Reforestation.me – about the AID plus seeds system of treatments (Animal Improved Dung plus seeds) – a system I invented for soil improvement and revegetation utilizing livestock to disperse soil improvers such as biochar, as well as spores of beneficial micro-organisms such as nitrogen-fixing bacteria and mycorrhizal fungi, as well as seeds, which are then incorporated into the soil by dung beetles and earthworms – click here: aid-savory-3rd and here: Josephetal2015Pedosphere-Feedingbiochartocows .
Also on this page: agroforestry, FMNR (farmer managed natural regeneration, aka assisted natural regeneration), Evergreen Agriculture, holistic management/planned grazing, fodder trees, environment, climate change, revegetation, reforestation, rewilding, permaculture.
The seeds of many plants are dispersed by animals
The photo below shows natural regeneration from seeds deposited by wildlife. Wildlife and livestock can be utilised to aid the dispersal of seeds as well as beneficial micro-organisms and biochar for reforestation.
The illustration below shows an example of plant succession, a natural process which can potentially be aided and hastened in reforestation projects.
FMNR – Farmer Managed Natural Regeneration
(also called Assisted Natural Regeneration).
The following two photos give an indication of what FMNR can achieve:Niger after about 20 years of FMNR. This is not the exact same spot, but is in the same area, and is representative. Additional rain in some years would also have been a contributing factor, and increased CO2 levels (Carter 2013), however, if not for FMNR, new growth would almost certainly have been completely browsed by livestock, or completely harvested for fuel wood.
It makes good common sense to conserve existing resources – to manage and protect existing trees that may have been browsed down to a stump at ground level, to give them a chance to sprout again to above browsing level, and to protect naturally regenerating seedlings from over-browsing, over-zealous fuel wood collecting, and fire.
In the photo above, there are still opportunities to increase ground cover with more grasses, as well as nitrogen-fixing leguminous groundcovers, and other groundcovers such as those in the Cucurbitaceae, Asteraceae and Convolvulaceae families, plus perhaps Portulaca oleraceae (see photo below). These could be established with planned grazing and the Animal Improved Dung treatment.
A quote on the importance of perennial tussock grasses: “…grass tussocks produce biomass, some of which forms litter which protects the soil surface and contributes to soil organic matter and soil structure. This enables rainfall to be trapped increasing water infiltration (giving more water for more plant growth) and limiting soil erosion (more nutrients for more growth). In this way the accumulation of biomass ensures that the productive capacity of the ecosystem and the existence of the grasses and their dependent organisms is maintained. Biomass can therefore be viewed as a form of ‘biophysical capital’.” (McIntyre et al, 2002).
See AgNotes. FMNR3.
Reforestation project adds hope to food crisis –http://www.abc.net.au/lateline/content/2012/s3542254.htm
For more on FMNR go to the “Agroforestry Links” page.
Planned Grazing/Holistic management
The photos above show a wonderful result, but there is still potential to achieve much more. Livestock could be holistically managed in a planned grazing system, where they are herded and bunched together in a particular area, and concentrate their deposits of urine (nutrients) and manure (organic matter and nutrients) in that area. The manure will increase the water holding capacity (WHC) of the soil, and increase water infiltration with less runoff and erosion, as it is incorporated into the soil by termites and dung beetles (and earthworms in wetter places). The livestock will have an impact on the soil surface, where hoof prints/indentations press existing seeds into the soil for improved germination, and provide micro-sites where water, nutrients, and seeds collect, so more water infiltrates, and seeds germinate. Any potential problems of soil compaction will quickly be alleviated by vigorous root growth and improved soil structure that comes with increased organic matter and soil life. The area is then left long enough for plants to recover and for new plants to establish.
A quote from Allan Savory: “This simpler planning process is covered in more detail in the Holistic Grazing Planning Handbook; here again, I only cover the basic principles it entails. Chief among them is the the need to achieve maximum density (of animals) for minimum time, followed by a prolonged recovery period. When this guideline is followed, plants are favoured throughout the year because overgrazing will be minimised in the growing season, and most of the old growth cleared by the end of the dormant season. No matter what the class or type of livestock, the animals tend to receive the highest plane of nutrition and suffer the least amount of disease and the least danger of parasite infection if they are continually moving and thus offered fresh, unfouled forage to feed on – as long as the animals are moved without stress. The soil, no matter what type, also benefits from the same treatment because more plants grow, root systems are healthier, soil-covering litter is abundant, plants grow more closely together and hold more litter in place, and the soil surface is periodically broken and aerated and compacted sufficiently to provide seed-to-soil contact” (Savory 1999).
