Monday, May 13, 2019

Rainforestation farming: concept and history (Part I)

by Victor B. Asio, Dept of Soil Science, VSU

a) The concept

Rainforestation or Rainforestation farming, is a concept of rehabilitating degraded lands or restoring forests using native forest tree species. It is based on the hypothesis that an ecosystem is more sustainable when its physical structure and species composition are closer to the local rainforest. The Rainforestation farming concept was first presented in seminars by the authors in 1992 and was first published in the peer-reviewed journal Annals of Tropical Research in 1994 (Milan and Margraf, 1994). Two years later a chapter on the Rainforestation concept appeared in the international book Dipterocarp Forest Ecosystems: Towards Sustainable Management by World Scientific (Margraf and Milan, 1996).
An idealized sketch of rainforestation about 15 years after its establishment (sketch by R. Dumalag)
The first demonstration sites in Baybay, Leyte were established in 1994. During the early iteration of the concept, spacing and line planting of the trees were considered which were then abandoned by Dr. Margraf because as he always stressed, “nature does not plant trees in straight lines”. Thus, he strongly advocated the random planting of the native trees to simulate a real rainforest. This random planting has thus become a fundamental principle behind the Rainforestation concept. According to the entropy law, the random distribution of tree species should mean more ecosystem stability.

In recent years, the concept has been promoted as a strategy to rehabilitate degraded lands in order to restore the tropical rainforests. In 2004, it was adopted as a national strategy when the Philippine Department of Environment and Natural Resources (DENR) Secretary Elisea G. Gozun through a Memorandum Circular 2004-06 ordered the integration of Rainforestation farming strategy in the development of open areas and denuded forests to promote biodiversity conservation and sustainable development in protected areas and other appropriate forest lands.
Photo of the first demonstration site in Mt Pangasugan about 10 years after establishment
In 2006, the follow-up and monitoring research project funded by GTZ entitled “Rainforestation Farming: Alternative for Biodiversity Conservation and Forest Restoration (P.P. Milan, M.J. Ceniza, V.B. Asio, S.B.Bulayog, and M. Napiza) was recognized by the Commission on Higher Education (CHED) as the Best Higher Education Institutes (HEI) Research Program. The project provided the needed scientific evidence that the concept was ecologically and economically feasible and now ready for wide-scale dissemination. 

b) Criticisms

From day 1, the concept has met severe and often times unfair criticisms. The earliest criticism that hurt Dr. Margraf was the contention by critics including the ViSCA forestry professors that the originators (Dr. Margraf and Dr Milan) were neither forest scientists nor vegetation scientists and thus they did not have the expertise to conceptualize a forest restoration strategy. Although valid to some extent, Dr. Margraf was aware of his knowledge limitations so he sought the advice of some of the most brilliant forest science experts in Germany and other countries. 

Another criticism from the agronomists was the use of crops under the “close canopy” demonstration site in that crops require full sunlight to produce yield. As a result, the field staff tried to use fruit trees but this was not very successful as well since the forest trees have the natural tendency to grow tall and cover the fruit trees below. Agroforestry specialists that visited the demonstration sites also consider the planting of crops and fruit trees in between forest trees as “just another variant of agroforestry”. 

Our CHED-PHERNET project site in Inopacan, Leyte, showing the successful 
establishment of the Rainforestation site although at a very high cost

Some forest science experts still generally consider the assisted natural regeneration (ANR) as a better strategy to rehabilitate degraded lands because of its greater potential to rehabilitate vast areas of lands at a minimal cost. 

The project site shown in the previous photo in Inopacan, Leyte, appears just a tiny dot in the middle of the large degraded lands (above photo). The other large green patches are actually revegetated through the natural growth of shrubs and trees implying the potential of ANR. 

Lastly, there is a widespread notion that many land owners are only interested to adopt Rainforestation in order to plant hardwood native trees which they could harvest and earn high profits in the future. The fact that a few of the original demonstration sites for the concept established in 1994 have already been harvested by the land owners supports this apprehension. Thus, some people doubt whether this will eventually lead to long-term forest rehabilitation in the country. This should be a big challenge to the Institute of Tropical Ecology and Environmental Management (ITEEM) and other institutions promoting the concept.

