Photo by David Bruyndonckx / Unsplash

Reforestation areas are areas where the natural forest is restored. Reforestation is a less intensive system, and will provide less produce than agriculture. However, this system is very important for preserving the environment and stopping erosion, and it will provide many essential products, such as bamboo, oils, fibre, timber, honey and medicines.

Starting Reforestation

Areas which are best for starting reforestation are areas which

naturally have good micro climates. If you plant trees in these areas, the success rates of tree growth will be higher. Observe your land to know which areas naturally have good micro climates.

Look for:

  • Existing groups of trees. Trees will grow in a particular spot because the micro climate is better. Existing trees will provide mulch, shade and protection for newly planted trees
  • Grasses and small plants. In very dry areas, grasses and small plants indicate where the soil is better and where there is possibly more water available. Trees will grow better in these areas compared with other crops, because trees are more resistant. Areas with no grass indicate where the soil is very poor, with many rocks and not enough water
  • Groups of rocks. Trees planted below rocks will receive more water because the rocks will catch and direct rain water
  • Areas where water naturally collects
  • The northern side of a mountain. This is the best side of a mountain for reforestation because it receives the right amount of sunlight for trees to grow, and hence will have a better micro climate. But also observe which side is the most cleared or destroyed, and which side more urgently needs reforestation

Assisting Natural Reforestation

Nature is always working towards a healthier environment. Don’t work against nature, working with natural patterns will speed up the process. Some steps which work with nature towards shaping a healthier environment include:

  • Stop burning. By burning, you are destroying many valuable resources. For example, burning grasses will also burn their functions, one of which is to protect newly planted trees
  • Conserve bird habitats. Birds are very useful in reforestation, birds help to spread seeds through their manure. The manure will add nutrients to the soil and some of the seeds will grow into new trees
  • First, plant trees in small groups. Then, in following years, add new trees to the existing groups. The new trees will receive protection and mulch from the older trees

Seed Balls

A seed ball is a small ball of clay, about 4 cm in diameter, containing plant seeds and dried manure. Seed balls are a good, simple technique to start reforestation in dry areas, steeply sloped areas, or areas with few or no plants or trees. Place the seed balls in any area you want before the wet season starts. The clay will protect the seeds inside from animals until the rains come. When the wet season starts the seeds will begin to grow and the dry manure will provide some nutrients to help them grow. It is best to use seeds of fast growing legumes, like acacia, leuceana and moringa. The trees that grow from the seed balls will improve the soil and provide protection and mulch for new trees planted afterwards.

Making Seed Balls

Choose clay that sticks together (doesn’t break) when rolled into a
snake shape. Add some water to the clay so that it becomes easy to
shape into a ball. Mix in a small amount of manure, but make sure that
the clay will still stick together. First, make the balls, then add about
5-10 seeds in each ball. The seeds must be inside the ball so that
animals won’t be able to eat them once they are in nature. Straight
away, dry the balls in the sun for 1-2 hours. Leave until dry, but not cracked. Put them in a dry and shady place to continue drying. The balls must be completely dried because if they are still wet, the seeds will grow. When dry, store the balls in a dry place until you are ready to use them.

Making small catchments of rocks for the seed balls will improve growth success rates because soil and water will collect there for the young trees
Seed balls will help a lot if there is large areas of land you want to reforest, but have difficulty planting the whole land in one season. At the start of the wet season you can plant crops on the most productive part of the land, while seed balls can be used for other parts of the land

Protection for the Reforestation Area

The reforestation area must be protected from fire, animals, strong winds and erosion. This protection will need community participation to work well. Neighbors and surrounding communities should be involved and should understand any reforestation project which affects them. Community group meetings can be held to discuss and plan together issues relating to protection for the reforestation area. Some community plans to develop together could be:

  • Using traditional / community laws to increase the awareness of the whole community about the importance of reforestation and protection for the reforestation area
  • Include schools, local groups, religious groups and government workers in the process of providing education for communities about the importance of reforestation and protection for the reforestation area
  • Develop a sense of ownership in every community group member for shared community resources. These community resources include nurseries, cropland and community forests. This awareness is very important for increasing a communities ability to work together
  • Develop short term and long term plans for protection of the reforestation land. Short term plans can be made for areas which need immediate attention or are more urgent
  • Every idea and plan for community land management and protection for reforestation land should be discussed with the government. Working together with the government will improve results and increase community involvement.
Plan each activity well. In reforestation, it is better to work step by step, and make every small step a success, rather than trying to reforest a very large area of land, but not being able to manage it well.

