Archive | Soil Erosion

Alaska Coast Eroding by 45 Feet Annually

BOULDER, Colo., Dec. 16 (UPI) — University of Colorado-Boulder scientists say they’ve discovered part of Alaska’s northern coast is eroding at a rate of up to 45 feet annually.

The study showed the erosion is being caused by declining sea ice, warming seawater and increased wave activity between Point Barrow and Prudhoe Bay, toppling 12-foot-high bluffs consisting of up to 80 percent ice into the Beaufort Sea.

“What we are seeing now is a triple whammy effect,” said Associate Professor Robert Anderson, a co-author of the research. “Since the summer arctic sea ice cover continues to decline and arctic air and sea temperatures continue to rise, we really don’t see any prospect for this process ending.”

According to a separate university study, this year’s arctic sea ice during the annual September minimum was declining at a rate of 11.2 percent per decade. Only 19 percent of the ice cover was more than two years old — the least ever recorded in the satellite record and far below the 1981-2000 summer average of 48 percent.

The study included Gary Clow and Frank Urban of the U.S. Geological Survey. Tim Stanton of the Naval Postgraduate School, Cameron Wobus of Stratus Consulting and Irina Overeem of the university’s Institute of Arctic and Alpine Research.

The research was presented this week in San Francisco during the annual meeting of the American Geophysical Union.

Copyright 2009 by United Press International

Posted in Conservation, Soil Erosion0 Comments

Dallas Area Swarming with Fire Ants Due to Wet Weather

DALLAS, Oct. 19 (UPI) — The Dallas area is swarming with fire ants, forced up from their subterranean homes by unusually wet weather lately, parks department officials said.

The number of fire ant mounds, containing hundreds of thousands of the insects, increased markedly in the past week, The Dallas Morning News reported Saturday.

The department was unable to treat the area for ants earlier because of the bad weather, which included hail storms, said Dave Strueber, the department’s assistant director.

“Even in the driest weather, they can be really nasty, but this brings out the worst in them,” Strueber said.

Fire ant swarms can cover part of a person’s body undetected and then, all together, grasp the skin by biting down — and they sting, the newspaper said.

The imported ants came to the United States more than 50 years ago in soil used as ballast in cargo ships from South America.

Texas has been especially hard hit by the ants, which can destroy crops and speed soil erosion.

American farmers spend almost $9 billion a year on pesticides to fight the ants, the U.S. Census Bureau says.

Copyright 2009 by United Press International

Posted in Animals, Soil Erosion0 Comments

The Tibetan Plateau

The rooftop of the world, the land of snows… with an average elevation of 4000 meters (over 13,000 feet), the Tibetan Plateau is the highest and largest plateau on earth. The plants and animals there are unique– the snow leopard, Tibetan antelope, Tibetan gazelle, Bengal tiger, wild yak, blue sheep, brown bear, and black-necked crane, to name a few. Visitors to Tibet before 1950 compared it to East Africa, with vast herds of large mammals roaming free through the mountains. Today, precious few remain.

Snow Leopard
There could be worse days in the life of a Tibetan Snow Leopard.
(Panthera uncia)

But although the flora and fauna are diverse, the extreme climate has allowed only a relatively small number of them to flourish; species that have been able to adapt to the thin air, low temperatures, intense radiation, and strong winds. The most recent research indicates that about 13,000 vascular plants and 1200 species of vertebrates have been identified: 678 species of birds, 206 mammals, 83 reptiles, 80 amphibians and 152 fish. Of these, 40 plants and 141 animal species are considered to be endangered.

While this picture may seem rich—and indeed it is—these numbers are actually very low when looked at on a global scale. This ecosystem is the polar opposite of, for example, a South American rainforest consisting of millions of different species of flora and fauna. The result is a web of life that is much more vulnerable and difficult to repair. Imagine a spider web with ten strands next to one with a hundred, or a thousand—if even one string is broken on the first, the whole thing will fall apart.

“Because of its high elevation, the ecosystem here is extremely fragile,” said Dawa Tsering, who heads the World Wildlife Fund’s China Program Office (local branch) in Lhasa. “Once damaged, it is extremely difficult to reverse.”

The major threats the region faces are grassland degradation and deforestation, poaching and the illegal trade of animal products, destruction of habitat due to urbanization and mining, and air pollution. Because of the elevation, the air is thin and more susceptible to toxic fumes.

“The sale of souvenirs and other products made from endangered species is growing due to tourist consumption, and is increasing pressure on local biodiversity,” Tsering said. “Tourists can make a difference simply by not purchasing these products.”

Tibet is the last remaining refuge of the Bengal tiger in China. WWF and other non-profits plan to distribute pamphlets, asking visitors not to buy illegal products made from endangered species like tigers and Tibetan antelopes. The soft underbelly fur of these antelopes is made into shahtoosh shawls, which fetch high prices on the black market.

“International and local laws have guaranteed that killing wild tigers and other protected species for their parts isn’t legal anywhere in the world,” said Dr. Xu Hongfa from TRAFFIC’s China Program. “But the killing of these animals will continue until the demand for buying them stops.”

“Integrating the needs of local development with conserving Tibet’s biodiversity is in need of urgent attention,” Tsering said.

China invaded Tibet in 1949; since occupation, Tibet has suffered loss of life, freedom and human rights. In March 1959, Tibetans rose up against China’s occupation, but were unsuccessful. The Dalai Lama was forced to escape into exile in Dharmshala, India, followed by 80,000 Tibetans. It is from here that the Dalai Lama heads the Tibet Government-In-Exile.

When a country is taken by force, and brutally occupied, and its people are regarded as little more than an impediment to another end, without basic rights, what chance can that country’s plants and animals have? And do we have the right to concern ourselves with flora and fauna when human beings, perhaps some of the most beautiful and peaceful human beings on this planet, are also nearing extinction?

It is not necessary to choose. For thousands of years the Tibetan people have lived in harmony with their ecosystem and been a part of it; therefore, their struggle to survive must be included in a discussion of the destruction of that ecosystem.

Tibet is also the only nation in the world that has recognized meditation as essential to life, and has made the search for truth and the awakening of personal consciousness an undisputed priority in its culture and religion. In the words of Osho, a contemporary enlightened master:

Himalayan Mountains
Above harsh rangeland nearly three miles above sea level, vast
beyond imagining, tower the mighty Himalaya, backbone of the world.
(Photo: Guy Taylor)

“Nowhere has such concentrated effort been made to discover man’s being. Every family in Tibet used to give their eldest son to some monastery where he was to meditate and grow closer to awakening. It was a joy to every family that at least one of them was wholeheartedly, twenty-four hours a day, working on the inner being. They were also working but they could not give all their time; they had to create food and clothes and shelter… but still every family used to give their first-born child to the monastery.

“And we think the world is civilized, where innocent people who are not doing any harm to anybody are simply destroyed. And with them, something of great importance to all humanity is also destroyed. If there were something civilized in man, every nation would have stood against the invasion of Tibet by China. It is the invasion of matter against consciousness. It is invasion of materialism against spiritual heights.

“If humanity were a little more aware, Tibet should be made free because it is the only country which has devoted almost two thousand years to doing nothing but going deeper into meditation. And it can teach the whole world something which is immensely needed” [Om Mani Padme Humm].

Tibetan Buddhism belongs to the Mahayana branch of Buddhism, which emphasizes compassion as the ultimate goal of meditation, rather than just enlightenment. Recent scientific studies show neurological proof that people who meditate actually feel more compassion for others, and are more likely to feel compassion for strangers.

“Emotionally, mentally and physically, all humans are equal and the same. We should take care of one another. It is good for us,” said the Dalai Lama last month in India. His life and work embody compassion, laughter and love—although the Chinese insist it is a diabolically constructed illusion, and to possess even a photograph of him is illegal in Tibet.

At least 6,000 Tibetan Buddhist monasteries, nunneries and temples, and their contents have been destroyed since the Chinese invasion and during the Cultural Revolution. At least hundreds of thousands of Tibetans have been killed as a direct result of Chinese execution, imprisonment and torture; by some counts, including suicide and other indirect means of death, the number is over a million.

Perhaps because the Dalai Lama is both the religious and political leader of Tibet, China still regards Tibetan Buddhism as a threat. “Patriotic re-education” is their term for the torture of monks and nuns, who are forced to denounce the Dalai Lama, and repeat after them that “Tibet has always been part of China.” Religious pilgrimages are restricted, or impossible, and Buddhist education is difficult or impossible for Tibetans now. Forced sterilizations and abortions are commonplace.

A belated band of steel to the remotest place on earth.
The newly buit Qingzang Railway passes over Namtso Lake
(Photo: Guy Taylor)

Since the turn of the century, China’s economy has been booming, and what they call their “Western Development Plan” in Tibet has been picking up steam. Key to the plan has been the Qingzang Railway project.

The 815 km section of the railroad from Xining, Qinghai to Gormo (Golmud in Chinese), Qinghai opened to traffic in 1984.

Construction of the remaining 1,142 km section from Gormo to Lhasa could not be started until the recent economic growth of China. This section was begun in 2001, and completed in 2006. The cost to the Chinese Government was $3.68 billion.

Before he left office, the former President of China, Jiang Zemin, said of the Gormo-Lhasa railway, “Some people have advised me not to go ahead with this project because it is not commercially viable. I said this is a political decision” [New York Times, 10 August 2001].

This political decision is advantageous to China in many ways, and is one which will likely prove financially profitable.

Tibet houses an estimated 4-5 billion tons in potential oil reserves; the railroad has greatly increased the efficiency of lumber, mining, and other government industries and projects as well.

Due largely to the railroad, Tibetans have become a minority in their own country. A recent report by the Washington-based International Campaign for Tibet says the completion of the railway has led to an influx of ethnic Chinese immigrants to the region, and that any economic gains from the improved transport links are largely limited to urban areas, rather than the countryside where about 80 percent of Tibetans live.

China Foreign Ministry spokesman Liu Jianchao told reporters in Beijing that the railway has played a positive role in developing Tibet’s economy and it has also strengthened its communication links with neighboring provinces. “I believe the benefits of this project are obvious to all,” he said.

The rail link contributed to a 60 percent increase in the number of tourists visiting the region last year, according to a previous government report. This year, tourism is predicted to gross over $800 million.

Monks in Lhasa
Monks carry on ancient traditions in Lhasa.
(Photo: Guy Taylor)

In 1980, there were only 1059 visitors to Tibet, and 95 percent came from abroad. Since then tourism has surged, and in 2002, an estimated 140,000 visited Tibet.

With 1.22 million visitors arriving in 2004, Tibet logged an increase in tourism of over 1,000 times the 1980 level. Ninety-two percent of the visitors are Chinese tourists.

But while the economy may have improved, the general economic status of Tibetans has not, as they are largely unskilled workers, and cannot compete with the skilled Han Chinese migrants. The ICT report says that the needs of the region’s largely rural population are ignored by China’s planners, and that Tibetans feel increasingly marginalized as their culture and rural way of life are slowly eroded. The Tibetan language is being systematically eliminated, and nomads forced into settlements.

The Chinese government itself has touted the Qingzang railway as a means of transport for troops, saying that not only will the railway improve the efficiency of the army, but the army will improve the efficiency of the railway (Xinhuanet, 10 December 2003). The railway has enabled rapid troop deployments and facilitated the expansion of the People’s Liberation Army, as seen in the recent crackdown. It not only has strengthened China’s grip on Tibet, but its strategic location may pose a threat to India as well, increasing instability in the region.

This April, China announced its plans to continue construction of the railroad all the way to Khasha, on the Nepalese border, estimated to be completed by 2013. Eventually, the train may run all the way through Nepal, to the North Indian state of Bihar.