To cite this article: Asio, V.B. 2019. Rainforestation farming: concept and history. http: soil-environment

The author (V.B. Asio) has been actively involved in the development and evaluation of the Rainforestation concept from the 1990s until the present. He was a member of the Project Management Core Group of the ViSCA-GTZ Applied Tropical Ecology Project, and later was the first Head of the Terrestrial Ecosystems Division of the Institute of Tropical Ecology. The Core Group members were Dr. M.J.C. Ceniza, Dr. B.B. Dargantes, Dr. R.C. Guarte, Dr. J.M. Quimio, Dr. B.P. Germano & Dr. V.B. Asio.

Rainforestation farming: concept and history (Part II)

by Victor B. Asio, Dept. of Soil Science, VSU

a) The authors

The Rainforestation concept was developed in 1992 by Dr. Josef Margraf (born: 03 April 1953, died: 26 January 2010) the Project Manager of the ViSCA-GTZ Applied Tropical Ecology Project (Philippine-Germany Environmental Research Program) which ran from 1989 to 1999. Dr. Margraf was born in Bayern Germany, studied biology at the University of Hohenheim in Stuttgart and later specialized in tropical agro-ecology in the same university. He spent years in Ifugao, Northern Luzon conducting his dissertation on the ecology of the Banaue rice terraces under the supervision of the renowned agro-ecologist Prof. Dr. Werner Koch. He obtained his doctorate degree ( from the University of Hohenheim in 1985.

Dr. Margraf and his wife in China (
Dr. Margraf was a soft-spoken, friendly, and kind person. In my personal opinion having known him for almost a decade, he was a brilliant thinker who loved to discuss with anyone about his ecological ideas. A genuine ecologist, he would sometimes sleep overnight below the canopy of a giant ficus tree (locally called balete), to observe the insect diversity, in Mt. Pangasugan. In his past time, he loved playing classical guitar and reading books. In the 1980s, he founded the publishing house Verlag Josef Margraf which in later years became Margraf Publishers Verlagsgesellschaft GmbH. In 1997, after about 9 years at ViSCA, he left for another GTZ project titled Tropical Forest Ecosystems Management in Yunnan, China where he eventually married the Chinese journalist Mingou Li in 2000 with whom he had two daughters Linda and Vanda. In China, he continued his passion of rainforest conservation at a much larger scale and with much more success. In September 2010 he was posthumously awarded the “Green Hero of China”.
The daughters of Dr. Margraf (Source: New Word Press)

The co-author of the concept was the Filipino counterpart of the ViSCA-GTZ Tropical Ecology Project, Dr. Paciencia P. Milan, a renowned biologist, outstanding research manager, and passionate environmentalist who later became the 4th president of ViSCA (renamed Leyte State University). Dr. Milan earned her PhD in Biology from Bowling Green State University, USA in 1985 and her BS in 1967 and MS in 1977 from the University of San Carlos. Primarily for developing and promoting the Rainforestation technology she was awarded the Hugh Greenwood Environmental Science Award from the National Academy of Science and Technology of the Philippines.  It was due to her outstanding advocacy and good connections in the higher ups of the government, that the Rainforestation concept was adopted as a national reforestation strategy of the Department of Environment and Natural Resources in 2004 through the Memorandum Circular 2004-06.
Dr. Paciencia Po Milan

b) The other major contributors

The VSU faculty who have made major contributions to the Rainforestation concept were: Ma. Juliet “Neneng” C. Ceniza (entomology), Buenaventura B. Dargantes (socio-ecology), Dr. Salome B. Bulayog (environmental economics), and V.B. Asio (soil science & geo-ecology).

In one long conversation that I had with Dr. Margraf in a Café shop when he visited me in Giessen, Germany in 1992 (I was there studying soil science, geography and plant nutrition), he confided that he was so concerned about the widespread destruction of the tropical rainforest. He mentioned that he was in the process of finalizing a concept to rehabilitate degraded lands using native tree species. He said that he was impressed by the Bogor Botanical Garden in Indonesia established by the Dutch in 1815 which boasts a rich collection of mostly native trees and other tropical plants. The famous garden is a clear demonstration that indigenous rain forest tree species can be cultivated.

