Rainforests are home to at least 50% of the world's species, which makes them an extensive bank and library of both biological and genetic material. The biodiversity of these tropical forests has inspired humans for millions of years. Unfortunately, their future is at stake with our planet losing an average of 140,000 species and 16 million hectares of forest annually.

The high pressure on natural resources due to population densification, and intensified livestock and arable farming, has been one of the main causes responsible for the loss of biodiversity. However, this situation is not irreversible and ironically today forestry can serve as a double-edged sword and be used to restore devastated areas and biodiversity, through a novel methodology that is known as Analog Forestry (AF).

ANALOG FORESTRY – AN ALTERNATIVE TO MONOCULTURES

AF is a forestry system developed in the 1980´s and today is already well established on four continents – North and South America, Asia, and Australia. The Analog Forestry concept was created by Dr. Ranil Senanayake in Sri Lanka as an alternative to prevalent monocultures. It is a method of forest management that seeks to establish an ecosystem dominated by trees, which is "identical" or very similar in architectural structure, dynamics and ecological function to the original diverse vegetation. This methodology also capacitates communities both socially and economically, through the use of marketable species.

Analog Forestry is a very attractive methodology for forest farmers, since it provides them with a source of income in their own natural or semi-natural surroundings. Up and running AF examples may be found in countries such as Ecuador, Costa Rica, Cuba and Sri Lanka. Analog Forestry differs from other agroforestry systems in that it emphasizes the importance of the use and preservation of the native forest flora and fauna as one of its priorities.

A comparative study in 2007 carried out in Ecuador showed the advantages of an analog system compared to a conventional agroforestry system and a pasture. It was shown that the AF plot had a greater ecological sustainability due to greater biodiversity of species, tree cover and organic matter (Torres-Gallardo, 2007).

FOREST GARDEN PRODUCTS OPEN NEW DOORS

Forest Garden Products (FGPs) are agroforestry products that originate from forests that have been restored through the AF methodology, which ensures forest ecosystem restoration, sustainable production and native forest species´ conservation. The FGPs provide a guarantee for consumers that the products they consume have been grown using organic techniques and that through their purchase they are supporting forest restoration programs. Therefore, through Analog Forestry and the marketing of FGPs, forest communities can find gainful employment while still protecting their forests, without having to resort to massive felling of trees for export or to the conversion of their land to pasture and arable farming. Currently in Europe there is one dedicated FGP distribution point – a shop called Guayapi Tropical (www.guayapi.com), based in Paris, France.

POTENTIAL IN THE MEDITERRANEAN REGION

The Mediterranean basin is one of the ecoregions of highest plant diversity, with 15-20,000 species, 60% of which are endemic (IUCN Red List, 2008). The importance of Mediterranean forests lies in the environmental services they provide such as; native biodiversity conservation, water resource regulation, preventing floods, retaining underground rainwater, reducing slippage soils on slopes and avoiding erosion. Forests are a climatic buffer, regulating the local microclimate and are part of landscapes, where ecotourism is becoming increasingly important socioeconomically. They also act as reservoirs of CO2. Products from the Mediterranean forest include hardwoods that are used for building and joinery, medicinal plants, spices, dyes, tannins, sweeteners, honey, forest fruits, spices for liqueurs, mushrooms, buds, etc. These products have considerable potential as Forest Garden products.

Analog Forestry can play an important role in landscape restoration. There are traditional management models of certain forests in the region, which are of great ecological value, such as pastures and grassland polycultures, which create a unique environment where agro-ecological activities that are respectful to the environment are implemented. AF examples include the use of bee flora species and local genotypes (to ensure the evolutionary potential of these species), and the development of hedges in agro-ecological and/or forest restoration farms, along with food species that are often linked to local cultural values, which is another form of diversity .

Analog Forestry designs have considerable potential in different fields, such as in the restoration of forest habitats in the Iberian Peninsula that are of high ecological value, the reforestation of peri-urban areas, the creation of biological corridors and the reforestation of watersheds. To these may be added the establishment of forest gardens in small public and private domestic areas, where users such as students and retirees have access to a semi-wild multi-stratified orchard that conserves forest species along with native or traditional varieties of fruit trees along with other plant and animal species.