Despite the threats from illegal deforestation, forest fires and climate change, the Forest Beneath the Grass report – produced by the Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) – said the region had “not only stopped the drastic decline in forest cover of the 1990s”, but had actually increased tree cover over the past decade.
“The Asia-Pacific region has accomplished this feat of reversing the trend of forest loss faster than any other region in history,” said Eduardo Rojas, assistant director-general of the FAO’s Forestry Department.
The report credited “assisted natural regeneration” (ANR) projects as one of the key factors in turning the net loss of tree cover into an annual net gain.
ANR is a forest restoration and rehabilitation technique that converts grass dominated areas into productive forests, based on the natural process of plant succession, encouraging the regeneration and growth of indigenous tree species.
One of the most invasive grass species is Imperata cyclindrica, also known as blady grass. Native to the region, it thrives on disturbed soil – such as roadsides and felled forests. Once established, it quickly forms a monoculture and suppresses other species from becoming established.
As opposed to more resource-intensive programmes, such as agro-forestry schemes or large-scale plantation projects, the authors highlighted how ANR schemes were relatively passive and cheap, allowing local communities to become actively involved.
They added that while the vast grasslands provided grazing sites for cattle and roofing material, there were relatively few other benefits when the potential productivity of the area was taken into account.
The scheme follows a number of stages, including:
modifications to encourage growth of preferred species,
possible supplementary planting,
site protection and monitoring.
“The success of ANR is dependent on the effective involvement of local residents in its implementation,” explained FAO senior forestry officer Patrick Durst, who presented the report’s findings at a news conference in Beijing.
“It is important that local communities are given incentives and ultimately benefit from [the] programmes.”
The benefits come in a number of guises, such as a diversity in harvestable crops, cost-effective land management, hunting grounds, and improved ecological services.