The ICT report also states that China’s policy of urbanization in Tibet, encouraged by the new rail link, is damaging its natural ecosystems. Over 46% of forests have been destroyed, which has led to increased soil erosion and siltation of rivers, creating major floods and landslides. Government lumber operations continue to cut at an unprecedented rate, and reforestation is generally neglected and ineffective. Rapid and widespread deforestation has life-threatening consequences for the hundreds of millions who live in the flood plains of the major rivers of Southeast Asia, many of which have their headwaters in Tibet. Clear-cutting also threatens the habitat of the rare giant panda, golden monkey, and over 5,000 unique plant species.

The demands of the fast-growing human population, construction of roads, mining, and poor grazing practices are degrading Tibet’s grasslands as well. Huge factory farms are being developed, motivated by the need to feed the growing Chinese population and reduce the costly wheat imports. Traditional farming practices have maintained the ecological balance for centuries, but large-scale commercial agriculture may ultimately harm Tibet more than it helps.

Of far greater concern, however, are China’s nuclear weapons projects in Tibet. Today there are at least three nuclear missile launch sites there, and the number of actual warheads is unknown. The northern Tibetan Plateau was home to China’s “Los Alamos”– its primary nuclear weapons research and development plant. Tibetan nomads living in the area claim to have suffered illness and death. Their strange symptoms are consistent with radiation poisoning, indicating that nuclear waste may have been dumped on the plains nearby. The International Campaign for Tibet has published a ground-breaking report on the issue, entitled Nuclear Tibet.

The Tibetan Plateau is the source of almost all of Asia’s major rivers: the Yellow River, the Yangtze, the Mekong, the Salween, the Indus, and the Yarlung Tsangpo, which downstream becomes the Brahmaputra. Contamination of these waterways, nuclear or otherwise, harms not only residents of Tibet, but potentially all those who drink from them—nearly half the world’s population lives downstream.

One such threat to the rivers is the mining industry. Tibet is rich in natural resources, and the unregulated extraction of borax, chromium, copper and gold is increasing rapidly. More surprising, however, is Tibet’s supply of lithium.

Chabyer salt lake, at an elevation of 14,400 feet (4,400 meters) is not only the largest lithium mine in China but also one of the three largest salt lakes in the world. Chabyer now makes Tibet the No. 1 area in the world in terms of prospective lithium reserves, according to the China Tibet Information Center. China is now the largest producer and consumer of lithium-ion batteries, found in everything from cell phones to computers and even hybrid cars.

The future of zero and ultralow emission vehicles depends on lithium, which is relatively scarce. Lithium is only the 33rd most abundant element on Earth. With Tibet in its hand, China is well poised to move into that future.

March 9th was the anniversary of the 1959 uprising, which recent protesters have been commemorating; but like their predecessors, this cry for freedom has met with little more than imprisonment, torture, and often death. The Chinese Government claims that 18 Han Chinese immigrants were killed in the Lhasa riots; but in their crushing response, over 140 Tibetans were killed by the Chinese. Countless others are still being held in prison, and may be executed as well.

On June 21, the Olympic Torch came and went through Lhasa in about two hours. Since March, Tibetans live under virtual martial law, and were told not only to stay at home, but not to look out of their windows during the relay.

The decision by China to continue with the relay through Lhasa in light of recent events is a message to the world, that Tibet is their property and they fear no one. At the end of the relay, Zhang Qingli, the Communist Party secretary of Tibet, stood beneath the Potala Palace, the historic seat of the Dalai Lama. “Tibet’s sky will never change, and the red flag with five stars will forever flutter high above it,” Zhang said, according to Reuters. “We will certainly be able to totally smash the splittist schemes of the Dalai Lama clique.”

This is the language of power, and people who use it know no other. Talks have just resumed between the Chinese and envoys of the Dalai Lama since the protests, but those talks had been going on since 2002 without progress. The Dalai Lama does not hope for independence, only autonomy for Tibet. Only time will tell if this round is any different.

The Dalai Lama spoke in Denver years ago—not about politics, but parenting, love, and other topics. When he asked for questions, one woman said, “What can we do about Tibet?”
The Dalai Lama was silent. “Just go and see it before it’s gone,” he said at last. “It is a beautiful country.”

Tibet—the plants, animals, water, air, people, religious heritage and the inner search itself— is our heritage as human beings; it is a part of us. Tibet is one of the real diamonds of this world… its freedom is our freedom, and whether the effort is futile or not, we must do anything and everything in our power to save it.

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EcoWorld - Nature and Technology in Harmony

Posted in Air Pollution, Amphibians, Animals, Biodiversity, Birds, Cars, Consumption, Education, Fish, Mammals, Nature & Ecosystems, Office, Other, People, Radiation, Reptiles, Soil Erosion, Urbanization4 Comments

The 25x'25 Alliance


Released March 2008 by the 25x’25 Alliance, republished with permission.

Biofuel Field with Tractor
Biofuel, especially via cellulosic extraction
from crop residue, has huge potential.
(Photo: 25x’25 Alliance)

Editor’s Note: If you have boundless faith in the power of technology, innovation, and free enterprise, like we do, it shouldn’t seem difficult to accomplish the goal of generating 25% of all energy from renewable sources by 2025. The real question would be which sources might dominate: biofuel, solar, wind, geothermal, hydropower, ocean waves, currents and tides – who knows? Fusion? The devil is in the details, however, hence sustainability principles are very, very important as we rush to completely transform the global energy industry with renewables.

Biofuel is a perfect example of a renewable fuel that has great potential but also is not sustainable in every manifestation we’ve seen. Over the past ten years as the demand for renewable energy has risen relentlessly, driven by a variety of compelling motives – energy diversity, energy security, environmental concerns, resource constraints, national economic interests – biofuel has been a promising option, enthusiastically pursued. Production of biofuel from crops in an agriculturally rich, relatively underpopulated nation like America, on land that otherwise lies fallow and is irrigated with ample summer rains is one thing. Production of biofuel from crops where rainforest stood a year earlier, in order to feed the market for carbon credits – when rainforest left intact might better accomplish the goals for which carbon credits were supposedly set up, is something else entirely.

The basic algebra of biofuel cannot be ignored if sustainability is a goal – biofuel can make compelling economic sense, but at yields of 5,000 BBLs per square mile, biofuel will not make a significant dent in global energy production, yet because it is profitable to produce, we can rip out every forest left on earth to grow it. To say other forces are consuming our forests – population growth, timber harvesting, food production, is true but beside the point. Biofuel is also playing its part in rainforest destruction, and if we’re all set to regulate CO2 emissions, we need to put at least equal energy into monitoring the health and extent of our rainforests. Sustainability principles for biofuel are absolutely essential.

It is important as well to recognize that the power of technology and innovation will not leave us reliant much longer on crops to produce biofuel. We are quickly learning how to economically extract biofuel from crop residue, forest tinder and timber industry byproducts, animal wastes and municipal wastes. Policies that encourage biofuel production need to be carefully structured to accelerate these 2nd generation methods of extracting and refining biofuel, rather than creating vested interests in perpetuating a reliance on 1st generation biofuels from crops. Better yet, technology and innovation needs to deliver 3rd generation biofuels that are grown in factory environments, where a square mile complex might deliver not 50,000 BBLs per square mile per year (the most promising 2nd generation estimates we’ve every heard of), but 500,000 BBLs per square mile.

If these sorts of innovations are allowed to happen, then the goal of producing 25% of all energy from renewable sources by 2025 may turn out to not have been ambitious enough. One of the biggest challenges as the renewables revolution delivers energy abundance to the world will be to watch for unintended environmental consequences – and these sustainability principles recently set forth by the 25x’25 Alliance are an important contribution raising the level of the global discussion. – Ed “Redwood” Ring

25% Renewable by 2025 – A statement of sustainability principles to apply while striving to produce 25% of all energy from renewable sources by 2025
- by the 25x’25 Alliance, March 2008
Cows in Field
Biodiesel & methanol from
livestock waste is a promising
source of alternative fuel.
(Photo: 25x’25 Alliance)

In September of 2007, the 25x’25 Alliance’s Steering Committee chartered a work group composed of a cross section of agricultural, forestry, industry, environmental and conservation leaders to help further define sustainability in a 25x’25 renewable future.

The mission of the work group was to develop recommendations for sustainability principles that would help guide the evolution of 25x’25.

The sustainability principles outlined in this report are the product of the 28-member 25x’25 National Steering Committee. Though the assumptions and principles were drawn from the consensus recommendations developed by the work group, they represent the views and position of the 25x’25 National Steering Committee rather than any individual 25x’25 Alliance partner.

Sustainability Principles for a 25x’25 Energy Future


In the Energy Independence and Security Act passed in December 2007 the U.S. Congress formally adopted 25x’25 as a national goal, affirming that it is the goal of the United States to derive 25 percent of its energy use from agricultural, forestry and other renewable resources by 2025.

The 25x’25 Action Plan Charting America’s Energy Future, authored and released by the 25x’25 National Steering Committee in February 2007, outlines specific steps that need to be taken to put the United States on a path to secure 25 percent of its energy needs from renewables by the year 2025. The 25x’25 goal and Action Plan stand on a foundation of five key principles – efficiency, partnership, commitment, sustainability, and opportunity.

Sustainability has always been considered as central to the success of the 25x’25 renewable energy initiative and is defined as follows in the Action Plan:

Sustainability: To be a long-term solution for America, renewable energy production must conserve, enhance, and protect natural resources and be economically viable, environmentally sound, and socially acceptable.

Underpinning the concept of sustainability is the ideal of stewardship or the responsible use and orderly development of natural resources in a way that takes full and balanced account of the interests of society, future generations, and other species, as well as private needs, and accepts significant answerability to society.

In developing these principles, a number of basic underlying assumptions were identified and agreed to:

Renewable energy production must comply with all existing federal, state, and local laws
and regulations.

All regions will have an opportunity to engage in the production of bioenergy feedstocks
and renewable energy.

Renewable energy production should address the multiple-values of the land-base
including environmental, economic, social, and historical.

Balance of stakeholder interests must be a central theme in renewable energy production.

The principles set forth for sustainability are mutually reinforcing.
The 25x’25 National Steering Committee recommends the following principles to 25x’25
partners and would support their adoption by renewable energy producers and policy makers.

Wind power is already becoming cost
competitive with conventional energy.
(Photo: 25x’25 Alliance)

25x’25 Sustainability Principles

Access: Renewable energy producers and consumers should have fair and equitable access to renewable energy markets, products, and infrastructure.

Air Quality: Renewable energy production should maintain or improve air quality.

Biodiversity: Renewable energy production should maintain or enhance landscape biodiversity and protect native, rare, threatened, and endangered species and habitat.

Community Economic Benefits: Renewable energy production should bolster the economic foundation and quality of life in communities where it occurs.

Efficiency and Conservation: Renewable energy production should be energy efficient, utilize biomass residues and waste materials when possible, and conserve natural resources at all stages of production, harvesting, and processing.

Greenhouse Gas Emissions: Renewable energy production should result in a net reduction of greenhouse gas emissions when compared to fossil fuels.

Invasive and Non-Native Species: Introduced or non-native species can be used for renewable energy production when there are appropriate safeguards against negative impacts on native flora and fauna, and on agricultural and forestry enterprises.

Market Parity: Renewable energy production should have parity with fossil fuels in access to markets and incentives.

Opportunities: All regions of the nation should have the opportunity to participate in renewable energy development and use.

Private Lands: Renewable energy production on private working farm, forest, and grasslands should improve the health and productivity of these lands and help protect them from being permanently converted to non-working uses.