Protection from Fire

Fire usually comes from the direction where the wind comes from in the dry season or from areas lower down the mountain. Make fire protection on your land in these area. Fire protection could be:

  • Living fences made from plants or trees which are fire resistant, such as cactus, aloe vera and banana
  • Rock walls. Besides functioning as fire protection these FIRE walls will also act as a wall to stop animals from entering
  • Firebreaks. Firebreaks is a bare strip of land which is kept clear of plants. When a fire reaches this area, it will go out because there is nothing to burn

These techniques will all work better if they are combined.

Protection from Animals

Animals like goats, buffalo, cows and pigs can damage large numbers of trees very quickly. To avoid this, make small fences or tree guards surrounding each tree.

Fences can be made from any inexpensive and available materials, such as wood, bamboo, rock, wire, net, or a combination of materials. Living fences made of plants which animals don’t like,

such as cactus, will also provide protection from animals. Tree guards are good to use for fruit trees, house trees and large trees which are still young. Once trees grow tall enough and their leaves are above animal reach, the tree guards can be removed and animals can be left free in this area.

Protection from Strong Winds

If plants are protected from strong winds, they will grow faster and healthier, especially when they are still young. Protection from strong winds could be living fences, vine trellises or trees planted to form a windbreak.

For croplands, plant a few lines of trees specifically to function as a windbreak. These trees can be of many different types, from legumes to fruit trees. Plant the line of trees in the direction where strong winds most often come from.

For reforestation land, first plant groups of trees in areas which are already protected from strong winds. In years following, add new trees to the existing group. The new trees will be protected by the established trees.

Protection from Erosion

Planting trees is the best long term solution to prevent erosion, but when the trees are still young, they will also need protection from erosion. This protection can include many techniques which have already been explained, such as using swales, terraces and more. Grasses, bush and ground cover crops will also help to prevent erosion.

When faced with dry areas that need to be reforested you need to use adequate strategies.

Dry Land Strategies

In dry areas, water storage is very important. For dry, rocky areas, rock swales can be used. There are also other techniques which can be used, like boomerang swales and “net and pan” systems.

Boomerang Swales

Boomerang swales are named after and share the same shape as the boomerang, a traditional hunting weapon of the Australian Aboriginal people. Boomerang swales should be a minimum of 2 meters long, but will work better if they are between 5-10 meters long. They are usually about adult knee height, but higher is better. The swales are made of rock mounds, a combination of dug swales and mounds can also be used, as long as it will still hold water.

Put smaller rocks on the front side (top) and larger rocks on the back side (bottom), just like when making rock swales. This will help to collect more water, soil, leaves and plant materials.

Trees will help to hold and improve the soil. Start by planting trees in the middle of the swales, and move outwards as the trees become established. Some good trees to start with include legumes, and using the ‘seed ball’ technique which will be explained following. If many boomerang swales are made together, excess water from one swale will be collected in the next swale. If the system is managed well, this will increase production for all the swales.

“Net and Pan” Swales

These swales are similar to boomerang swales, except that they have on side shaped as a ‘V’. This system is called “net and pan”, because a “net” is shaped to catch water and a “pan” is shaped to hold water. This system works best on gently sloped land.

Each side of the ‘V’ shape is about 3 meters long and about adult knee height. The swales can be made of rocks or mounds of dug soil, or a combination of both.

If many swales are made in an organized way, they will make a system where the overflow water from one “net and pan” will flow into the next “net and pan”, and so on. Use small trenches to help direct the water.

The benefits of this system are many, but primarily it will help to reduce and prevent erosion.

You find here techniques and the basic blueprints to start reforest an area check out other blog posts for more knowledge about reforestation strategies.