Also, a quote from author Mary White, gives a brief overview of some of the advantages of planned grazing/holistic management, as opposed to set stocking: “The opportunities that exist for changes in grazing management are many and diverse. Maintaining set stocking invariably caused species change in the plant cover and often promoted rates of soil loss greater than soil formation rates. Rotational, time-control, cell, holistic, pulse, high intensity/short time, are all grazing systems that limit the time when plants are exposed to animals. Longer periods between grazings promote greater species diversity and more complex age structure. Longer recovery also increases leaf area index, which could be important for returning ecosystems to a more balanced hydrology. Greater leaf area increases the potential for sunlight capture and thus maximises growth potential using a free and renewable energy source – the sun. Greater leaf area means larger root systems, which adds to soil organic matter and root biomass, both major determinants for prolific soil life. Better ground cover results in more effective use of rainfall, reducing run-off and erosion”.
“Rotational grazing methods have the capacity to swing the successional balance in favour of perennial plants, whereas set stocking generally favours annuals. Increased root biomass with a litter layer at the soil surface creates conditions favourable to soil micro-organisms which recycle nutrients and create stable aggregates. Mycorrhizal fungi enable increased nutrient avalability and also provide an extended interface for moisture retention and water uptake.” (White, 2003). See Mycorrhizal fungi photos below.
See also: hol mgt.
The following article about repairing eroded gullies using planned grazing (“Small Farms” magazine, Nov.2012, by David Mason-Jones) shows a practical example of the outstanding results that can be achieved in reforestation/revegetation using planned grazing. Even better and quicker results could be achieved using the AID plus seeds treatment, (see further down this page) adding selected appropriate soil improvers, beneficial micro-organisms, and seeds of superior/improved fast-growing, deep-rooted grasses, groundcovers and fodder trees. Click below for this interesting article on fixing eroded gullies using planned grazing: repairing eroded gullies with planned grazing . For more information, go to the “Agroforestry Links” page.
The AID plus seeds system of treatments (Animal Improved Dung plus seeds treatment)
“Most trees in the tropics reach their place of growth via the gut of an animal”
Corlett and Hau.
In addition to FMNR and planned grazing, the AID plus seeds system of treatments could also be applied for reforestation, and could produce even better and faster results. Mixed in with some fodder, and perhaps diluted molasses, the livestock could be fed with seeds of deep-rooted, fast-growing grasses, ground covers, herbaceous plants, shrubs and trees (including fodder trees, preferably some of them nitrogen-fixing) to disperse in their manure, to create a multi-storey grassy woodland/forest.
An initial treatment might just be seeds of grasses, herbaceous legumes, shrubs and ground covers to build up biomass, soil organic matter and reduce erosion, with later treatments adding tree seeds, when the soil is improved.
Alternatively, grasses and herb seeds could be fed to some animals, and tree and shrub seeds to other individual animals. This will help to spatially separate the grasses from the trees, since grasses/herbaceous plants are likely to outcompete or at least retard the growth of tree seedlings in the early stages of establishment if they are growing close together.
They could also be fed with soil improvers which are appropriate (in this area of the Sahel, for example, an infertile, sandy soil, in a semi-arid to arid climate), so powdered rock phosphate (and other rock dusts), or burnt bone (Ca, and highly available P); clay (increases water holding capacity and cation exchange capacity), powdered biochar (adds long-lasting organic matter), deficient trace elements, and any others that are appropriate, available, and free or cheap.
Feeding biochar to cattle followed by the incorporation of the biochar/manure into soils by dung beetles has now been tested and proven to work. See the scientific paper by Joseph et al further down this page.
In addition, they could be fed with spores of beneficial micro-organisms such as suitable nitrogen-fixing bacteria and mycorrhizal fungi, or topsoil/roots containing these.
All these soil improvers, seeds and micro-organisms would be mixed into palatable supplementary fodder, (such as haybales, cut branches from fodder trees, sprouted barley grass) with molasses or some other syrup (or perhaps salt, or perhaps sugar cane juice) added to entice the stock to eat it.