Public Lands: Renewable energy production from appropriate public lands should be sustainable and contribute to the long-term health and mission of the land.

Soil Erosion: Renewable energy production should incorporate the best available technologies and management practices to protect soils from loss rates greater than can be replenished.

Soil Quality: Renewable energy production should maintain or enhance soil resources and the capacity of working lands to produce food, feed, fiber, and associated environmental services and benefits.

Special Areas: Renewable energy production should respect special areas of important conservation, historic, and social value.

Technology: New technologies, including approved biotechnology, can play a significant role in renewable energy production, provided they create land use and production efficiencies and protect food, feed, and fiber systems, native flora and fauna, and other environmental values.

Water Quality: Renewable energy production should maintain or improve water quality.

Water Quantity: Renewable energy production systems and facilities should maximize water conservation, avoid contributing to downstream flooding, and protect water resources.

Wildlife: Renewable energy production should maintain or enhance wildlife habitat health and

Geothermal Energy Shoots out of Ground
Enhanced geothermal using advanced drilling
techniques could be a gigantic surprise.
(Photo: 25x’25 Alliance)

Reference Materials Reviewed

25x’25 Action Plan: Charting America’s Energy Future. 25x’25 National Steering Committee.
Washington, DC. February 2007.

Achieving Sustainable Production of Agricultural Biomass for Biorefinery Feedstock.
Biotechnology Industry Association. Washington, DC. 2006.

Bioenergy. NCR-SARE Bioenergy Position Paper. Nov. 2007.

Getting Biofuels Right: Eight Steps for Reaping Real Environmental Benefits from Biofuels.
Natural Resources Defense Council. Washington, DC. May 2007.

Ken Cairn, B. Biomass Energy – Critical Issues for Consideration in Developing Biomass
Energy and Energy Policy in Colorado and the West
. Community Energy Systems, LLC. Oak
Creek. CO. 2007.

Natural Resources: Woody Biomass Users’ Experiences Offer Insights for Government Efforts
Aimed at Promoting Its Use
. U.S. Government Accountability Office. Washington, DC. GA)-06-
336. March 2006.

Principles for Bioenergy Development. Union of Concerned Scientists. Cambridge, MA. April

Roundtable on Sustainable Biofuels: Ensuring That Biofuels Deliver on Their Promise of
. Ecole Polytechnique Federale De Lausanne. July 2007.

Sample, V. Alaric. Ensuring Forest Sustainability in the Development of Woody-Based
. Pinchot Institute for Conservation. Washington, DC. Vol. 12, No. 1, 2007.

Sample, V. Alaric. Bioenergy Markets: New Capital Infusion for Sustainable Forest
. Pinchot Institute for Conservation. Washington, DC. Vol. 11, No. 2, 2006.

Science, Biodiversity, and Sustainable Forestry: A Findings Report of the National Commission on Science for Sustainable Forestry. National Commission on Science for Sustainable Forestry.
Washington, DC. January 2005.

Sustainability: Meeting Future Economic and Social Needs While Preserving Environmental
. National Corn Growers Association. Chesterfield, MO. 2007.

The Rush to Ethanol: Not All Biofuels Are Created Equal. Food & Water Watch and Network for New Energy Choices. Washington, DC, and New York, NY. 2007.

The Environmental, Resource, and Trade Implications of Biofuels. Woods Institute for the Environment. Stanford University. Stanford, CA . 2007.

Solar power is the wildcard – it possibly
could experience exponential growth.
(Photo: 25x’25 Alliance)

25x’25 National Steering Committee

William Richards – Circleville, OH (Committee Co-Chair)

Corn and soybean producer; former Chief, U.S. Department of Agriculture Soil Conservation

J. Read Smith – St. John, WA (Committee Co-Chair)

Wheat, small grains and cattle producer; former President, National Association of Conservation Districts

Duane Acker – Atlantic, IA

Farmer; former President, Kansas State University; former Assistant Secretary of Agriculture for Science and Education, U.S. Department of Agriculture

R. Bruce Arnold – West Chester, PA

Consultant, woody biomass utilization for the pulp and paper industry; retired engineer and
manufacturer, Scott Paper Company

Peggy Beltrone – Great Falls, MT

County Commissioner- Cascade County Montana; member, National Association of Counties
Environment, Energy and Land Use Steering Committee

John R. “Jack” Block – Washington, DC

Former Secretary of Agriculture, 1981-1986

Michael Bowman – Wray, CO

Wheat, corn and alfalfa producer; Steering Committee member, Colorado Renewable Energy
Forum; Rural Chair, Colorado Ag Energy Task Force

Charles Bronson – Tallahassee, FL

Commissioner, Florida Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services; member, Florida
Cabinet; member, Florida Governor’s Council on Efficient Government; former President,
Southern Association of State Departments of Agriculture

Glenn English – Arlington, VA

CEO, National Rural Electric Cooperative Association; former Co-Chair, U.S. Department of
Agriculture, DOE Biomass R&D Federal Advisory Committee; former Member of Congress (6th-OK) 1974-1994; Chairman, House Agriculture Subcommittee on Environment, Credit, and Rural Development

Tom Ewing – Pontiac, IL

Immediate past Chairman, USDA, DOE Biomass R&D Federal Advisory Committee; former Member of Congress (15th/IL) 1991-2001; Chairman, House Agriculture Subcommittee on Risk Management and Specialty Crops

Barry Flinchbaugh – Manhattan, KS

Professor of Agricultural Economics, Kansas State University; Chairman, Commission on 21st
Century Production Agriculture

Robert Foster – Middlebury, VT

Dairy farmer, composter, anaerobic digester; President, Vermont Natural Ag Products; Vice-
President, Foster Brothers Farm Inc.; President, AgReFresh

Richard Hahn – Omaha, NE

Retired President, Farmers National Company

Harry L. Haney, Jr. Austin, TX

Consultant, non-industrial private forestland management; emeritus professor, Department of
Forestry, College of Natural Resources, Virginia Tech; past president, Forest Landowners Association

Ron Heck – Perry, IA

Soybean and corn producer; Past President, American Soybean Association

Bill Horan – Rockwell City, IA

Corn and soybean producer; former Board Member, National Corn Growers Association

A.G. Kawamura – Sacramento, CA

Orange County specialty crops, produce grower and shipper; Secretary, California Department of Food and Agriculture; Vice Chairman, Rural Development & Financial Security Policy Committee, National Association of State Departments of Agriculture; founding Partner, Orange County Produce, LLC

Jim Moseley – Clarks Hill, IN

Managing Partner, Infinity Pork, LLC; former Deputy Secretary, U.S. Department of Agriculture; former Director of Agricultural Services and Regulations, Purdue University’s School of Agriculture; Assistant Secretary of Agriculture for Natural Resources and the Environment, U.S. Department of Agriculture

Allen Rider – New Holland, PA

Retired President, New Holland North America; former Vice President, New Holland North
America Agricultural Business Unit

Nathan Rudgers – Batavia, NY

Senior Vice-President, Director, Business Development, Farm Credit of Western New York;
former Commissioner, New York State Department of Agriculture and Markets; former President, National Association of State Departments of Agriculture

Bart Ruth – Rising City, NE

Corn and soybean producer; Past President, American Soybean Association; 2005 Eisenhower
Fellow for Agriculture

E. Dale Threadgill – Athens, GA

Director, Faculty of Engineering, and Department Head, Biological & Agricultural Engineering, the Driftmier Engineering Center, and the Biorefinery and Carbon Cycling Program, University of
Georgia; private forest landowner

Mike Toelle – Brown’s Valley, MN

Chairman, CHS; past Director and Chairman, Country Partners Cooperative; operator, grain and hog farm, Browns Valley

Gerald Vap – McCook, NE

Chairman, Nebraska Public Service Commission; former Chairman, National Conservation
Foundation; President, Vap Seed & Hardware

Don Villwock – Edwardsport, IN

Grain and soybean producer; President, Indiana Farm Bureau Federation; former Chairman,
Farm Foundation

Sara Wyant – St. Charles, IL

President, Agri-Pulse Communications, Inc.; former Vice-President of Editorial, Farm Progress

Ernest C. Shea – Lutherville, MD (Project Coordinator)

President, Natural Resource Solutions, LLC; former CEO, National Association of Conservation

25x'25 America's Energy Future

About the authors: The “25×25 Sustainability Principles” was released in March 2008 by The 25x’25 Alliance, and is republished with permission. The 25x’25 Alliance began in 2004 as a group of volunteer farm leaders who first envisioned the goal of America achieving 25% renewable energy by 2025, and the group quickly gained the support of a broad cross-section of the agriculture and forestry communities. Now leaders from business, labor, conservation and religious groups are joining this alliance as well.

The 25x’25 Alliance is supported financially by the Energy Future Coalition, a non-partisan public policy initiative funded by foundations. For general inquiries, email info@25× The 25x’25 Alliance is headquartered at 1626 Bellona Avenue, Lutherville, MD 21093, (410) 252-7079.

Additional EcoWorld reports on Biofuel:

- Food vs. Fuel?

- Biofuel’s Mixed Blessings

- The Biofuel Bonanza

- Factory Farmed Biofuel

- Bioethanol vs. Biodiesel

- Growing & Refining Biofuel

- India’s Biodiesel Scene

- Biodiesel: The Alternative Fuel That’s Already Here

- Jatropha in Africa

- Europe Adopts Jatropha

- Jatropha – Biofuel Grown in the Desert

Also reference over 40 Editor’s posts on the topic of biofuel:

- Biofuel Posts, EcoWorld Editor’s Blog

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Reforesting the Tropics

Monkey Jumping in Rainforest Canopy
The face of the forest – a flying monkey
soars through the canopy.

Editor’s Note: By the mid-1990′s, thanks to tireless efforts of groups such as the Rainforest Action Network, the World Wildlife Fund, and countless others, headway was being made in the battle to reverse tropical deforestation. But that was then. About ten years ago, starting in Europe, enthusiasm for biofuel began to grow, and this enthusiasm quickly spread to the tropics where entrepreneurs began to raze the forests to grow oil palms and sugar cane. The momentum picked up as global warming alarm somehow translated itself into the notion that biofuel was better than petroleum – with most of the well-intentioned proponents of this notion completely unaware of the havoc they were encouraging in the tropics.

Today where the timber barons have been slowed if not stopped, the biofuel barons are rampaging unchecked, and global warming concerns have left mute the organizations that should have been fighting this new cause for deforestation with the same vigor they fought the old. Even the figures are hard to find – we have checked with press officers for these groups and they claim there is no way to differentiate between deforestation for timber, for cattle ranches, or for biofuel.

World production figures for biofuel tell another story. Biofuel, primarily ethanol and biodiesel, is expected to reach nearly 100 billion barrels per year by 2020. At 5,000 barrels per square mile per year – which is a very good yield – that is nearly 500,000 square miles of land, and most of this land is going to be where tropical rainforests once stood. Right now, less than 3.0 million square miles of tropical rainforest remains, down from nearly 8.0 million 150 years ago. We can’t afford to lose any more.

Tropical deforestation not only causes loss of wildlife habitat, biodiversity, and soil erosion. Deforestation, especially in the tropics, also causes local and regional droughts. There is evidence that tropical deforestation disrupts the monsoon cycle, which could spread drought and extreme weather throughout the world. There is even a growing concern among climatologists that tropical deforestation may be a much bigger factor than industrial CO2 emissions in any alleged climate change we are experiencing.

This is why stories such as this one, by Steve and Debbie Legg in Costa Rica, are encouraging and can serve as a model for other people and other nations. Using the sustainable harvests from newly planted forests to fund additional reforesting is a business model that encourages reforestation instead of deforestation, and can be an alternative to biofueled deforestation. – Ed “Redwood” Ring

Costa Rican Resort Raising Funds for Reforestation
by Steve & Debbie Legg, June 20, 2007

The creation of a thousand forests is in one acorn…..

