivity tremendously, and it also benefits all the wildlife in the surrounding area. Moreover, a farmer’s participation in the program increases the total number of plant and animal species on her land from only 7 to well over 40 species. This momentous growth revitalizes our land and all life on our planet.
Increasing plant diversity has many advantages including an opportunity to provide some of the ecosystem services provided by natural forests, increased habitat for animals on and off-farm, more reliable products and food available year-round, reduced need for expensive chemical fertilizers and pesticides, and reduced pressure on surrounding landscapes.
Forest Gardens Increase Agricultural Biodiversity, Improve Lives
One of the major differences between Forest Gardens versus traditional agricultural systems is the plant diversity found on-farm. Traditional agriculture typically depends solely on one or two crop species, whereas Forest Gardens are a poly-cultural agricultural system, using multiple crops within the same space.
Farmers have lost food, tree, and crop varieties due to the adoption of monoculture agriculture. The Forest Garden farming system boasts a diversity of species and generates more stable and dependable income while diversifying food for families. We work with our famers to re-establish nutritious, culturally significant, and traditional species.
The Forest Garden incorporates fruit, fodder, fuel, fertilizer, medicinal, timber, and other native species of trees and shrubs- in addition to other food crops- together in a strategic, integrated, design. Fresh fruits and vegetables consumed by farmers and their families help vary their diet and improve their nutrition. Any surplus of fruits, fuel wood, and animal fodder are sold or traded to local markets year round. The Forest Garden’s diversification of crops can increase access to food, as well as income, in an environmentally responsible manner, leading to improved food security and resiliency at the household level.
Forest Gardens Increase Animal Biodiversity and Habitat
Many farmers in Africa live in landscapes that are under threat of extinction, but act as a rare refuge for the plants and animals that reside in them. These ecosystems are under intense pressure from local people who depend upon their resources. People resort to subsistence slash-and-burn agriculture, unsustainable harvesting of forest resources, overgrazing, and illegal logging as means of survival. These actions result in forest destruction and habitat fragmentation. This, coupled with poaching and the bushmeat trade, leads to the extinction of globally threatened flora and fauna, decline in biological diversity, watershed destruction, and degradation of livelihood systems. The impacts are devastating both locally, and globally.
Reducing pressure on these fragile ecosystems by enabling farmers to be self-sufficient is paramount to the success of these ecosystems. Self-sufficiency can be established through increased on-farm plant diversity. One of the most important environmental benefits of Forest Gardens is their ability to maintain biological diversity, particularly in degraded and fragmented landscapes. Forest Gardens can act as refuges for animal populations and may provide critical habitat functions, increasingly when there are few alternatives.
Trees for the Future works in Senegal to preserve the chimpanzee’s natural habitat, ensuring their survival. This high-risk habitat was facing destruction as villagers ventured further and further in to seek out firewood and timber. By planting trees for local use, the chimpanzees’ habitat has become safeguarded. Additionally, providing habitat for birds is especially important as birds are often seen as indicators of healthy ecosystems. Bird population fluctuations can be indicative of environmental change, as well as a good measure of Forest Garden success in respect to biological diversity and overall ecosystem health. Birds are also important for restoring degraded lands as they play an important role in seed dispersal and the control of certain pests. Additionally, other animals, especially insects, are critical to pollination, which is important for fruit production.
Forest Gardens Decrease Dependence on Pesticides
The bats, birds, insects and reptiles that prosper with increased biodiversity also, in turn, naturally help regulate harmful pests. Farms with very little crop diversity often rely on expensive and dangerous chemical inputs, without the help of these natural predators. Additional fertilizer is constantly needed to maintain yields, and pesticides are often needed to combat the diseases that attack mono-cultural agricultural systems. Diversifying cropping systems through Forest Gardens can not only provide natural forms of fertilizer, it can also offer new options for food production and marketable products that were not affected by diseases. As many diseases are crop-specific, a diverse cropping system will ensure that some farm products are unaffected by a disease, leaving farmers with options for both food and income generation.
Reducing the dependence on chemical inputs is cornerstone to sustainability. The more they are used, the more they are needed. The result is a poverty trap reliant on heavy expenditures and lower crop yields. Throughout the world, impoverished farmers use chemicals without proper training. Intensive, improper use of chemicals will eventually have detrimental results on soil quality. Overuse depletes beneficial soil microorganisms and soil structure, reducing the incentive to add organic material which is critical to proper soil maintenance. It is a vicious cycle that farmers too often find themselves trapped.
Forest Gardens Create Ecosystems
A Forest Garden is a hybrid agricultural system combining some characteristics of typical agricultural production with less intensive practices and investment in longer-term returns. Perhaps the largest environmental benefit of Forest Gardens, through their greater biological diversity, is their ability to provide some of the ecosystem services of a natural forest. Once matured, Forest Gardens become much like a naturally occurring forest, in respect to structure and function. A Forest Garden’s diverse horizontal and vertical arrangement of plants and animals provides diversity, watershed and soil protection, and carbon sequestration. This is especially important in degraded landscapes, where many of these things are in dire need.
Forest Gardens increase agricultural, plant, and animal biodiversity, including natural hunters of harmful insects. As a result, farmers have healthier and more prosperous land, both for themselves, and all living things.