Time is allowed (18 hours or more) for the soil improvers and seeds to move partially through the digestive tract, so that they are deposited later in the manure in the area to be treated. Stock could be enticed to spend time, concentrated together, in the target area, by placing particularly palatable fodder in the area (or they could be fenced in, usually with electric fences, or manually herded). The treatment time could be hours for large numbers of densely mobbed livestock, but a day or two would provide more time for seeds and soil improvers to pass through the animals and be deposited in manure on the ground in the targeted area.
Some examples or possibilities of areas that could be treated could include high ground/the tops of hills/mountains, or a strip on the contour, an eroded gully (see article above), river banks, or perhaps to form a windbreak, living fence, strip of fodder trees, a wildlife corridor, corners of fields that are easy and cheap to fence, etc. The livestock are then given more fodder with improvers and seeds, and moved to treat another area, and so on.
Vegetation should be given time to establish (livestock and grazing/browsing wildlife need to be excluded), to a point where it can cope with being browsed/grazed again, which could be as little as four months for grasses and herbaceous legumes in the wet tropics, and as much as five years or more for trees in drier and/or colder climates.
The area then receives repeated treatments, continually increasing fertility, organic matter, water holding capacity, biomass and biodiversity, as well as ameliorating the local climate (see the “Climate change, epiphytes, water plants” page – click on the button at the top of the page).
Spreading seeds by hand
Another possibility is to broadcast seeds by hand or machine, and then concentrate livestock in the area. The livestock will eat the vegetation (if the vegetation is mostly weeds, livestock could be used to reduce the vigour of the weeds with intensive, and perhaps repeated, grazing/browsing), and trample the seeds into the soil, while adding nutrients from urine, as well as nutrients and organic matter from manure. On their farm in Devon, Rebecca Hosking and Tim Green “…increase the diversity of the fields by sowing extra grasses, clovers and herbs. The trick is to sow them in the paddock where the animals will be the next day, then they get trodden in”. (Whitefield 2013).
When seeds are fed to animals, some or even all may be destroyed (seed survival is greater for small seeds fed to large animals), so spreading seed by hand has the advantage that more seeds will survive, however a disadvantage is that the seeds of some species passing through some types of animals have enhanced germination. Another disadvantage to spreading seeds by hand or machine is that you are doing the work, whereas feeding seeds to livestock/wildlife is working smart, not hard – the animals do the work of spreading the seeds in their normal daily activities.
“Seeds and fruits eaten by animals may later be regurgitated or excreted unharmed, but some animals destroy most of the seeds they eat. In feeding experiments on a tapir in Costa Rica, Janzen (1981) found that all seeds of one species and 78% of another were killed when ingested. Fruits and seeds are often eaten and dispersed by ground-living animals after falling to the forest floor. Rodents, such as Agoutis (Dasyprocta), make hoards of seeds, some of which may germinate before they are used. In some tropical trees the percentage germination is significantly higher if the seeds have passed through birds, monkeys or bats. e.g. in Cecropia palmata.” (Cecropia species are usually a very important and major component of forest regrowth in Latin America). (Richards 1998). p 110.
Given the above, it is concerning to consider the possible ecological consequences which may have occurred due to the extinction of the passenger pigeon in North America, which ate fruits and existed in flocks of millions.
There are also opportunities to use seedballs for reforestation, (see the articles “Direct seeding Faidherbia albida“, and “AID plus seeds”, page 26). See the page Seed Balls page and the Reforestation projects/reforestation methods page on this site for more.
Seed balls (or larger seed bombs) can be useful to place particularly important plants in a specific position which is favourable to the plant and/or people. They can also substitute to some degree for a lack of livestock. See the “Reforestation methods” page.
Over time, these techniques combined (FMNR, planned grazing, AID plus seeds treatment) could be used to not only halt encroaching desertification and ameliorate the local climate, but could even provide a solid base of healthy vegetation from which to revegetate and drive back the desert.
As an aside, some Australian Acacias have been used with great success in the Sahel region of Africa. The seeds of Acacia holosericea, Acacia torulosa and many other legumes could perhaps be successfully dispersed by livestock. For more information, visit www.worldwidewattle.com and http://www.worldwidewattle.com/infogallery/utilisation/sehel.php/, and “Domestication of Australian Acacias for the Sahelian zone of West Africa”. Also, http://www.beyondsubsistence.org.au/.
