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CTA. 1994. Forest gardens. Spore 53. CTA, Wageningen, The Netherlands.
Permanent link to this item: http://hdl.handle.net/10568/49472
Increasing population pressure has almost invariably led to clearance of forest and the substitution of a wide variety of mostly perennial species by mono cultures of a few annual staple crops - cereals, tubers, pulses and vegetables. The assumption...
Increasing population pressure has almost invariably led to clearance of forest and the substitution of a wide variety of mostly perennial species by mono cultures of a few annual staple crops - cereals, tubers, pulses and vegetables. The assumption has been that mono cropping with annuals is more productive than with perennials. Yet historically, in many societies in the humid tropics, increased population pressure 1ed to more intensive management and inventive integration of perennials (trees and shrubs), annuals and livestock into a system. Refered to as the forest garden or homestead garden, this approach deserves consideration as a realistic approach to food production and soil conservation. Forest or homestead gardens are a long-established, though less systematic form of agroforestry than most familiar systems. Developed over centuries in central Java, the hill country of Sri Lanka, the Andean slopes in Peru and in parts of West and Central Africa, the 'gardens' can be highly productive, provide a diversity of produce for consumption and sale, and ensure continuous protection against soil erosion. The modern trend has been against such traditional multi-cropping systems, which have even been referred to as 'primitive'. Consequently there is a danger that they will be consigned to oblivion as trees are cleared and replaced by monocultures of plantation crops, forest species or subsistence agriculture-based primarily on annual staples. Yet to survive, forest gardens must prove that they are equal or superior to other forms of land-uses. What makes a forest garden? Forest gardens, like forests, comprise many layers, or stories, of plants. The highest storey is often a palm; it could be oil palm in West Africa or coconut in the Caribbean and Pacific, or a similar tall species that can produce timber, fuelwood, fruit, fodder, shade, and food in the form of edible nuts, flowers and leaves. Rubber is another alternative. The second and lower storey may be banana or plantain, papaya, guava, citrus, jacktruit, mango or other fruits including avocado, spices such as nutmeg, and nuts like cashew or Brazil nut. A third storey is of still lower growing trees - cocoa, and shrubs such as coffee and tea. At ground level the understorey will consist of the cereals, tubers, pulses and vegetables that form the staple part of the local diet, as well as cash crops such as pineapple. Other species such as pepper, passion fruit and vanilla, which are climbers, can be trained to climb up stems of selected trees, while forage grasses and forage trees may also form part of forest gardens. Species of plants may also be selected which offer food for honey bees: livestock, large and small, are invariably an integral part of this system of near-natural agroforestry. Getting established In Agroforestry: classification and management, Kenneth MacDicken observes that in some areas, for example south eastern Nigeria, homestead gardens appear to have co-evolved with shifting cultivation and bush fallow systems. Some 70 woody species have been recorded on what are locally referred to as 'compound farms' and, while the placement of the trees and other crops appears irregular, even random, the plants are all situated where they can be easily protected, watered and harvested. Another and very revealing observation is that or such forest gardens cropping intensity increases with population density and land scarcity. Dr Ojoting Ichire of the University of Calabar in Nigeria has described how agroforestry practices can help to establish fruit trees; pointing out that these systems are important because they demonstrate methods of establishing farms in forested areas without complete clearing of the land. Farmers in eastern Nigeria thin stand of mature forest, selling the large trees to provide income, and planting fruit trees in the clearings around the remaining trees. A different approach is to this out larger but more widely spaced area: of forest and to plant fruit and other tree. in small groves. In a third alternative, forest trees and fruit trees are developed in alternate strips. In all systems the brush wood from felling is cleared during the' dry season before the fruit trees are planted but the brush is not burnt in situ because of the obvious risk. How good a system? The evidence that greater demands c population density and land scarcity le. to an intensification of the forest garde system rather than its abandonment is proof of its practical economic and social worth. Dr Ichire reports that in eastern Nigeria the average farmer harvests cocoa and kola yields 5-10% higher from tree grown under this system. Also, coca and citrus come into bearing sooner. Banana and plantain production is also good by oil palm bears more heavily in the open. Ground level crops, including pineapple and food staples, benefit from the protection of taller vegetation provided that, shading is not excessive. There is much experience to suggest that forest gardens are economic, ecological sound and biologically sustainable. The potential forest gardens to provide food and income and to protect genetic diversity and soil is clear. Further reading: 1. Agroforestry,classification and management, edited by Kenneth G MacDicken and Napolean T Vergara, Published by Wiley Interscience 1990. 2. Agroforestry Today Vol No2, Vol 4 No3 and Vol 5 No 3, Published by ICRAF