This is our presentation at the 9th World Conference on Ecological Restoration.

From monocultures to forest gardens

The landscapes in Costa Rica‘s south are dotted with monocultures, above all oil palms and cattle pastures. Monocultures are easy to maintain and seem on the surface to be economically efficient. The The problem lies in the fact that monocultures work diametrically against the circularity of nature. The resulting devastating consequences are the loss of ‘ecoservices’ which maintain climate stability and biodiversity, they provide clean air, clean water, fertile soils and many other services essential for our survival. It’s wishful thinking that technology can provide all these services without functioning ecosystems. However, these losses are about to present humanity with its greatest challenge to date.

To address this challenge, we are developing concepts to convert monocultures into profitable, biodiverse forest gardens. In these designs, we aim to follow the structures and patterns through which naturally-grown forests sustain themselves. As a result, they have a positive impact not only on the environment but also on communities and local economies.

We illustrated the blueprint of one of our concepts (palm oil) in a short animation:

Of course, no two plots are alike, which is why this blueprint needs to be adapted to the specific circumstances.

Benefits for nature

While the nutrient content in the soil in such a design is constantly regenerating, forest gardens have countless positive effects also above the soil’s surface: the flowers of the support trees provide food for bees and other pollinators. These, in turn, increase the yield of the crops and attract birds that nest in their branches and keep pests under control. The organic mulch from the regularly pruned trees protects the soil from drying out and eroding, while slowly releasing nutrients for the crops. In addition, the plantation‘s resistance against all sorts of diseases is significantly increased through the wide range of plant species.

Benefits for the economy

Forest gardens can be profitable. We compared the average revenue and profits of a monoculture and our forest garden design, based on estimates of the prices effectively paid by intermediaries in Costa Rica, and found that forest gardens can be even more profitable than monocultures. We are happy to share this breakdown upon request.

In addition, most products can also be further processed into value-added products which may add to income significantly.

Benefits for society

Well designed forest gardens also address some of the most pressing socioeconomic problems in rural areas:

High unemployment is counteracted by the higher demand for labour, and as a pleasant side effect, working in a forest garden is also much more enjoyable than on a monoculture – a fact that our own employees in the Refugio can confirm.

These food gardens can involve the local population even in the process of tree and plant production: Above all, the growing of the robust nitrogen-fixing trees and Mexican sunflowers can be outsourced to everyone who owns a garden, creating additional sources of income.

And last but not least: following up with the production of value-added products opens up new labor markets, leading to the division of labor and to cooperatives that, in turn, promote community cohesion.

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