Forest Farming is a Profitable Solution to Global Warming
We are now in the midst of global warming. The signs are already ominous. We can now feel the immediate effects of global warming through the climatic changes around its. Our summers are getting hotter, while the typhoons during the rainy season are increasingly getting to be fewer, but more feracious.
Green activists have been successful in their media campaigns on the reduction of greenhouse gases – mainly carbon dioxide and methane gases – by cutting down on the emission of gases and related activities. The reuse and recycling of industrial raw materials such as plastic, metal, paper, and glass also have the combined effect of reducing the release of greenhouse gases into the atmosphere.
Even our government has accepted this reality and is compensating by undertaking cloud seeding to create artificial rain. But we all know that these are just temporary, stop gap measures.
Through the Kyoto Protocol, several countries agreed to control the emission of greenhouse gases. “Carbon credits” were also conceived as a unit of measure, and companies and countries that are able to reduce the emission of greenhouse gases will be provided with incentives.
However, the cutting down on the release of greenhouse gases has its limits. Every time we start our car, cook our meals, switch on our aircon or refrigerator, turn on our computer. we are already contributing to global warming. The fact is, all of us, are guilty of releasing greenhouse gases, one way or another. While we can reduce such activities, we cannot totally eliminate some of the machines that our livelihoods and lifestyle depend on. No matter what, man spews out greenhouse gases in order to maintain his lifestyle.
The prospects for global warming are quite perilous. These include: a general increase in global temperatures leading to mass extinction of wildlife and plant species; melting of the polar ice caps resulting in permanent flooding of low lying areas; extreme weather conditions causing huge crop losses, death and loss of property; proliferation of hazardous disease such as skin cancers, eye cataracts and various respiratory ailments.
Recently, former U.S. Vice-President Al Gore, made a report on global warming, entitled An Inconvenient Truth, a product of 20 years of research by experts. In his report, he said that experts estimate that we have as little as 10 years to reverse the damage caused by global warming. Proof of global warming is that 10 of the hottest years in history were in the last 12 years. The year 2005 was the hottest year in history. Global warming is the biggest crisis mankind faces today. If we do not act immediately, the damage would be irreversible.
In another Global Warming special report by Newsweek, it was indicated that if temperatures rise further (an additional 3-4°C), not even the trees can save us. At that point, trees will be producing more carbon dioxide than it can absorb, leaving us with no viable means to sequester the green house gases already in the atmosphere. This means we have to act now, for we have so little time left!
A1 Gore proposes that we should all target being carbon neutral. This means that we should cut down on our activities which contribute to the release of greenhouse gases. How? Well, we have to reduce our consumption of electricity by using energy efficient cars and electrical devices that consume less power.
Reducing, reusing and recycling are the byword of conservationists. But for me, I think we should go beyond that by being carbon negative. We should create a lifestyle and livelihood that will not only offset the greenhouse gases.
In retrospect, we cannot truly eliminate the release of greenhouse gases since they are byproducts which are ingrained into the source of power of appliances, vehicles and machines we use everyday. To reverse the trend, a proactive measure should also be undertaken to extract the overwhelming numbers of greenhouse gases already present in our atmosphere.
How Do We Extract the Gases Already Released in our Atmosphere?
For gases that have already been released into the atmosphere, there are only very limited options. Currently, one of the only feasible ways to sequester existing greenhouse gases already released into our atmosphere is to plant many trees.
Trees absorb greenhouse gases and release oxygen for us to breathe. The moisture they release also creates clouds which reflect the harmful rays from the sun. At the same time, they help control soil erosion and enrich the topsoil with the decomposing leaves and branches that trees produce regularly.
The Department of Natural Resources (DENR) as well as several NGOs have been busy with their reforestation campaigns. While their efforts are truly commendable, we have to help them because of the enormity of the task at hand. To make this possible, everyone should be involved for the efforts to be effective.
For sufficient impact, we should plant not only millions of trees, but billions of them to maximize our carbon sequestration ability on a per hectare basis. To marshall the neeessary resources believe, we need to reintegrate forestry into our lifestyle and job. The forests we plant also have to be profitable to create financial resources and to sustain the enthusiasm of everyone.
In order for us to sustain our forest planting activities, the forests should, in turn, be able to nourish and sustain us by using abundant sources of food and raw materials.
For us to have economic returns from the forests we nourish and to solve the problem on global warming, we should practice forest farming. This is a form of 3-storey farming which integrates our present knowledge in forestry and agriculture. It is not new. The tribal minorities have been practicing it for centuries. DENR calls it “rainforestation”. In forest farming, multi-purpose trees and plants are selected and planted. Like natural forest stands, they are designed to grow into three stories of crops.
