Ecological Restauration Print E-mail

Our society, worldwide, is trapped in a deep and complex social, spiritual and environmental crisis. There are no instant or simple solutions at hand to solve these. 

Many years of inappropriate management of vegetation, water, soil and biodiversity can not be straightened out overnight. There is no quick fix for this global crisis we are passing through.

But, what can I do? Every single person can, in his daily and professional activities, contribute to the restoration of our damaged environment with imagination and creativity, with intelligence and perseverance. The most important task is not the transformation of our world, but the transformation of ourselves. We have to change our lifestyle, lead a frugal life, away from materialism, excessive consumption, empty talk, vapid sensationalism and the madness of the entertainment industry.

carving out an irrigation swaleBosque de Paz offers the opportunity to be a part of a worldwide wave of concerned citizens making our world a better place to live.

Obviously, the few hectares occupied by Bosque de Paz have little weight compared to the barbarian deforestation, the gross plundering of the oceans and the massive destruction of fertile soils, but as a sign they are meaningful. They are a symbol of the will to maintain harmony between mankind and our environment or ‘Pacha Mama’ (in Quichua-language). All our visitors come to appreciate how much hard labor it takes to create this garden, a unique place of environmental stewardship. Every species cherished here is an evolutionary masterpiece.

We hope that our visitors spread Bosque de Paz’s message: let’s rediscover that sense of harmony, that sense of being a part of, rather than apart from nature. We have a sacred duty to the natural order of things; with this realization we are less likely to see the earth as some sort of gigantic production system, capable of ever-increasing outputs for our benefit - at no long term cost.

Bosque de Paz is not a place of peace in the sense of dozing off and forgetting, but rather a center for reflection and meditation: to practice a lifestyle of frugality, study, simplicity and caring.

What is Ecological Restoration?

(parts of this chapter are reproduced from ¨Natural Capital and Ecological Restoration, An Occasional Paper of the Society for Ecological Restoration, Science and Policy Working Group, April 2004),see also 

All human economies rely on natural goods and services that accrue from healthy, functional ecosystems. Healthy ecosystems represent natural capital, much as infrastructure, equipment and monetary investments represent financial capital.<;span style="font-family: Tahoma, sans-serif"> Natural capital is distinguished from financial capital by the notion of health, as is the complementary concept of social capital, which consists of healthy human communities. 

Examples of natural goods are numerous and obvious: timber, firewood, charcoal, edible mushrooms, medicinal plants, seafood, and natural grasslands in for animal husbandry. Examples of natural services are the production of clear air and water, protection of recharge areas and watersheds, detention of potential floodwaters, reduction of erosion and sedimentation, shoreline stability, contaminant sinks, bio-transformation of excess nutrients, production of topsoil, habitat for pollinators and bio-control agents, preservation of genetic diversity, and recreational amenities. These products of natural capital are available essentially without cost, whereas their manufactured and engineered counterparts are not. 

The importance of ecological restoration to economics can no longer be ignored. Only by augmenting natural capital can we achieve economic sustainability. As we do so, we must pay close attention to the ratio and the spatial configuration of natural to degraded or permanently transformed lands. Unless we ensure an ongoing supply of regional and planetary natural capital, the goal of sustainable economies will be unattainable, and the social and political ramifications of this are a matter of grave concern. 

Every damaged ecosystem has – within certain limits – the inherent ability to restore itself, as long as all the original elements of that system are still present. We refer to Ecological Restoration when man imitates the ecological processes, accelerates them or supports them in order to establish the restoration as fast and as complete as possible. The damage can be caused by nature (natural fires, earthquakes, inundations, etc) or by human activities (deforestation, fire, pollution, waste dumping, drainage, etc). Sometimes, the damage has occurred so drastically that there is no possibility to return to the original situation. But, through detailed observation of the existing ´reference´ system, a general guideline can be followed.

As result of uncontrolled and unlimited deforestation, followed by inappropriate land management, a lot of arable land in the Ecuadorian Andes has become unproductive and not suitable for agriculture within a few decades. According to data from the Ministry of Agriculture, an estimated 40 000 hectares of land is lost every year as result of erosion. This is not merely an Ecuadorian problem, but part of a worldwide development that affects the small farmers especially. The United Nations Food and Agricultural Organization (FAO) states that every rehabilitation or reforestation program has to offer the following resources in order to guarantee ´family security´: food security, nutritious value of food, health, animal fodder, shelter, energy, water, income and … a restored environment.