He told me that he needed the help of the ViSCA faculty members who were at the time pursuing their doctorate degrees in Germany especially M.J. C. Ceniza, B.B. Dargantes,  and myself. So, when I returned to Leyte from Germany for my one-year field work for my dissertation, I did the soil characterization of all the pilot demonstration sites for the testing of the concept called at the time as “Closed Canopy and High Diversity Farming System”. After I finished my PhD in mid 1996, I continued my active involvement in the development of the concept. Dr. S.B. Bulayog, a GTZ scholar who pursued PhD at UP Los Banos, played a role in the development of the concept as well as Ms. Mylene Napiza from the Department of Forestry of ViSCA.

My pedology and geo-ecology group conducted the characterization of the soils of the demonstration sites which served as benchmark data; the periodic soil monitoring by way of the thesis researches of my undergraduate and graduate students (including Daub, S. Goeltenboth, Zoefel, Batistel, Aragon, Sueta, Herzano, and many others) which proved that the soil quality generally improved under the Rainforestation; and the litter decomposition studies which revealed that the leaf litter of the indigenous tree species decomposed at a slower rate compared to those of the exotic species. The slow decomposition minimizes nutrient loss from the forest floor and ensures a continuous supply of nutrients to the growing trees.
One of the meetings in Hohenheim in 1993 where the early concept of the Rainforestation was
discussed. It shows Dr M. Villanueva (ViSCA President), Dr. Margraf, Peter Balzer, Dr. Milan
and myself.

c) Other persons who contributed their ideas and studies

The German scientists who in one way or another contributed to the testing and refinement of the concept through their ideas and advice were Prof. Werner Koch and Prof. Friedhelm Goeltenboth (ecology). The graduate students (MSc/PhD) from the University of Hohenheim who conducted various studies to evaluate the impact and suitability of the concept were Carsten Marohn (agro-ecology), Peter Balzer (biology), Christian Müller-Edzards (forest science), Gerhard Langenberger (forestry/vegetation science), Christoph Daub (soil biology), Katrin Zoefel (soil science), and Annette Goeltenboth (biology). 

Among the German graduate students, Peter Balzer had the biggest input into the concept as he was the one who conducted several trials on spacing and arrangement of trees in the demonstration site in Mt. Pangasugan from 1994 to 1996. He also prepared the initial list of native and exotic species suitable for use in the concept (the exotic species served as shade plants for the native species).

A non-technical field staff of the Tropical Ecology Project who deserves a special recognition was Mr. Antonio "Tony" Fernandez from Patag village near the VSU campus. A former shifting cultivator and wildlife hunter, Tony knew almost every tree in the forest by heart. His indigenous knowledge about the forest was crucial to the success of wildlings collection and tree seedlings propagation in support of the Rainforestation farming. 

Not to be forgotten of course were the many research assistants, community organizers, and field laborers who were hired to assist in the development and dissemination of the concept some of whom have become regular staff of ITEEM. 

d) The active promotion and dissemination of the concept

Just like any good product that sells, the Rainforestation strategy attracts a lot of interests from potential "sellers" and users. After the Rainforestation concept has won recognition from various national institutions such as CHED and DENR, thanks to the support from the German partners particularly GTZ and Euronatur, several local and foreign institutions and organizations have become strong advocates of the concept. One obvious reason is that it attracts support from funding institutions. In simple terms, there is money in Rainforestation. As planned, the ITEEM, originally called ITE established in 1999, has assumed the lead role in the promotion and dissemination of the concept to different parts of the country under its past and current directors: Dr. B.B. Dargantes, Dr. M.J.C. Ceniza, Dr. H. Montes, and Dr. M. Bande.

To cite this article: Asio, V.B. 2019. Rainforestation farming: concept and history. http: soil-environment
ViSCA - Visayas State College of Agriculture (now Visayas State University)
GTZ- German Agency for Technical Cooperation (now GIZ)
The author of this article (VB Asio) was directly involved in the development and evaluation of the Rainforestation concept since the 1990s until the present. He was a member of the Project Management Core Group of the ViSCA-GTZ Applied Tropical Ecology Project, and later as the first Head of the Terrestrial Ecosystems Division of the Institute of Tropical Ecology (now ITEEM).