“The greatest service which can be rendered any country
is to add a useful plant to its (agri)culture”
Thomas Jefferson, circa 1800.
Acacia holosericea (prev. A. colei), Acacia torulosa and other Australian acacias have proven to be fast growers in the Sahel region of West Africa (they produce much more leaf litter and fuel wood than local Acacia species – about 3 x more). They provide high protein edible seeds, used to enrich human diets, and can be stored for years and so improve food security. They can also be used as supplementary feed for poultry, and possibly as part of a long-term mixed, improved fallow, as a substitute for Sesbania sesban for example, which would be used in wetter areas. They also provide leaf mulch (and potentially compost for Zai holes) and fuel wood, and can be used as windbreaks to increase the productivity of millet or sorghum crops.
These Australian acacias, plus indigenous acacias and Faidherbia could be established utilising livestock to disperse the seeds, along with suitable soil improvers (e.g. nitrogen-fixing bacteria, biochar, trace elements).
Windbreaks could be created, if livestock are confined to a strip, or a tethered animal could produce a circle of a mix of improved fallow species, including perhaps A. torulosa, for a circle of crops to follow once the soil is improved. Faidherbia seeds could be sown in the centre, with a circle around it of a few metres free of plants, so that the Faidherbia tree can establish quickly with no competition. As the Faidherbia tree matures, the productivity of the crops beneath its canopy will increase. See Direct seeding Faidherbia albida in the Sahel final.
Unfortunately, drought and famine is once again affecting many people in the Sahel region (2012), and, once again, the emphasis appears (to me at least) to be on last minute crisis management rather than funding, education and aid in advance to try and prevent or at least alleviate problems in the future, before they happen.
The AID plus seeds treatment continued…
Livestock can be used to disperse seeds of desirable plants, for example, deep-rooted, high biomass grasses and preferably nitrogen-fixing trees (e.g. Faidherbia albida), shrubs and pasture legumes. Ideally the trees and grasses selected would be complementary species, and the trees would provide fodder in the form of leaves accessible for browsing, or which fall to the ground, or drop nutritious pods. Livestock which are non-selective feeders, ie. that eat leaves, pods, herbs and grasses would be ideal, to make the most of all the feed (e.g. goats, Bali or Galloway cattle, eland).
In a planned grazing system, livestock can be bunched together, to treat an area with their dung and urine (speeding up the recycling of nutrients and organic matter from standing, often dead vegetation and returning it to the soil more quickly because it is in contact with the soil and has been chewed into finer particles), break up soil crusts, and add soil improvers and seeds at the same time, the combination of which will dramatically improve soil fertility, seed establishment and promote vigorous plant growth.
The livestock can also be fed with appropriate Rhizobium bacteria and mycorrhizal fungi, so that seedlings establish better and grow faster. The soil improvers could include things such as such as deficient nutrients including trace elements, clay where soils are sandy, rock dusts such as rock phosphate, powdered biochar to add long-lasting organic matter and reduce methane emissions, etc.
While the idea of feeding charcoal in some form or another to livestock has been tested, to the best of my knowledge, the idea of feeding biochar to livestock (potentially from fuel-efficient stoves), and utilising livestock, dung beetles and earthworms to disperse the biochar and incorporate it into the soil has not been thought of or proposed before. In addition, adding other soil improvers, beneficial micro-organisms, and seeds to the feed, and the incorporation of these into soils by dung beetles, earthworms and termites, as a holistic system for soil improvement, reforestation and long-term carbon sequestration, has not been proposed before. (David Clode. 2010).
In nearly every environment, the “improved” manure will be incorporated into the soil, either by dung beetles, earthworms, termites, or all three.
Update 23 April 2018: Utilising livestock and dung beetles to incorporate biochar into soil has now been researched and scientifically proven to be beneficial both economically and ecologically – click here for the scientific research paper: Josephetal2015Pedosphere-Feedingbiochartocows
Dung beetle tunnel entrances.