- Ralph Waldo Emerson

That simple Emerson quotation is premise of the reforestation program developed by Steve and Debbie Legg owners of Leaves and Lizards Arenal Volcano Cabin Retreat.

Clear Cut Rainforest in Peru
This devastating clear cut in Peru is
an example of how the trouble begins.

Just over a year ago, the Legg’s purchased a 26 acre dairy farm in Monterrey, Costa Rica. They built 3 cabins and opened to guests in January 2007. A vacation at Leaves and Lizards is an ecological and cultural experience. Guests may learn about the Meso-American Biological Corridor, the consequences of deforestation, spend the day with a Costa Rica family, become informed about the circle of life in the rainforest by their expert guides and eat food cooked with methane gas produced from the manure of their pigs and cows. Many of the guests that have had the pleasure of staying at Leaves and Lizards inquire about reforesting opportunities. Some have even purchased farms in need of reforesting. Others just want to do something to help reverse deforestation.

Proper reforestation takes planning and follow through. These are the steps necessary for a successful reforestation plan:

1 – Clean-up and soil preparation; if the farm has natural grass, clean-up is done once before planting. If the farm has exotic grasses like Brazilian or Gigante, it will take several clean-ups. These invasive grasses have been planted as pasture grass on cattle farms. They choke out and kill baby trees or other native grasses and plants.

2 – Designing the new forest, ordering and careful transport of trees to the planting location. The design includes a variety of native trees. Teak, not native to Costa Rica, is commonly used as the pioneer forest. It grows rapidly, has large leaves that provide shade that the native trees need to grow. The teak can be harvested later to provide additional funding for future projects.

3 – Making sticks for tree supports, digging holes, planting and organic fertilizing of trees. In the San Carlos area of Costa Rica tree planting season is in May and November. These are the rainiest months.

4 – Eliminating weed competition and pruning; once a month for the next 24 months.
It is possible to just let the land go back to “back to nature,” however, that takes longer and the new forest will have less biodiversity.

The endpoint of thoughtless and rampant deforestation
is shown in this photo of the Malagasy Republic, where
erosion has claimed entire mountainsides.

Biodiversity is short for Biological + Diversity, defined as the number of organisms in an ecosystem, region or environment. Rainforests are highly biodiverse; they cover only about 2% of the land mass on the earth, but contain 50% of all life on the planet. In 2.5 acres of primary rainforest there may be as many as 480 different species of trees. Brazil has the highest level of biodiversity in the world with 59,851 known different species of plants and animals. Sadly, they also have the world’s highest deforestation rate. Brazil is responsible for 27 % of the earth’s yearly deforestation. The earth suffers 80,000 acres of deforestation daily!

A good reforestation plan includes ways for the new forest to support itself. For example, two trees are growing side by side, but in nature only one of those trees will reach old age, the other less dominate one will eventually be crowded out by the larger tree, the smaller tree can be harvested and the wood used to provide funding for the farm up keep, and further reforestation projects. Another tree is planted in its place. This is growing what Fred Morgan at Finca Leola ( calls a perpetual forest.

A society grows great when old men plant trees whose shade they know they shall never sit in. – Greek Proverb

The reforestation project at Leaves and Lizards ( offers people a chance to buy trees for reforestation as a gift, memorial or as part of a vacation package. One package gives the supporter the opportunity to plant and care for the baby trees. Supporters receive yearly photographs, documenting the growth of the trees they sponsored. The Legg’s work with Hector Ramirez from Reforest Costa Rica ( Hector’s knowledge and expertise of the local flora and fauna, as well as the connections he has in the community, prove to make this program a great success. Local farmers trust him and he is educating farmers about the need to protect their remaining forests and reforest to protect water sources.

As an ecologically and socially responsible resort, community involvement is the philosophy of Leaves and Lizards. Monterrey is a tiny, close knit community, perched in the mountains above La Fortuna. La Fortuna sits in the shadow of the Arenal Volcano and has experienced rapid growth as numerous tourists flock to the area hoping to get a glimpse of one of the most active volcanoes in the world. The community of Monterrey has watched Fortuna outgrow its resources and since the opening of Leaves and Lizards, Monterrey has looked to the Legg’s for guidance in planning for future tourism. Steve and Debbie believe tourism should be a support to the community, remain in the background and not take over the community. Local leaders are taking proactive measures to ensure the preservation and continuation of the quality of life in this tranquil hamlet. The first meeting of the “city association” took place in February 2007. The association facilitates community improvements including road repair, handling of garbage, recycling and water usage.

Many of the tours offered at Leaves and Lizards promote rural tourism. Farmers and other locals show off their farms, waterfalls and forests to the guests at Leaves and Lizards. Residents of Monterrey have helped plant native trees and plants that produce fruit to attract wildlife to the resort for guests to enjoy.

Funds raised by Leaves and Lizards will help pay for farmers and individuals who are buying land to reforest to plant trees. This program may indeed be the seed of a thousand forests.

The tree which moves some to tears of joy is in the eyes of others only a green thing that stands in the way. Some see Nature all ridicule and deformity, and some scarce see Nature at all. But to the eyes of the man of imagination, Nature is Imagination itself. – William Blake, 1799, The Letters

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Profitable Reforesting

Verdant Hills of Central America
In the beginning there was a dairy farm

In recent years demand for tropical hardwoods has increased exponentially.

This is due to rising populations as well as increasing standards of living. But tropical hardwoods have always been in strong demand. As building materials they are resilient, renewable, and aesthetically pleasing. India, a nation with a population of 1.1 billion, prizes tropical hardwoods such as teak but must import the wood, since they have lost over 90% of their forests. China, another rapidly industrializing nation with a population of 1.3 billion, also must import most of their tropical hardwoods. Throughout Asia there is a voracious demand for tropical hardwoods that is almost entirely dependent on imports. Elsewhere, in Europe and the USA, wealthy consumers pay a premium for products made from tropical hardwoods.

To meet this burgeoning demand, forests have been clear-cut throughout the equatorial regions of the world. From Indonesia to Africa to the Americas, deforestation has robbed the world of nearly half of the original tropical forests. Often this deforestation has been fueled by multinational timber companies who came in, cut everything in sight, and moved on. In their footsteps came farmers, then ranchers, and all too often, deserts, as the unprotected topsoil washed away.

To counter deforestation and to help fill demand for tropical hardwoods, enterprising companies have begun to reforest denuded tropical landscapes with tree plantations. These monocultural tree farms have flourished, but their efficacy is limited. Only 2% of total hardwoods sold come from plantations, even as advances in equipment have facilitated greater harvests of tropical timber than ever from the rainforests. And while these tree farms do help stabilize topsoil and sequester carbon, as monocultures they cannot support the diversity of wildlife that the original forests could support, and as monocultures they will eventually rob the soil of nutrients and will become dependent on massive inputs of fertilizer. Monocultural tree farming is not sustainable.

Fred Morgan in Teak Plantation
Fred Morgan riding among newly planted teak

Permanent, profitable reforestation can only occur if monocultural tree farms are established as transitional crops with mixed tropical hardwoods replacing them.

A mixed forest of mature tropical hardwoods, cut scientifically on a rotation where “corridors of light” are created as trees are selectively removed, mimics the natural ecosystem of the original forest. Properly managed, understorage of smaller trees and plants is not only permitted along with the timber trees, but helps the overall ecosystem health. This type of forestry is sustainable and profitable. Selecting a specific pioneer species of tree to serve as the monocultural tree crop as the terrain is transitioned from cleared land to forest is a necessary intermediate step. This transitional tree can immediately stabilize the soil and retain moisture, improving the quality of the land so diverse native trees can be reestablished. It can also provide income to finance the reforestation of the native trees.

In 2002, after extensive study and preparation, Finca Leola was established in the northern interior of Costa Rica with the intent of practicing this model for permanent, profitable reforestation. This enterprise, run by Fred Morgan, Amy Morgan, and Hector Ramirez, so far has acquired two plantations, both located in the inland areas northeast of Lake Arenal. How they have gone about establishing their tree plantations is a case study in what conscientious investors and consumers should look for when considering tropical hardwoods.

“Sometimes people think they can just stick a few trees in the ground and come back in 25 years to harvest them,” said Fred Morgan, describing an approach diametrically opposed to his own, “but nothing could be further from the truth.” In reality there is a huge amount of knowledge required to successfully farm trees, and ongoing maintenance is required as long as a tree plantation is intended to be productive.

Countryside of Costa Rica
The verdant countryside of Costa Rica

Central America is one of the best places on earth for growing tropical hardwoods.

Unlike most of Asia and Africa, the land of Central America is geologically young. The depth of the topsoil in Central America is measured in feet or even yards instead of inches. Areas that have been deforested in Central America are much easier to redeem, since it can take centuries for the topsoil to erode after the tree canopy is lost. In parts of the Amazon or Congo, by contrast, the soil is only inches thick and utterly dependent on an intact tree canopy to remain viable. Restoring forest in these areas is far more challenging.

For an optimally productive tropical tree farm, however, just locating in Central America isn’t enough. The transitional monocropped trees, such as teak, prefer very specific climates, altitudes, humidity, and soil type. The soils surrounding the volcanos of Costa Rica are generally more favorable for tree farming compared to the low-lying coastal areas, where the soils more resemble those of the Amazon.

Log on Truck in Costa Rica
Hopefully someday all the logs that make their
way to the mill will be sustainably harvested

“First of all you must select suitable ground for the trees, which requires soil tests. Then you must select suitable trees for the land based on fertility, altitude, and slope.”

So says Antonio Rodriquez, a forestry engineer who has worked throughout Costa Rica and who has routinely consulted for Finca Leola, explaining some of the necessities of good forestry management. Rodriquez’s involvement with Finca Leola didn’t end with site selection, however. As one of the preeminent forestry engineers in Costa Rica, Rodriquez advises Finca Leola as to the ongoing care of the trees – determining when to prune and thin, watching for disease, and suggesting remedies – and helps interact with various government programs.

The first site Finca Leola selected, located near La Garita de Monterey, was a 67-hectare former dairy farm, located at an altitude of about 150 meters. The soil was deemed ideal for growing teak, which would then be transitioned to mixed forest. It quickly became clear the extra time spent selecting a site and testing the soil was worth it, as the trees grew much faster than all data indicated they should. Within two years most of the teak trees were over eight meters high, and Rodriguez currently predicts the first thinning will probably need to occur after only six years, instead of the standard eight years. At that point, the trees will be roughly nine inches in diameter, producing up to 7-inch-wide boards up to 20 feet long. Their plan calls for the teak to be thinned four times prior to final harvest, which they estimate to take place between 20 and 25 years after the original planting. Each time the teak is thinned, the wood is sold for lumber.

Teak Plantation
One year old teak pruned to guarantee
straight trunks and quality wood

To monocrop tropical hardwoods correctly is expensive. Regular pruning up to the first 10 meters of the trunk is required to ensure quality wood.

This will help the tree grow straight and also will eliminate the knots that form deep into the tree when well-developed branches are present, distorting the grain of the wood. Until the trees are over about 10 meters in height, it is also necessary to regularly clear the undergrowth. After the trees get larger, this isn’t as important because the trees are well enough established to compete against the undergrowth, but it is always necessary to prevent creeping vines from climbing the trees.

The conditions in many of the teak groves all over Costa Rica are examples of poor plantation management. In addition to failure to prune and leaving the undergrowth to compete with the teak, the owners either didn’t thin at the appropriate time or thinned the best trees, leaving poor quality, twisted trees standing to grow larger.