The first to be planted are the canopy tree crops. These trees which grow at least 20 meters when mature, shall form the upper storey for the forest farm and would thrive under direct sunlight.
While most of these climax trees should be forest trees, multi-functioning trees can also be included. Some examples of pioneering, fast growing exotic forest trees are Gmelina (Gmelina arborea), Eucalyptus (Eucalyptus deglupta), rain tree Acacia (Albizia saman), and Falcatta (Parathensis falcataria). Indigenous trees like Red Lauan (Shorea negrosensis), and Apitong (Dipterocarpus grandifloris) can also be planted.
While the exotic species are deemed fast growing, indigenous species, on the other hand, are more typhoon-resistant and adaptable to local conditions. In our farm, I planted both to achieve the best synergies from these species. Creeping palms, like rattan – there are more than 600 species of them – can also be cultivated symbiotically with these canopy trees as an additional source of income.
Underneath the canopy are the second storey crops. These can be either juvenile forest trees awaiting their turn to grow into the canopy or tree crops which thrive in partial shade. Examples of shade-tolerant fruit tree crops are durian, cacao, coffee, some varieties smaller, shade-tolerant plants can also be cultivated on the tree trunks of these second storey trees. Examples of such are aerial ubi and orchids.
The groundlevelofthe forest farm can still be farmed despite the lower level of sunlight on the forest floor. Examples of crops that be farmed on the forest floor are gabi, anthurium and ginger. Mushrooms like the highly medicinal Ganoderma lucidum, the tasty banana mushrooms (Tjolvariella volvaciae) and various oyster mushroom species can also be cultivated to make use of the ,enormous amounts of decomposing litter on the forest floor.
Three-layered forest farming is very efficient because sunlight for photosynthesis is filtered and maximized. Several plants growing symbiotically in diversity generate a higher cummulative yield and ensure a balanced, profitable cash flow for farmers compared to a single or dual cropping as presently practiced. With this form of crop diversity, soil nutrients are also recycled more efficiently and pests cannot proliferate rapidly. Hence, the cost pesticides and fertilizer is minimized because the trees, especially nitrogen fixers, create their own fertilizer in the form of decomposing forest litter. Moreover, the soil’s capability to retain water is enhanced. Soil erosion will also be avoided as the extensive root system generated by the trees can hold the soil together even during strong downpours.
Three-storey multicropping ensures a more stable and continuous cash flow. The farmer could use the income from the yield of his short-term crops for his immediate needs, while the medium term crops for his long-term needs. What he would earn from climax, forest trees, on the other hand, could be his investment for the college education of his children and for his retirement. Above all, this type of forest farming is eco friendly. Each hectare of this multi-storey farming system sequesters eight to 12 times more greenhouse gases than a rice crop.
For farmers with growing coconut, palm oil or rubber tree crops, a modified form of forest farming can be applied. Fertilizer trees, such as rain tree acacia, Acacia mangium, Eucalyptus deglupta, Falcatta, Narra or Apitong can be planted in between coconut trees. These intercropped trees are nitrogen fixers which will help the coconut trees absorb nitrogen from the air. Fertilizer trees will also help enhance soil fertility through the forest debris it sheds. Multiple crops also mean multiple incomes, creating a symbiotic win-win situation for the crops and for the farmer. More importantly, intercropping with forest trees will increase the farm’s ability to absorb greenhouse gases.
At the very least, these fertilizer trees or fruit trees should be planted in borders and areas in the farm which are not suitable to agriculture. Crops, such as sugarcane, rice and corn can also be planted in between rows of fertilizer trees and this is called the Taungya system. There are also lots of farms whose topsoil is already depleted and unsuitable for most crops. Forest farming can resurrect and rejuvenate them into highly profitable farms.
Livestock farmers can also plant fodder-producing trees or fruit trees in between their livestock buildings. These trees will also serve as coolants to their farm animals; the cooling effect that each tree produces is equivalent to the cooling effect that 25 air-conditioning units produce. Moreso, the trees can directly recycle the voluminous animal manure into a major source of income. Livestock farms produce not only greenhouse gases, but also methane, a gas that is three to four times more detrimental to our environment than carbon dioxide. By planting trees and other crops, the livestock farms would offset the greenhouse gases the farm animals produce.
Global warming is a very real threat to mankind. We cannot afford to be complacent because it is a global war we cannot afford to lose. We only have one planet. We need to change our lifestyle and adopt means of livelihoods which are harmonious to nature. Forest farming is a solution to global warming and a means to increase the sustainability of farms and livelihoods. It takes 30 trees only to offset the greenhouse gases produced by an American family and we can plant more. We should be in the forefront of the battle against global warming.