The net result of applying this system will be a high standing biomass of vegetation, prolific soil life, and a long-term (thousands of years) improvement in soil fertility. Treatments can be repeated as necessary for continual, ongoing improvement to soil fertility and increases in biomass, and biodiversity.
With repeated treatments, semi-arid areas of sparse grasslands could likely be converted into grassy open woodlands, and in wetter areas, grassy open woodlands to denser forests with a grassy under-storey.
With more biomass production, more fuel wood is produced which can be used in fuel-efficient stoves, producing more biochar/charcoal and ash, which can be fed to livestock to add to the soil (via dung beetles and earthworms), providing ongoing increases in decay-resistant carbon storage and long term soil improvement.
Ultimately, presently degraded land could become healthy rangeland, and analagous to natural forests if a diversity of trees and middle- and under-storey species are established. Existing rangeland could even become arable land in time, increasing agricultural productivity, and so reduce pressures to cut down, burn, or graze natural forests. Land which may have been abandoned because of degradation by poorly managed livestock could quickly be rewilded using the AID plus seeds system of treatments. Increased agricultural productivity on less land could also mean that land could be spared for rewilding.
See the article The Animal Improved Dung plus seeds treatment: aid-savory-3rd.
Many plant species in many ecosystems rely on animals to disperse their seeds. This photo shows rain forest seedlings germinating in a pile of cassowary (a large bird) dung, in North Queensland, Australia. The seeds of at least one hundred rain forest plants are dispersed by these birds (some sources suggest over 400 spp.), and the dung piles may weigh up to one kilogram. In Tanzania in Africa, a pile of elephant manure was weighed and came in at 8 kg’s, and contained 12 000 Acacia tortilis seeds (pg. 24, AID plus seeds article).
Clearly, wildlife and domestic livestock can potentially be managed to play a major role in reforestation projects and agroforestry.
Crushed Basalt rock, an example of a soil improver. This can be sieved, and the powder fed to livestock (with supplementary fodder) to disperse in their manure, which in turn will be incorporated into the soil by dung beetles, earth worms and termites. Basalt dust has been proven to increase the fertility of leached tropical soils in North Queensland (see also Peter Van Straaten, “Farming with Rocks and Minerals”). Other possible soil improvers (which could be dispersed by livestock) include clay (for sandy soils), Rhizobium bacteria and mycorrhizal fungi (possibly from dug-up plant roots and topsoil), powdered biochar/charcoal (which could come from fuel efficient stoves, and be dispersed by livestock) brown coal, as well as other rock dusts such as gypsum, lime, dolomite, rock phosphate and glacial deposits, and deficient trace elements (see Engel, 2002, below). It may be that the nutrients in rock phosphate, for example, may become more available to plants due to acid and bacterial action in the gut of animals, and perhaps more finely ground up in the crops of birds (both of these are the case with earth worms). The soil improvers would be selected on the basis of a soil test, and according to what is available, and the costs involved.
Galloway cattle eat tree leaves as well as grass. Photo: courtesy of Chris Stuart, www.gallowaysaustralia.com.au
Livestock which browse the foliage and pods of trees and shrubs as well as graze on grass, can produce much more meat and other products because there is more feed available to them. Higher stocking rates become possible, and increased productivity that comes with a sheltered, treed, environment.
Galloway cattle, as well as Bali cattle, goats and the African eland antelope, are all browsers as well as grazers. The livestock can of course be used to disperse seeds and soil improvers themselves, to improve the pastures, add trees and middle-storey shrubs, and continuously improve the soil, all resulting in increased stocking rates/productivity, and carbon fixation.
A typical scene in Australia and many other places. Galloway cattle gathered under one of the last remaining trees, seeking shelter from extreme weather. Photo: courtesy of Chris Stuart, www.gallowaysaustralia.com.au.
Fodder trees. The right trees can provide shelter, fodder from the foliage and pods, and combined with the right grasses, can increase pasture productivity, and so increase livestock productivity, carbon fixation, and improve soils.
Cow eating Sesbania sesban seed pods, Ethiopia.
Rain trees (Albizia saman), from South America, produce pods which are high in carbohydrate and protein and edible for livestock and people (like carob in Mediterranean climate regions), fix nitrogen and so improve soil fertility, and some grasses grow better underneath its canopy. Crops and grasses can be more than twice as productive growing under the canopy of nitrogen-fixing trees. This has been proven with Faidherbia albida in Africa, and Prosopis cineraria, in India, for example.