The model Finca Leola is pioneering may not be unprecedented, but it is unfortunately quite rare. Those familiar with planting practices in Costa Rica are surprised to see the towering, native mother trees preserved among the teak fields of Finca Leola. The norm is to remove them to clear the way for straight rows of monocrop species. On the Finca Leola plantations, they are kept not only as food trees for wildlife but to produce some of the seedlings for the future forest.

Teak trees barely two years old, benefitting from
excellent soil and excellent forest management

Finca Leola differs from traditional tree growers in their conviction that it’s not really reforestation if the end result is not a forest.

Normally, a failed tree among the rows of teak would be replanted with another teak tree. But Finca Leola plants various slower growing native species in these spots. These are selected for their diversity, their adaptability to the site, their ability to support wildlife, and their value as tropical hardwoods. They include almendro (which the endangered Great Green Macaw depends on), as well as ron ron, cristobal, corteza, ojoche, tempisque, and mahogany, among others. Because these trees grow slower than the teak, they don’t compete with it. These are the foundation trees of a future perpetual forest.

Finca Leola’s second plantation is located in Monte Cristo de Guatuso inside a government-designated biological corridor. Some 30 hectares located at an altitude of 350 meters, it is a former cattle ranch and contains considerable primary forest fringed by pioneer trees that have sprung up in the pastures. There are also some massive native trees of great value. Monte Cristo will be managed partially by filling in the pastures with native pioneer species such as laurel, roble coral, and pilon that then will be transitioned to mixed forest, and partially as an already established mixed forest. This section of mixed, mature trees will immediately begin having corridors of light created by sustainably cutting large native trees, then these cut zones will regenerate, sometimes with the help of selected plantings to increase diversity. As such, this plantation is and will remain a rich, intact ecosystem and a haven for wildlife.

The potential for reforestation using a transitional – and very profitable – tree farm to finance the establishment of a restored mixed forest ecosystem which itself can be managed profitably, is enhanced when others are allowed to participate by buying blocks of trees. Finca Leola has been able to expand their reforested areas more rapidly at the same time as they provide an opportunity for tree owners to not only realize an excellent return on investment, but also to participate in a forestry business that is systematically restoring ecosystems, instead of destroying them. For every block of 100 trees purchased, a tree owner converts 350 square meters of deforested land into perpetually protected rainforest.

Finca Leola Logo
Finca Leola

Projections provided by Finca Leola for their tree owners rely on conventional assumptions: a rate of timber growth of 26 cubic meters per hectare per year, a market price for teak of $350 per cubic meter, and a natural loss of 10%. Based on these assumptions, a $3,500 investment will return over 25 years a payback of $33,000, yielding a very healthy inflation-adjusted internal rate of return of 13.4%. In reality, the returns from an investment in tropical hardwoods may be far higher. Historically, the price of tropical hardwood has increased on average 6% per year over and above general inflation, due to the factors already mentioned, increasing demand and diminishing supply. If this trend holds over the next few decades, then a $3,500 investment in tropical hardwoods today will return over 25 years a payback of $116,500, yielding an astonishing internal rate of return of 21%.

Finca Leola is unusual in their commitment to use a monoculture like teak only as a transitional crop. But by the time the teak trees are completely harvested, where they were, a mixed forest of tropical hardwood trees will already be producing food and habitat for wildlife. Rodriguez points out that “often by removing only the best trees, we are practicing genetic erosion that destroys the forest just like soil erosion destroys the land.” In contrast, by removing only trees that are damaged, diseased, genetically defective, or at the end of their life cycle, the health of the forest is constantly improved. Many of these trees are so rare that even the poorer quality ones are quite valuable. By such sustainabe harvesting, a rich ecosystem is maintained, and funds are generated to pay for its maintenance and protection. Finca Leola’s forestry business model truly is one that allows profitable, permanent reforestation, something that if emulated, could bring back the forests of the world.

Map of Costa Rica Parks and Proposed Bio-Corridor
Finca Leola’s tree farms (red dots) are located in the rich, deep
soils of Costa Rica’s interior. The dark green on the map denotes
existing parks; light green the proposed bio-corridor.
(Scale: one pixel = one kilometer)
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Jatropha – Desert Grown Biofuel

India Gives Biofuels a Chance to Grow
Indian Women with Generators
A Small Scale Biodiesel Refinery

Editor’s Note: Critics of biofuel point out the energy and water necessary to produce the feedstock often can exceed the energy value of the fuel produced. But these studies usually ignore the value of the plant mass as animal feed or fertilizer, once the fuel has been extracted. Another valid concern is the tradeoff between using land to grow food and using land to grow fuel. But what if a plant used to extract biofuel grew on marginal land, that was unable to support crops? What if this plant required minimal water and fertilizer inputs?

Jatropha, also known as the Physic Nut, is a plant which may hold such promise. Able to tolerate arid climates, rapidly growing, useful for a variety of products, Jatropha can yield up to two tons of biodiesel fuel per year per hectare. Put another way, Jatropha can yield about 1,000 barrels of oil per year per square mile. In such quantities, Jatropha, like biofuels in general, cannot become a replacement for oil. But Jatropha requires minimal inputs, stablizes or even reverses desertification, and has use for a variety of products after the biofuel is extracted. Moreover, diesel fuel with biodiesel additives causes far less pollution.

Biofuel is not the ultimate solution to the energy challenges facing India or the world. But it is part of the solution, especially when it not only stretches finite supplies of conventional fuel, but restores the land it grows on, does not displace more viable agricultural land, and requires minimal water inputs.

As energy demand increases,

the global supply of fossil fuels decreases, causing inflation, instability and war; the emissions from fossil fuels cause immediate harm to human health and contribute to the greenhouse effect, and, deforestation and the destruction of agricultural lands threaten to turn this Earth into a desert, bit by bit. There is no doubt that the end of the fossil fuel age is not far off.

Then what? How can we combat desertification, reduce the need for oil, and help heal the present wounds in the environment, all in one stroke?

Abdul Kalam
Dr. A.P.J. Abdul Kalam
President of India

A visionary scientist among politicians, A. P. J. Abdul Kalam, the president of India, sees an answer in biofuel. In a recent Presidential address he recognized biofuel, and specifically the plant jatropha, as worthy of mention. Discussing the national problems of water scarcity and drought, he stated that “India needs to grow jatropha to tackle dry land and generate bio-diesel.”

India is particularly well-suited for the honor of heralding in a green alternative fuel because of its:

(1) Estimated 50 to 130 million hectares of wastelands– saline lands (from mining), degraded forests, and other land unavailable for agricultural use due to overfarming;

(2) Resulting shifting sand dunes and continuing process of desertification;

(3) Fastest growing population rate in the world — increasing the need for food, energy, and employment;

(4) Rural/agricultural population of over 70%: biofuel screw presses are simple to make, and can be produced and maintained by a village blacksmith

(5) Huge national crude oil bill– second only to defense spending;

(6) Constant battle with drought and shortages of water and electricity;

(7) Warm climate, agreeable both to growing biofuels and running engines that use them.

Indian Council of Forestry Research and Education Logo
Indian Council of Forestry
Research & Education

R. P. S. Katwal, Director General of the Indian Council of Forestry Research and Education, said that the Union government had drawn up a blueprint to plant Jatropha trees on 50,000 hectares at a cost of Rs 1,430,000. “Biofuels are gaining importance in the light of increasing energy demand, especially fossil fuels which are non-renewable. Biofuels are renewable, biodegradable, non-hazardous and safer for air, water and soil and its use reduces the emission of greenhouse gases.”

Other projects are funded from abroad, like the proposed $2.5 million pilot project in Hyderabad, Rajasthan, which will produce 10 tons of biodiesel per day. Raw oils from Pongamia, Jatropha, and other trees will be sourced from local farmers who are expected to be the major beneficiaries. The German Development Corporation (GTZ) is currently working with the promoters, Southern Biofuels Pvt. Ltd., to prepare a detailed project proposal for possible funding by German companies and the German government.

German Development Corporation Logo
German Development Corporation

Daimler Chrysler and Hohenheim University (also German) are conducting a research project in two different climatic zones of India. Each plantation will consist of 20 hectares of jatropha trees planted on wastelands– one caused by industrialization and the other by natural soil erosion. Other aspects include test vehicles and research laboratories. After the five-year research period, it is hoped that the plantations will become self-sustaining, profitable enterprises.

The current rate of Indian development of biofuels, particularly biodiesel, is just a drop in the bucket when compared to its potential. If 10 million hectares (100,000 square kilometers or 38,000 square miles) of India’s vast and sometimes destructive wastelands were used for biodiesel production, with a modest estimate of 1.5 tons of seeds per hectare, 4 million tons of biodiesel would be produced– one tenth of the country’s annual oil requirement. If one person was employed per hectare, that would mean 10 million new jobs. And, for use or sale, 11 million tons of organic seedcake fertilizer or livestock feed and 0.4 million tons of technical grade glycerol would be produced.

Ethanol is the most widely used biofuel in the world; technological advances have lowered the cost of its production and processing. Brazil boasts one of the largest green fuel programs in existence: petrol-only engines have been banned and replaced by engines that use pure ethanol or a 78-22 petrol-ethanol blend. The shift has greatly benefit Brazil environmentally and economically, creating employment and reducing the need for foreign oil. Its hot, wet climate is well-suited to the production of sugarcane (from which ethanol is made), and farmers especially have profited.

India is also one of the biggest worldwide producers of sugarcane, but its constant struggle with water shortages in many areas makes growing this crop problematic. However, due to overproduction, sugar prices crashed, and there are actually stockpiles of sugar and spoilt food grain which have no use. These can be used to make ethanol.

Since January 2003, a minimum 5% ethanol blend in petrol has been mandatory in India in nine states and four Union territories. By 2005, the ethanol content should reach 10%. Undoubtedly, ethanol is an important biofuel for petrol engines, but its potential is limited
in India due to the high amounts of water required for its production.

Jatropha Tree
Jatropha trees grow on land too
poor and arid to support food crops

Jatropha curcas, also known as physic nut, is unique among biofuels. Although oil can be extracted from over 80 known plant species, jatropha is currently the first choice for biodiesel. Per hectare, yields vary from 0.5 to 12 tons/year depending on soil and rainfall conditions (Makkar and Becker, 1999). An average of about 5 tons of seeds per hectare can be produced under optimum conditions. The oil content of the seed is 55-60%, which can be converted into biodiesel by transesterification. An annual yield of 0.75 to 2 tons of biodiesel could be expected per hectare from the fifth year onwards (Fiodl and Eder,

What makes Jatropha especially attractive to India is that it is a drought-resistant and can grow in saline, marginal and even otherwise infertile soil, requiring little water and maintenance. It is hearty and easy to propagate– a cutting taken from a plant and simply pushed into the ground will take root. It grows 5 to 10 feet high, and is capable of stabilizing sand dunes, acting as a windbreak and combating desertification. It has been most successful in the drier regions of the tropics with annual rainfall of 300-1000 mm. It grows naturally at lower altitudes (0-500 m) in areas with average annual temperatures well above 200C, but can grow at higher altitudes and tolerate slight frost.

Jatropha naturally repels both animals and insects– it can be planted along the circumference of farms to protect other crops. Jatropha seedcakes, produced as a by-product of pressing the oil, make an excellent organic fertilizer or protein-rich livestock feed, and another by-product is glycerine. The plant lives, producing seeds, for over 50 years.

Jatropha Cuttings Taking Root
Jatropha cuttings quickly take root

Other parts of the plant are also useful: dark blue dye and wax can be produced from the bark, the stem can be used as a poor quality wood, and the roots help in making yellow dye. The flowers of Jatropha curcas and the Jatropha stem have well-known medicinal properties, and the leaves can be used for dressing wounds. All these things can be used, or sold.