Restoration can take time before all the benefits are evident, especially if nature has to regenerate by itself. But, man can support and accelerate this natural regeneration by actively intervening, for example, by bringing in species from the reference system or carrying out structural work such as setting up contour lines against erosion. One main condition and an important principle in restoration work – especially here in Ecuador – is not to use fire any longer.<br /> <;br /> In tropical and subtropical areas, such as the Mira Valley and Bosque de Paz, natural regeneration is vigorous and not interrupted, since there is no winter period. This makes the work of ecological restoration the more rewarding.

Ecological Restoration at Bosque de Paz

Fotostory of the ecological restoration in Bosque de Paz

farmers set fire to the stubble on their land, provocing uncontrolled wild fires that destroy the forestWith the purchase of 15 ha of impoverished land in 1995, Bosque de Paz started the long process of ecological restoration in combination with the production of fruit and crops. Upon receiving the results of the soil analysis it became clear the soil lacked organic matter as well as essential plant nutrients such as nitrogen and phosphorus. For many years the soil had been depleted of nutrients by erosion, leaving behind an infertile mixture of gravel and poor soil. In the decades before the purchase, slash and burn methods were excessively used to clear the land for growing beans and maize and every year the stubble was set on fire. The fires would often spread to the nearby vegetation on the steep hills, ultimately destroying the surrounding forests. The cutting down of forests leads to a more arid climate and impoverished vegetation, because plants have the ability to trap moisture in the air and in the soil.

The property consists of a very steep section (about 8 ha at an angle of 40 degrees or more) and a gentle slope ( 4 ha at 15 degrees) along with a couple of strips along the river Guallupe. The first step in the restoration started with the introduction of hedges and barriers along contour lines in order to control erosion. For these hedges nitrogen fixing trees and shrubs such as Leucaena, Cajanus cajan, Crotelarium and Desmodium were used. Leucaena was not very effective and was replaced by Vetiver grass, which develops a much thicker hedge and a strong and deep root system which anchors the soil.

The process of ecological restoration at Bosque de Paz is called forest farming, which emphasizes on both the natural regeneration and the planting of trees, bamboos and shrubs. On the less steep parts of the property this is done in an orderly manner in combination with the production of maize, pineapple, manioc, fruit trees etc. This combination of forest trees and crops is called Agroforestry. On the steeper slopes it is done in a more chaotic fashion, which is called Analog Forestry, which puts slightly more emphasis on recreating the authentic forest biodiversity than on crop production.

Special attention is given to the planting and maintaining of bamboo along the river, near water sources and in deep gullies. 

In a forest farm, we intentionally plant lots of trees, bamboos and bushes in order to create a dense forest, producing high diversity and an abundance of useful products such as timber, fruit, building materials and fire-wood. Along the way, we also improve wildlife habitat and water quality, as well as recreation possibilities and scenic values.
Short-term crops, such as corn and beans that can produce within 8 months, are combined with the food forest that is a more permanent and long-term production system. The food forest produces with abundance after only 10 to 12 years.

The valley of the Guallupe River, a side valley of the Mira River, where Bosque de Paz is located, was once covered with a humid cloud forest. Now, 50 years later, the dominant vegetation is an arid grassland (pajonal). Only in the very steep gulley’s and in the remote and unreachable parts of the hills do we find the original vegetation, our source of "pioneer" plants for Bosque de Paz.

Since 1995, we have introduced seedlings from these remnant rain forests, especially focusing on fruit-bearing trees. The young patches of recovering forest are now producing their first fruit harvests.

