Posts Tagged ‘nutrient cycling’


Five Rainforest Ecosystem Services that Nourish People and the Planet

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By Ioulia Fenton

From wetlands to coral reefs, the Earth’s diverse ecosystems support and regulate many of the planet’s most critical natural processes. They also contribute important cultural, social, and economic benefits to human communities. These contributions, known more broadly as “ecosystem services,” are estimated to be worth trillions of dollars per year.

Rainforests provide vital ecosystem services that sustain all life on Earth. (Photo credit: National Geographic)

The world’s rainforest ecosystem services—such as increased rainfall, soil stability, and a regulated climate—are integral to the successful production of food in many parts of the world. Rainforests in the Amazon and the Congo, for example, support rainfall in key, surrounding agricultural areas.

Today, Nourishing the Planet highlights five ecosystem services that rainforests provide to people and the planet:

1. Nutrient cycling and soil formation. According to the Rainforest Conservation Fund, many of the world’s tropical rainforests live “on the edge,” meaning that they receive very few nutrient inputs from the outside and must produce most nutrients themselves. When left intact, a rainforest acts as a closed-loop system, recycling the nutrients it has created; without tree cover, however, these nutrients would be lost and the forest would not survive.



What Works: Farming with trees

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By Kim Kido

This post is part of a series where Nourishing the Planet asks its readers: What works? Every week we’ll ask the question and every week you can join the conversation!

Poor soils, lack of irrigation, and limited access to inputs, including fertilizer, are some of the barriers farmers face to increasing food production, and alleviating food insecurity, in sub-Saharan Africa.  Incorporating trees on farms can help increase yields by building soil fertility, reducing erosion, retaining water, or providing shade. And many species produce high-value fruits, timber, fodder, or medicine that can be sold or used to meet household needs. Ecosystem benefits like habitat creation and carbon sequestration are added benefits.

Trees on a farm in Kenya. (Photo credit: International Center for Tropical Agriculture (CIAT))

Planting nitrogen-fixing leguminous tree species, like Faidherbia or Acacia albida, in maize fields has helped achieve up to four-fold yield increases in Malawi, Zambia, Tanzania, and Ethiopia. During the rainy season, when crops are planted, the Faidherbia acacia loses its nitrogen-rich leaves as it enters dormancy. Crops are provided with a source of nitrogen, and the tree’s bare branches don’t block sunlight. And when the availability of fodder is limited in the dry season, the trees produce seed pods that livestock can eat.

While legumes improve soil fertility, planting fruit trees amongst other crops can provide emergency income and a source of food in times of scarcity. For small farmers like Virginia Wangui Njunge, who farms two acres north of Nairobi in Kenya, planting fruit trees is a way to minimize risk by increasing productivity and crop diversity. Njunge sells avocados, guavas, apples, and mangos from her trees that grow along with vegetable crops, including tomato and cabbage. Intercropping fruit trees with annual and indigenous vegetable crops to provide food and income while trees mature is a common practice in Kenya.