Alternate uses of the oil include varnishes, illuminants, soap, organic insecticide, and medicine for skin diseases, cancer, piles, snakebite, paralysis, dropsy and more.

The Indian Supreme Court has recently banned the use of undiluted petrodiesel for commercial vehicles in Delhi due to its adverse effects on health, and other cities are reported to have followed suit.

As compared to petrodiesel, biodiesel almost completely eliminates lifecycle carbon dioxide emissions. It reduces emission of particulate matter by 40-65%, unburned hydrocarbons by 68%, carbon monoxide by 44-50%, sulphates by 100%, polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons (PAHs) by 80%, and the carcinogenic nitrated PAHs by 90% on an average. The biodiesel molecules are simple hydrocarbon chains free of the aromatic substances and sulfur associated with fossil fuels.

Although biodiesel does produce more NOx emissions than petrodiesel, these emissions can be reduced through the use of catalytic converters. In petrodiesel vehicles, catalytic converters have generally not been included because the sulfur in the fuel destroys them, but biodiesel does not contain sulfur.

According to most sources, biodiesel can be used in any diesel engine or burner without adaptation. It has a higher cetane number of biodiesel compared to petrodiesel, indicating potential for higher engine performance and causing less knocking. Tests have shown that biodiesel has similar or better fuel consumption, horsepower, and torque and haulage rates than conventional diesel; the use of biodiesel complements the working of the catalysator and can help a current EURO-1 motor attain the EURO-111 standards.

Jatropha Rows
Jatropha planted around farms can
repel animals, incects & wind

It is true that, because of the solvent power of biodiesel, especially older engines or machines can get clogged, but this is because the biodiesel is actually cleaning it, dissolving the residues left by petrodiesel. Rubber gaskets and hoses in vehicles made prior to 1992 may also be degraded, and need to be replaced. Engine efficiency is also increased by its superior lubricating properties, and the more complete combustion of hydrocarbons due to its higher oxygen content (up to 10%). Finally, biofuel is safer to store because of its higher flash point.

One noteworthy drawback of especially undiluted biodiesel (BD100) is its cold-clogging point of 0 degrees Celsius. This is one of the reasons it is usually mixed with conventional diesel, especially in cold countries. This is not a problem, however, in most of India, except in winter in the higher altitudes of the Himalayas.

The argument that biofuels are not energy efficient, due to the oil used to irrigate, fertilize and plow the land is irrelevant in the case of jatropha– both irrigation and fertilization are generally unnecessary, or its own seedcakes can be used as fertilizer. The energy efficiency of the current agricultural and industrial production process is reported (in Nicaragua) to be between 1:3.75 and 1:5.

Another common objection to biomass energy production is that it could divert agricultural production away from food crops in a hungry world. Using wastelands, however, instead of farmlands, solves the “food or fuel” dilemma– these lands are unsuitable for growing other crops. Also, if a biofuel like jatropha is grown, drought and water shortages which would ruin food crops can be survived; if grown in addition to food crops, as mentioned above, it can literally protect them from animals, insects and desertification, and its seedcakes can be used as fertilizer.

Jatropha Fruit
Once fuel is extracted from Jatropha,
the remaining plant mass is useful as
fertilizer and animal feed

The most difficult problem is, as always, cost. In remote areas, where fossil fuels are not readily available, biodiesel is already a feasible alternative, especially considering wasteland reclamation, rural employment and income generation from jatropha biodiesel and its by-products. This is important to consider in India, where electricity is always in short supply– biodiesel can power generators, lights and farm equipment as well as cars. On the current global market, however, biodiesel generally cannot directly compete with petrodiesel, at least not yet.

The main reason for this is that biodiesel is not being produced on a large scale. The industry is a fragmented network of small companies whose costs and prices are high. Two British biodiesel companies, however, found a solution by listing their company names on the stock market in order to fund large, efficient production facilities, and passing the savings on to consumers. In other parts of the world as well, as production increases, the cost differential of biofuels is decreasing steadily.

Ironically, the first diesel engine ever made, in 1893, was powered by peanut oil– a biofuel. By the 1920′s the petroleum industry had all but eliminated the biofuel infrastructure and usurped the market with petrodiesel because it was cheaper to produce. Even then, the engine’s inventor, Rudolf Diesel, maintained that “the use of vegetable oils for engine fuels may seem insignificant today, but such oils may become, in the course of time, as important as petroleum and the coal-tar products of the present time.”

Now, almost a century later, the world has no choice but to listen or perish in pollution and war. As time goes by and global reserves of fossil fuels shrink, the biofuel industries have to grow up fast, and India is in a good position to step up to the opportunity. The government should give tax concessions or other financial incentives to biofuels companies and consumers to speed up the progress, and urge other nations to do the same. With biofuels, we can help heal and preserve the air, the land, our own physical health and peace.

Brook and Gaurav Bhagat are writers and independent filmmakers based in Jodhpur, Rajasthan, India.

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Cooperative Reforestation

How To Reduce Startup Costs & Reach Economic Sustainability
Costa Rican Countryside
The verdant countryside of Costa Rica

Editor’s Note: Throughout the tropics, forests have been devastated by demands from growing human populations for fuel and building materials. Equally significant has been the removal of trees by industrial logging operations. In Central America, these forces have caused the amount of forest to be reduced to less than one-third its former extent. How these trees were removed in most cases has led to soil erosion, catastrophic mudslides, destruction of habitat, desertification and climate change.

During the last twenty years however, as the worldwide destruction of forests has raged worse than ever, restoration of forests has quietly begun. Throughout deforested regions, conversion of land from mono-crops to mixed use, sustainable agro-forestry is yielding a new and improved environment. Not virgin forest, but combined land use, where some land is returned to jungle, some is retained for grazing and agriculture, and some becomes new, sustainably harvested forest.

In this personal account by Fred Morgan, President of Finca Leola, a former dairy farm in Costa Rica is turned into a combination of restored jungle and sustainable agro-forestry plantation. But Morgan’s explanation of how his dream was realized through a combination of working with local communities and innovative financing via investments from people outside Costa Rica is especially interesting. Models such as Finca Leola have the potential to bring both prosperity and environmental recovery to much of this world where the original forests are lost.

It was never my intention to be an environmentalist.

Not that I felt that there was anything wrong with being one; I just wasn’t expecting it. Sure, I had contributed some to the Nature Conservancy because I was hiking regularly on their lands, but with raising kids and trying to pay bills, it seemed that my efforts would have to be limited to just giving some money here and there to environmental causes.

I’ve always been interested in nature. Few things are more enjoyable to me than long distance hiking, especially in new and novel areas. At one time in my life, I wanted to be a marine biologist or a forest ranger, and I think that was because I wanted to be outside rather than have a desk job. Besides, I was born on a 300-acre farm and never really got very far away from that experience. A woodcarver since age eight, I have also been interested in wood for a long time. When I was a teenager, I had a part-time job in a lumberyard and found all the different properties of wood fascinating.

Fred Morgan with Ojoche Tree
Fred Morgan in front of a massive Ojoche tree

Caring about the environment, occasionally contributing to environmental causes, this description could probably apply to thousands of people, if not millions. How in the world did we get involved in reforestation? And how did we manage to pay for it?

The Dream:

For years – in fact most of our married life – my wife, Amy, and I had a plan of living in a Latin American country someday to start a business that would help the people there as Amy perfected her Spanish, a language she loves. Once we decided that Costa Rica was it, I started to research into what it takes to live there. I knew that Costa Rica grants residency to people if they have a retirement pension (or Social Security), but that does not apply to Amy and me, since we are nowhere near that age (though it keeps creeping closer when we are not looking!).

Costa Rica Flag

We learned that one of the ways to obtain residency is to be involved in reforestation. Costa Rica has suffered very rapid deforestation over the last 50 years; in fact more than 70% of the country is currently deforested. This is causing serious problems with mudslides, floods, and believe it or not, lack of water during the dry season. Because of that, the Costa Rican government is trying to encourage reforestation with tax benefits, information, and residency.

Map of Costa Rica
Costa Rica encourages reforestation with
tax benefits, information & residency

Of all the different ways of qualifying for residency in Costa Rica, reforestation appealed to me most, and as I researched it, it appealed even more. Since I work in a technological field, I prefer to invest in something besides technology. If I were to lose my job because of a downturn in technology, I don’t want to lose my retirement fund as well. So, growing trees seemed like a good approach to retirement planning for me. I also liked the idea that it would help the environment. We decided on a combination of replacing pastureland with a tree plantation along with protecting and expanding existing rainforest.

If we had not met Hector Ramirez and his wife, Christina, I rather doubt that we would have gone through with it as a do-it-yourself project. The difficulty is that reforestation is not just sticking trees into the ground. For the first 3 years, there is a lot of work. Also, doing business in another country is challenging. As the saying goes, you aren’t in Kansas anymore. Hector was born and raised in Costa Rica in the very area where we wanted to establish our plantation. We had been trying to work through agents to find land in that area, and they could find nothing for months. Hector found us more than we could even see in a matter of a few weeks.

Amy Morgan on Horse
Amy Morgan inspects property on horseback

Finding the Land:

Hector, Amy, and I flew down to Costa Rica together to look at fincas. What a week! We stayed with friends of Hector and ate at their soda (roadside cafe) every day. During the day, we would visit farms (fincas), and every evening Hector would go out and line up the farms to go see the next day. We rode horses around most of the fincas, which was quite an experience, since neither Amy nor I would be considered horse people by any stretch of the imagination. We eventually picked a very nice finca that was a working dairy farm and well-maintained.

Hector & Christina Ramirez
Partners in Reforestation

After spending a week in Costa Rica, it became clear that we needed Hector long-term, so we made him an offer he couldn’t refuse – or we hoped that he wouldn’t. He accepted our offer to be a partner in the business. We all figure that Hector is the one really important person. The rest of us are support staff for him. The other very important person is Antonio, our forestry engineer, who has 20-plus years in Costa Rica growing trees. Hector and Antonio make all of the important decisions – all I get to decide is how many trees we are going to plant each year and what species. We started out with four: teak, mahogany (caoba), Spanish cedar, and sura.

Spanish Cedar Tree
A 20 year old Spanish Cedar Tree

Of course, these species were chosen with Antonio’s agreement. This is working very well; in fact, the plantation is growing excellently, probably because they are doing it and not me. Of course, Hector loves it when I show up. He figures using me for a mule saves wear and tear on the animals.

Well, buying the land and a truck pretty much wiped out our reserves. We did not have enough to pay Hector what he was worth, although that’s not a lot of money in Costa Rica. So Hector explained to us that since we owned land, we could make money. We had bought 67 hectares (about 164 acres), and since we were only planning on planting 5 hectares the first year, most of it was going to be fallow, which means it would soon be jungle if we didn’t prevent it. I like letting the land go back to jungle, but I cannot afford to let all of it do that, unfortunately. Our land, like me, has to earn a living.

The Agro-Forestry Formula:

Hector suggested that we continue to graze cattle in the places where we were not planting yet. This would provide income for Hector and his family and reduce the amount we needed to pay him. After Hector brought this up, I did what I always do, delved into researching it, both on the Internet and with Antonio, our forestry engineer. Agroforestry, the management of land by growing trees in combination with pasture and food crops, would work very well for us.

The problem in growing just trees is that it requires tying up a considerable amount of capital. The reason farmers do not normally plant trees is that it is impossible for them to not have their land constantly produce revenue. Agroforestry is an attempt to compromise between the need to produce a cash crop each year and the need to grow trees for the future.