Forest Farming, a human-made ecosystem in Bosque de Paz, a long-term project.

ecological  restoration requires a lot of energy and hard work Forest Farming, under a variety of names such as Home Garden, Compound Farm, Forest Garden, Food Forest, Permaculture Farm, etc, is one of the ancient forms of land use in many parts of the Tropics: a highly intensive and often sophisticated system for supplying food and other basic necessities for self-reliant communities. 
The almost extinct indigenous tribes, in building their homes under the canopy, carefully maintained the more valuable rainforest trees, but planted in their shade commercial crops such as bananas, coffee, cocoa and a variety of tropical fruit. They thereby built up an elaborate and remarkably efficient system of cultivation which has brought them commercial success and has also been able to support their basic physical needs.

The forest farm imitates the complex structure of the natural forest. The canopy contains high 'emergent', light-loving trees. The low-tree layer holds shorter, shade-tolerant trees. Below them are the shrub layer, the herbaceous layer, the ground-cover layer and the rhizosphere, the root layer. There is also a vertical storey, consisting of vines, creepers and climbers. In the forest farm we use all these layers to our advantage with plants which we carefully select for their compatibility with each other.

The result is a human-made ecosystem made up of an incredible diversity of plants, all of which have been planted in their own, specie specific, locations. Due to its multi-dimensional structure and its high level of plant compatibility, the forest farm becomes a symbiotic organism and tends to share the health and vigour of the natural forest. Pests and diseases never attain the epidemic proportions that they do under monocrop conditions. Recent scientific investigations have also shown that forests are the most productive of all natural ecosystems, and this can also be mimicked in a well planned forest farm.

Unfortunately, very few farmers in the Tropics, including the Mira and Guallupe Valley, now keep home and forest gardens, a change that arose only during the latest generations, along with the disappearance of traditional agriculture, previously practised by indigenous groups. Wild species are seen only for their immediate commercial value; in the region around Bosque de Paz, standing trees are valued only for timber, wild armadillo for the hull and the rare Guatusa for the value of its meat. As a local elderly farmer expressed: ' We fought 30 years to get rid of these trees, we don't want them back now.'

Unconsciously, local small farmers contribute to the destruction of their own environment through uncontrolled free grazing of cattle, often in recently deforested lands. To make things worse, every year after the harvest, they set fire to the stubble in their fields without any firebreaks. The resulting uncontrolled wild fires sweep out remaining patches of forest as well as natural vegetation on fallow land. Subsequent erosion of denuded topsoil leaves the once deep and viable soils depleted and unproductive.

Climatic disturbances aggravate (and may in fact be caused by) poor land use. Regular precipitation patterns degenerate into months of extreme drought followed by heavy downpours which wash the fertile topsoil downhill. These consequences were strikingly apparent in the Mira Valley with the severe 7 months drought in 2001 and 2007, followed by extremely heavy rains. This is a clear indication that there is a direct link between the poor farming practices in the mountains and the inundations of water in the lower parts. Again, in 2009, a long period of drought (from June till halfway through October), accompanied by devastating wild fires, destroyed what nature had built up so carefully.

It is important, however, not to blame small-farmers for their poor practices. The roots of poor land use and its consequences are much deeper. Short-sighted political and institutional policy has emphasized the need of bringing in foreign currency with little regard to the social and economic costs. A small and wealthy elite has preferred to maintain a poorly educated work force at their disposal without considering how this might affect long-term ecological and economic stability. Poorly educated farmers, in the absence of any coordinated rural agricultural service, have been very susceptible to the advice of agro-chemical company representatives who are the principal providers of technical information. However, company representatives obviously have a vested interest in selling their products, and rarely concern themselves with the long-term economic or ecological stability of the farmer and his land. It is sad that Ecuadorians, especially decision makers, still haven't fully grasped the nature and extent of the destruction of their beautiful country.

an essential job: planting a treeThe tropical agro-ecosystems consisting of agricultural fields, forests, complex home gardens and agroforestry plots often contain hundreds of plant species per field. Data also shows that plant biodiversity has a positive effect on the stabilization of agro-ecosystem processes. On the steep slopes of the Andes, which have been severely deforested during the last 50 years, forest farming may play an important role in establishing healthy environments.

The only way of countering the loss of biodiversity and the loss of land by erosion is the introduction of vegetation, such as trees, shrubs, grasses and bamboos, following the principles of Ecological Restoration and Permaculture.

Piet Sabbe and Olda Peralta established Bosque de Paz as a practical example that the Forest Farm produces positive results.