Seeds, or whole seed pods of these trees can be fed to livestock to disperse in their improved manure, and so grow more trees which provide more pods for fodder in the future. The seeds germinate easily, and are also likely to establish successfully using seed balls. Rain trees can also be grown from cuttings (branches up to 2 metres long) pushed into the ground, early in the wet season. They can be coppiced, to allow more light in for pasture growth, and the coppice growth thinned and used for timber or fuel wood. Rain trees have been used successfully in reforestation in Central and South America, and Indonesia.
Leucaena leucocephala seed pods. A nitrogen-fixing fodder tree which increases soil fertility, but can be a weed. With some trees, whole pods or fruits could be fed to livestock to disperse the seeds. Leucaena can be direct seeded for reforestation, but its susceptibility to pests and invasive weediness have reduced its popularity in agroforestry.
Coppice growth, Cecropia sp. Overstorey trees can be coppiced occasionally, to allow more light in for
middle- and under-storey plants (shade management). There is a traditional practice doing this with oak trees in the North of Spain, and with willows in much of Europe. The coppice growth can be thinned by removing up to two thirds of the branches right back to the trunk, allowing more light in for under-storey species, and providing a product, e.g. fuel wood. Cutting the coppice growth back to near the trunk later to produce even more stems is called pollarding. The pollard stems can also be continually harvested. The coppice/pollard growth can be used for cabinet timber, basketry, fuel wood, charcoal production, etc. If there is a middle-storey it can be coppiced at a different time to the over-storey. This is Cecropia peltata above about six months after it had been cut down after a cyclone/hurricane. See also the “Tough plants” page for another example of coppicing (Enterolobium cyclocarpum).
A pollarded Adenanthera pavonina tree.
A pollarded rain tree.
The flowers of Giricidia sepium, Madre de cacao. This tree is popular in agroforestry, and is often used to provide shade for cocoa and coffee, but also for living fences, and intercropping with maize to provide nitrogen-rich mulch and good quality fuel wood. This tree has the advantage of being able to be propagated by pushing large “stump/stake/truncheon” or “quickstick” cuttings directly into the ground, early in the wet season. The cuttings can be placed diagonally into the ground and intertwined to form a living fence. It is also a fodder tree, a useful reforestation species, and the seeds can be used as a rodent poison (so it is probably not suited to ingestion and dispersal by livestock). The flowers provide nectar for wildlife. For more info on Gliricidia see PROSEA no. 11, Auxiliary plants.
February 2021. At present it is disappointing that there are many techniques, including the AID plus seeds treatment, available for reforestation, rewilding and long-term soil improvement which are barely utilised. In addition, given that it has now been proven that livestock can ingest biochar and deposit this in their manure, which is then incorporated by dung beetles etc. into the soil for long term carbon sequestration, it is at best a mystery why this has not been widely and speedily adopted as a solution for the purported existential threat of anthropogenic carbon dioxide induced climate change.
David Clode B. App. Sc. (Hort.).
Carter, Robert; Spooner, John. 2013. Taxing air: facts and falacies about climate change. Kelpie Press.ISBN 9780646902180. Pge. 112.
Corlett, R. T. and Hau, C. H. “Seed dispersal and forest restoration”.
Engel, Cindy. (2002). Wild Health. How animals keep themselves well and what we can learn from them. Weidenfeld and Nicolson. ISBN 0 297 64684 2.
McIntyre, S., McIvor, J. G., Heard, K. M. (Editors).(2002). Managing and Conserving Grassy Woodlands. CSIRO Publishing. ISBN 0 643 06831 7. Pg. 11.
Richards, Paul W. 1998. The tropical rain forest: an ecological study. Cambridge University Press. ISBN 0 521 42194 2 (pbk). Pge. 110.
Savory, Allan and Butterfield, Jody. (1999). Holistic management: a new framework for decision making. 2nd ed. Pg 514.
White, Mary E. (2003). Earth alive!: from microbes to a living planet. Rosenberg Publishing Pty Ltd. ISBN 1 877058 05 x. Pg. 130.
Whitefield, Patrick. 2013. “Ecological farming”. Permaculture magazine No. 77 Autumn 2013, pge. 50.