In addition to grazing cattle, when we plant trees, we plant a crop of tiquisque between them. This provides several benefits. One, the tiquisque protects the soil so that bare ground doesn’t wash away in the rains. Two, the trees are weeded and fertilized for free, since Hector works with another person to plant the tubers, and the other person maintains and weeds them. After the tiquisque was harvested, the trees are big enough not to need weeding any more. Three, the harvest provides additional money for Hector and his family. I figure with all the money Hector is making doing agroforestry, he will soon be lending me money!

Tiquisque Plant in Costa Rica
The Tiquisque plant protects soil from erosion,
crowds out weeds, and provides an edible tuber

Another interesting development has occurred. Because we are a bit obsessed about this adventure of ours, it kept coming up in our conversations. (I swear everyone who knows us knows about our tree plantation – they are very tolerant.) Well, some of our friends asked to be part of it. We got very excited about being able to save a whole lot more rainforest than we could on our own. We had purchased four times as much land as we needed for our own retirement. I did a lot of study and research and found out that a common practice is to sell trees instead of shares. Instead of owning part of a plantation, you own only the trees. The advantage for the tree owners, of course, is that they invest in trees without having to go through the pain of owning land in a foreign country and becoming knowledgeable in growing trees. They can also piggyback on our experiences: We try growing each species for ourselves before we sell it to anyone else.

Financing Agro-Forestry:

We had several friends who didn’t realize they had money on hand to invest it trees—in their IRAs! We had made contact with a company that specializes in administering self-directed IRAs and other self-directed retirement accounts. They helped us streamline the process for people to own trees in their IRAs, so even more people got involved in our reforestation effort.

In July 2003, we decided to switch from only offering to grow trees for family and friends to offering our services to the general public. We hesitated (for about a second) because of all the work involved, but our desire to preserve more of the environment in the area as well as provide more jobs for the locals won out. This has been much more successful than we imagined. We sold out of the available trees from the July 2003 planting in about 5 months, and we weren’t even trying. Because of that, we are planning to plant triple in 2004 what we did last year, and already things are looking like we may have to bump that up considerably and maybe even buy more land for next year’s planting. We are happy about this, not because we will get rich off it (we will not) but because it helps preserve so much of Costa Rica. Generally speaking, 40 to 60 percent of the land we own is allowed to remain virgin rainforest or revert to jungle. So, the more trees we plant, the more biological corridors we are creating. This allows the wild animals to pass through from one feeding area to another and to proliferate.

Costa Rican Jungle
Allowing corridors of land to revert to jungle helps
wildlife safely pass between feeding areas

We structured the tree purchases so that we would have enough money to take care of the trees, but our profit comes when the trees are harvested. We will receive 6% of the proceeds from the sale of the wood. We did this so that tree owners would know that we are highly motivated to take care of the trees for the full 25 years until the last ones are harvested. Also, they can come visit any time they want and check out their investment as well. We love to show people around the place.

The average tree owner is a person who is concerned about the environment, often has traveled outside of the United States (and sometimes has immigrated to the USA from a Latin American country), and is either saving for their children’s education or for their retirement. A sizeable percentage also are people like us who want their residency in Costa Rica and feel that this is a great way to get it, help the environment, and invest for their future all at the same time.

Timber Harvesting Log Truck
Conventional methods of timber harvesting
can needlessly damage the surrounding land

Since Hector and Antonio have the current plantation so well in hand, what are Amy and I doing? Currently we are exploring a value-added direction. Instead of just growing trees, we want to make sure that the trees we grow are efficiently used. Usually during the harvest of a tree, a large percentage of the wood is thrown away, because the big sawmills only want a certain kind of wood. Have you ever wondered why it is so hard to find wood with an interesting grain pattern? It is because the sawmills don’t like to handle it, since it is hard to saw. To make matters worse, the normal method of harvesting trees tears up the land, because the logs are dragged to a tractor-trailer and then the tractor-trailer is dragged out of the forest. This leaves big scars on the land that cause erosion if not fixed. We are already researching how to harvest trees with the least amount of damage to the land.

Promoting Sustainable Forestry:

It is interesting that, although cutting down rainforest is a bad thing, cutting down plantation trees for furniture is a very good thing, because it ties up the carbon for years and years. This is very important in reducing the amount of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere. It is also a very good thing because it returns a profit to those who have invested in reforestation, encouraging others to do it as well.

Finca Leola is building a network of furniture
makers who use sustainably harvested wood

Recently we went on a furniture research trip to see the design and quality of the furniture being made in Costa Rica. Some was rustic or not well-made, but some was excellent, beautifully designed and made as well as any furniture we had ever seen and very reasonably priced. For example, a large, oblong dining room table and six chairs was priced at about $1,000.00 US. This was about 25% to 30% of what I would expect it to go for in the USA. The problem is, of course, that you have no idea where the wood comes from and may be contributing to the destruction of the rainforest by buying it. We are currently making plans to develop a network of furniture builders who will create furniture from our wood that we will help them sell, so that people can help by buying tropical hardwood furniture instead of hurting.

Finca Leola Logo

Finca Leola has evolved into much more than just a couple of families trying to help do something for the environment with their limited time and resources. Our Web site,, has become a source of information on reforestation, and our lives are being enriched by all of the tree owners and others who contact us and stay connected with us throughout the year. We also spend considerable time giving free advice to people who own land in Costa Rica and want to grow their own trees, as well as to some other owners of reforestation projects. It has so far been the most fulfilling and enriching experience of our lives.

What I think is developing is Cooperative Reforestation. Instead of the idea of just planting trees and eventually harvesting them (our first plan) we have morphed into a collaboration of individuals and companies, all with a common thread of reforestation and improving the environment, but at the same time, having the plantations pay for themselves. We have created a website that dispenses information on reforestation and related topics, since our primary purpose is to encourage reforestation.

Hacienda Baru Logo

One of the most famous reforestation projects in Costa Rica is Hacienda Baru. Jack Ewing started 30 years ago to reclaim a portion of Dominical, Costa Rica. Not only has he successfully grown lumber for his own use, but he has created an ecotourism paradise. In this case, tourism is supporting the reforestation project, showing that often, the trees are worth considerably more alive than dead.

CloudBridge Logo

Another family has started CloudBridge, a private nature reserve. They have volunteers who come help replant the deforested areas and sell merchandise, and they accept donations to help fund the project.

We at Finca Leola encourage anyone who is interested in reforestation to drop us a line. We feel that much of the deforestation that has occurred is not because of greed but lack of knowledge. If we can, through our Web site and through offering to plant trees for others, help in reforesting a part of Costa Rica, we feel all of the hard work and money will have been well-spent.

Fred Morgan


Finca Leola S.A.

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Organic Farming in India

Organic by Default: The Irony of Organic Farming in India
Organic Farm in India
A modern organic farm in Rajasthan, India

Editor’s Note: Organic farming is either really expensive or really cheap, depending on where you live and whether or not you are certified. Not only are the “natural” pesticides and fertilizers increasingly marketed by agribusiness as costly or costlier than their chemical counterparts, but proving you are an organic farmer requires certification, which is time-consuming and expensive. In the USA, converting to organic agriculture is a huge undertaking for commercial farmers, who have relied on chemical fertilizers and pesticides for many decades, but in India, the conversion is no less arduous, and far more ironic.

India’s farmers are still mostly practicing organic methods, passed down for millenia. Organic fertilizer and natural pest control are the only tools available to most of these farmers, who have always lacked the financial resources to explore chemical solutions. But these farmers, whose produce is as organic as they come, cannot afford to pay the fees required to gain official certification.

As the international community adopts standards for organic agriculture, the challenges faced by farmers in the USA versus farmers in India in order to adapt are very different indeed. The danger is that the well-intentioned global move towards organic standards will make small organic farmers in countries like India, who have been never done anything but organic farming, no longer able to sell their crops.

In response to the $26 billion global market for organic foods,

Spices Board Logo
Spice Board

the Indian Central Government set up a National Institute of Organic Farming in October 2003 in Ghaziabad, Madhya Pradesh. The purpose of this institute is to formulate rules, regulations and certification of organic farm products in conformity with international standards. The major organic products sold in the global markets include dried fruits and nuts, cocoa, spices, herbs, oil crops, and derived products. Non-food items include cotton, cut flowers, livestock and potted plants.

J.S. Mann, commissioner of Horticulture for the Union Agriculture Ministry, said, “The institute, set up as part of the national program for organic production, will have its offices across the country and is appointing certifying agencies for organic farm products for the domestic market.”

Organic Farm
Most farms in India are organic but not certified

The certifying agencies thus far named by the Centre include the APEDA (Agricultural and Processed Food Products Export Development Authority), the Tea Board, the Spices Board, the Coconut Development Board and the Directorate of Cashew and Cocoa. They will be accountable for confirming that any product sold with the new “India Organic” logo is in accordance with international criteria, and will launch major awareness and marketing campaigns, in India and abroad.

Rajnath Singh, Additional Director-General of the Indian Council of Agriculture Research (ICAR), in the LBS seminar on Organic Farming, said that currently the export of organic products is allowed only if “the produce is packed under a valid organic certification issued by a certifying agency accredited by a designated agency.”

Coconut Board Logo

Organic farming has been identified as a major thrust area of the 10th plan of the central government. 1 billion rupees have been allocated to the aforementioned National Institute of Organic Farming alone for the 10th five-year plan, Mann said. And by the end of 2004, according to APEDA chairman K.S. Money, 15% of farm products will be organically grown & processed. A working group has been set up by the Planning Commission, and the Department of Commerce has established National Organic Standards.

Tea Board India Logo
Tea Board India

What’s all the rush? Money, of course. Statistics are predicting that the global market that was only $17 billion in the year 2000 may touch the $31 billion mark by 2005– and India’s current share is only 0.001 per cent. In a survey called Land Area under Organic Management (SOEL-survey), India comes in 75th place in the world, alongside Cameroon. Officially, only 0.03 per cent of its land is slated to be under Organic
Agriculture– yet, in the same survey, the number of organic farms is listed as 5660, catapulting it to 16th place in the global organic map. What does this mean? Basically, most of India’s organic farms are not officially considered (or certified as) organic.

Organic Farm in India
“Organic by Default” – methods that worked for
millennia suddenly require certification

Most of India’s farms are “organic by default.”
The irony and difficulty of the new governmental push for organic agriculture is that 65% of the country’s cropped area is “organic by default,” according to a study by Rabo India. By this somewhat degrading term they mean that small farmers, located mostly in the Eastern and North-Eastern regions of the country, have no choice except to farm without chemical fertilizers or pesticides. Though this is true in many cases, it is also true that a significant number of them have chosen to farm organically, as their forefathers have done for thousands of years.

Many have seen for themselves the effects of chemical farming – soil erosion and loss of soil nutrients, loss of nutrition in food, and human diseases resulting from the chemicals that inevitably seep into the water table, all the reasons for the urgent demand for organic foods and farming.

In 2002, according to Government statistics, from a total food production of over 200 million tonnes, the country produced only 14,000 tonnes of organic food products. India currently has only 1,426 certified organic farms.

This statistical discrepancy reveals that the weak link in the organic/economic chain is certification. Under current government policy, it takes four years for a farm to be certified as organic. The cost of preparing the report is a flat fee of Rs. 5000, and the certificate itself costs another Rs. 5000. While these costs are bearable for the new industrial organic greenhouses, they are equal to or more than an entire year’s income for the average small farmer, if the costs of travel and inspection are included.

