Tropical forests are known for their breadth of the diverse of species of flora and fauna. As opposed to ecosystems in temperate climates where, because of the harshness of the climate, competition between species gives rise to adapted resistant ecotypes, the African environment is characterized by the brush, an area of the highest ecological productivity. The abiotic ecological factors in the climate, such as the temperature and humidity, are at nearly the optimal level for growth, leading to the abundance of different species. An ecosystem is mature once it conforms to its physical environment after a long series of adaptations, culminating at the climax stage. At the climax, all the biomass, but particularly the vegetation, creates the conditions which come together in a balanced ecosystem of the food chains and networks that rely on all the living beings in the system. The climatic stage of an ecosystem therefore consists of stable biodiversity existing across multiple human generations. In Senegal, only the sacred forests of Casamance could still be considered climatic, as they are virtually undisturbed by human activity.
In order for the woods, the brush, or the forest to thrive in a climatic state, there must be cycles of dependence between the living beings – flora and fauna – that stay in equilibirum. Humans, in even partially destroying the biocenose[i] of an area, destroy this natural equilibrium. For example, desertification, caused by human activity, is a factor in the disequilibrium of an ecosystem because it disrupts food chains, and thus, causes progressive depopulation on the energetic level. The environment cannot return to equilibrium through reforestation, in which we create a veritable plantation of the same plant or tree, planted over and over in an area, but rather by a repopulation with the animal and plant species characteristic of the original climax.
In other words, the correction of desertification through reforestation has no scientific base. Nature doesn’t reforest, it repopulates. Humans, when they deforest, depopulate the area, destroying the ecological niches of epigeous[ii] and hypogeous[iii] territories, and disturb the natural order of the area. The edaphic factor, or soil quality, is influenced more by biological agents such as mushrooms, bacteria and invertebrates than by the minerals in the soil, but these organisms are not necessarily present in a simple plantation of trees. Reforestation, as it is currently being practiced, is artificial in the sense that it reflects a vision of nature that is simplistic and fragmented, in touch only with human interest to appear to repair the environment.
can be functional when it is geared towards soil fixation, the contribution of
domestic energy, and cloud formation. Nonetheless, as opposed to artificial,
functional reforestation, one could implement natural reforestation, observing
the rigorous rules observed in nature. The woods start natural reforestation from
the pioneer stages and finish with the climatic stage. In the climax, each
population has “multifunctionality” and the multifunctional populations are
work together towards the same goal, the biological equilibrium of natural
biodiversity. Man didn’t create the natural equilibrium of biodiversity but can
still develop the strategies to restore, to maintain and even to improve this
biodiversity. These strategies in the
image of those carried out by nature itself can ensure covered, stratified vegetation
and the animal life that accompanies it, to repopulate a biotope[iv].
At SOS Environnement, we believe that natural repopulation is superior to the
artificial process of reforestation.
Lizards in Senegal are each capable of producing more than 2g of excrement two times a day, meaning an annual production of nearly 2kg per animal. Lizards thus produce tons of organic material in a biotope, and finally, their deaths add to the total biomass. In the course of seasons, years, centuries and eras, microscopic and macroscopic animals, their bodies and their metabolism, are destined to be part of the natural compost of plant-based biomass.
Nature composts. It does so slowly, but never stops, with the accumulated waste of biological and metabolic animal products. There has most likely been as much or more animal waste in the history of the earth than there has been vegetation.
Over the course of eras, millions of tons of animal-based organic matter have decomposed into the earth, encouraging thus the humification, and consequently, fertilization of the soil.
In Africa, long before the introduction of modern agriculture, rural communities understood the effects of animal excrement on plant biomass; they practiced composting. Many West African cultures believed that the vital energy of living and dead organic matter cycled between animals and plants, with the earth as the center for these exchanges. These peoples lived in harmony with the environment around them and knew which plants fulfilled their every need: to feed them, to feed their animals, to treat their ailments and to practice their beliefs. Their cultures were reflections of their environments, so one cannot simply discuss natural repopulation, without considering sociocultural repopulation as well.
The answer for moving past reforestation (artificial as well as functional) is repopulation (natural and sociocultural).
Repopulation must begin with a conceptual stage replacing the notion of artificial or functional reforestation with natural repopulation. We must first investigate, then implement the steps of plant and animal repopulation defined by nature itself with the pioneer, consolidation and climax stages at the same rate of acceleration as the natural process.
(From SOS Environnement’s course on Permaculture)
[i] A group of interacting organisms that live in a particular habitat and form an ecological community
[ii] Growing on or close to the ground
[iii] Growing underground, subterranean
[iv] a portion of a habitat characterized by uniformity in climate and distribution of biotic and abiotic components