U.S. Dept.
of Agriculture
Cows in Indian Farm
Organic fertilizer production

In the United States, an organic farm plan or organic handling plan must be submitted to a USDA – accredited private or state certification program. The plan must explain all current growing and handling methods, and any materials that will be used – in the present, and any future plans must be included as well. Records for the last five years must be presented. Land must be chemical-free for three years prior to harvest, so a
conventional farmer cannot receive the organic label for the transitional years. This will generally mean a decrease in income– crops may be less plentiful than with conventional fertilizers and pesticides, and yet the higher price for organic products won’t yet be possible. Many farmers cannot afford the transition, even if they want to.

Intl. Federation of
Organic Agricultural

One solution to the small farmer’s dilemma of how to both certify and survive is that of community certification. At the World Organic Congress, hosted last year by IFOAM (International Forum for Organic Agricultural Movements) in Victoria, Canada, the theme was “Cultivating Communities.” The idea of community certification of organic farms was the main topic of discussion, a concept increasingly popular among farming communities worldwide who have become fed up with accreditation agencies.

In community certification, communities, on a non-profit basis, take charge of the certification process themselves. They evaluate the farmer’s commitment to the stewardship of the soil, and examine from many angles whether the food is being grown in an environmentally sensitive way or not, rather than technical standards.

Directorate of Cashew & Cocoa Logo
Directorate of
Cashew & Cocoa

While community certification may be a viable solution on the local level, it is our opinion that, in the global marketplace, less than exact technical standards will never be enough for today’s consumer – and, in today’s largely poisoned environment, it shouldn’t be, either. Furthermore, such “soft” guidelines can easily backfire on the farmers themselves, as a system not based on facts must be by definition subject to local politics, bribery, favoritism, etc.

Sunset in India
Certification to International Organic Standards
will not be easy for India’s small farmers

India must find a way to keep the strict international organic standards intact if it wants to compete in the international market for organic foods– but is there a way to do it without leaving small farmers out in the cold? One obvious solution is for the government so eager to make India organic to subsidize these certification fees enough to make it a viable option for ordinary farmers, not just for neo-organic factory farms and greenhouses. Banks also could provide a more level playing field for small
farmers– currently, almost all bank loans are for pure crop farmers, that is, monoculturalists. While many of these big-business farmers use harmful chemicals and processes, small farmers fertilizing their soil with recycled organic wastes are usually ineligible for insurance, much less state subsidies.

In the Hindu newspaper’s annual environmental report, P.V. Satheesh, Director of the Deccan Development Society, writes, “It’s a sobering thought that the farmers producing the best and cleanest food must pay extra to certify, instead of inorganic foods being certified as potentially bad for our health.”

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Arid Agriculture vs. Deserts

State-of-the-Art Agro-Forestry vs. Deserts on the March
India Scrubland
Building a Path to Ecological Restoration
An Institute in India Fights the Desert

Editor’s note: Deserts spread but deserts are not inevitable. Restored ecosystems, managed by humans, can reclaim desertified land through harvesting and storing more rainwater, planting hardy trees that none-the-less yield a crop, and sustainable farming and grazing areas. Such a practice may not stop every desert, but it beats using the land for overgrazing livestock, allowing excess water to run-off each year, and allowing all the trees to die. If tomorrow trees were planted this way everywhere, it might certainly make a positive difference in global climate change. A variety of new farming and forestry technologies and water harvesting practices combine to fight deserts; many of these combinations and recipes for restoration are only now being developed and documented. In India, a country experiencing desertification, an institute in Jodpur, Rajasthan, is pioneering many interesting ways to fight the desert..

Agriculture is not a dependable proposition in this area– after the rainy season, at least 33% of crops definitely fail, stated Dr. Pratap Narain, director of the Central Arid Zone Research Institute (CAZRI), based in Jodhpur, Rajasthan. Animal husbandry, trees and grasses, intercropped with vegetables or fruit trees, is the most viable model for arid, drought-prone regions.

Nand Kishore Jaisalmeria, a local farmer who has won national awards for his progressive approach to agriculture, said current drought conditions have cost him a 30-40% loss.

Flag of India
Map of India
The Great Indian Desert Stretches over
much of Northwest Central India
(Scale: 100 miles = 41 pixels)

Arid regions of Western Rajasthan, Gujarat, and Southern parts of Haryana receive low precipitation (under 40 CMS. normally) with high evapotranspiration due to high solar radiation and wind speed. The region faces frequent droughts. Overgrazing due to the high animal population, wind and water erosion, mining and other industries are serious land degradation processes, according to Dr. Narain.

“Certain oceanographic features may be the cause of the current drought and shift in climate,” he said. “We don’t have good oceanographic stations yet; we can only offer medium-range weather forecasting, which means about 15 days in advance. We can’t say when the monsoon, or any other rain will come.”

In the last 15-20 years, the Rajasthani desert has seen many changes, including a manifold increase of both the human and animal population. Animal husbandry has become popular due to the difficult farming conditions. At present, there are ten times more animals per person in Rajasthan than the national average, and overgrazing is also a factor affecting climatic and drought conditions.

Central Arid Zone Research Institute

Since its establishment in 1959, CAZRI, funded primarily by the Indian Council of Agricultural Research, has been working under the mandate of undertaking basic and applied researches in order to contribute to the development of sustainable farming systems in the arid ecosystems.

In 2001, CAZRI established five multi-purpose tanks of 50,000 litre capacity to help meet drought needs, for which the cost was shared with farmers. Three 20-meter deep infiltration wells were established to enhance groundwater recharge, and subsurface barriers across the ephemeral stream increased well yield from 28% to 53%. Vegetative barriers, perhaps the most non-invasive way to conserve water, prevent runoff, and increased the yield of crops like pearl millet and mung bean in some areas from 30 to 50%.

In August of 2002 CAZRI held a drought management conference to discuss what they should reccomend that the goverment do in terms of drought-proofing and prevention. The scientists concluded that crops requiring less water should be cultivated, and that rooftop rainwater harvesting systems should be mandatory in the construction of new buildings. This water can be used for crops.

Ber Trees
Newly Planted Budding Ber Trees

In the short term, it was agreed at CAZRI’s 2002 Conference that relief work must be done, like supplying grain and fodder for animals, and cleaning existing wells. For the long term, however, issues like how land-use policies might be adjusted and how people can be encouraged to grow more grasses and legumes came up.

“Right now survey teams are collecting data from farmers,” said Dr. Narain. “We want to fuse technology with the indigenous wisdom of farmers, and learn how they are coping with the drought. After surveying, we will make a publication, and then submit it to the goverment.”

Dr. Narain emphasized, however, that CAZRI is primarily an agricultural research institute. Construction is the responsibility of the state government. Technology is developed at CAZRI, and then the state mechanism for distribution takes over. As he puts it “Our work is in planning, not execution.”

Improved varieties of crops like low-rainfall grasses, for example, particularly Dhaman (Cenchurs cilaiaris) & Sewan (Lasiurus sindicus) have been developed in seed and pellet form which can be sown by helicopter, according to Dr. Nairain.

The scientists of CAZRI have successfully developed and improved dozens of traditional and non-traditional crops/fruits, such as Ber trees (like plums) that produce much larger fruits than before (lemon-size) and can thrive with minimal rainfall. These trees have become a profitable option for farmers. One example from a case study of horticulture showed that in situation of budding in 35 plants of Ber and Guar (Gola, Seb & Mundia variety developed in CAZRI), using only one hectare of land, yielded 10,000 Kg. of Ber and 250 Kg. of Guar, which translates into double or even triple profit.

Keraji Tree
The Drought-Resistant Kejari Tree

Acacia Senegal, a tree imported from Africa 25 years ago, has adapted well to the Indian desert. CAZRI has developed ethophil injection, an etheline compound which increases the gum production of the tree by 25-35%. This gum is used for eating and in various medicines.

Technology is transferred via field days, farmers’ fairs, exhibitions, training, and on-farm trials. It adopted the new technology developed by CAZRI in 1976 by budding an improved variety of Ber,” said Mr. Jaisalmeria, a local farmer. “It started giving good results in 2-3 years and gave a new crop idea to contemporary farmers.”

He said the CAZRI ber trees had helped prevent soil erosion, and proved to be one of his most drought-resistant crops, along with indigenous trees like Neem, Khajeri and Rohira. “Now 1,000,000 hectares of land (even sand dunes) is being cultivated which was not of any use before,” he said.

One major area of CAZRI’s achievement is the rehabilitation of wastelands created by the large-scale mining of minerals like limestone and gypsum, which are found in abundance in arid zones.

Technologies integrating suitable plant species, soil amendments and water harvesting have been developed, and many such wastelands have been successfully revitalized. Furthermore, scientists have identified several species of trees that can be planted on land contaminated by chemicals used in printing and dyeing clothes.

Sand Dunes in Rajasthan
Sand Dunes Cover 58% of Rajasthan

About 58% of the area of arid Rajasthan is occupied by highly mobile sand dunes, a serious danger to farms, canals, highways, and generally everyone living in the arid regions, and are a contributing factor to increased desertification. The institute has established shelterbelts consisting of three rows of trees: a central row of tall trees like Albizzia lebbek, with one row of branching trees like Acacia tortolis, Cassia siamea or Prosopis juliflora on either side. These shelterbelts have proved to reduce wind velocity by 20-46%, and soil loss by 76%. To date over 16,000 ha of land has been stabilized using this method.

Also contributing to combatting desertification is CAZRI’s long-going project of mapping the desert, and identifying and understanding the processes leading to desertification. Using sattelite imagery, the extent of soil movement has been quantified, and underground courses of rivers like Saraswati have been located.

These discoveries were confirmed through geophysical depth sounding, and later successfully used for groundwater exploration.

In the area of livestock management, which is an important source of sustenance for farmers in drought years, an animal feed block compression machine was developed in 2002 which compresses the feed 3-3.5 times, producing blocks of 2.5 kg weight. This reduces the costly burden of transporting large quantities of bulky animal feed. The machines now are being manufactured by private companies.

CAZRI scientists have also recently identified a new breed of sheep, Parbatsar, which has a higher growth rate, milk yield and duration of lactation. A technique of ensiling surplus fodder, using over-fermented milk, urea and molasses, has been developed.

Dainik Bhaskar Logo
Hindi Newspaper Dainik Bhaskar

Another recent discovery, heralded by Dainik Bhaskar, a Hindi national newspaper, is the development of fresh water fish that can survive in brackish (salty) water. Dr. Narain explained that Panaeus monodon shrimp and Seabass fish fry were reared with 92% survival and an average weight of 38 GMs and 12 GMs respectively in 140-150 days. Grey mullet fish could be grown to 1.4 GMs in 39 days in winter at 12-18 degree centigrade in waters up to 45 parts per thousand salinity. On March 16, a fair was held for over 300 participants, sharing this technology and seeds with willing farmers.

“We have contacted the Fishery Department and banks to help with financing,” said Dr. Narain. “Farmers will need to make fish ponds. CAZRI can give low-profit or free prawn seeds.”

The recent discovery of the Dhingri Mushroom, which can be grown easily in arid regions, also proves to be a profitable new crop. Mushrooms were previously transported from remote areas, and are therefore expensive here.

Other findings include finding of anti-HIV constituents viz. Betulinic acid (BA), oleanolic acid (OA) and ursolic acid (UA) which were extracted and isolated by column chromatography, using standard protocol from Tecomella Undulata (Rohira). However, this is only a preliminary finding, caution researchers, which is currently being clinically tested by the Central Drug Research Institute, Lukhnow.

Although CAZRI is doing a great favour to the farmers in this region, still the regular drought and the poverty make the difference. And the rain is the thing which brings smile on the faces.

Brook and Gaurav Bhagat are writers and independent filmmakers based in Jodhpur, Rajasthan, India.

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