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‘Forest gardens’ provide insight into sustainability of Guadeloupe’s agrobiodiversity

‘Forest gardens’
“We wanted to test and perfect a methodology (scientific, organisational and partnership) for small-scale farming practices in the forest undergrowth that would respect ecological balance”

The historical ‘forest gardens’ of Guadeloupe, an overseas region of France, have provided the inspiration for a research group studying the feasibility of small-scale production systems in the area. The region is one of the world’s ‘hotspots’ for biodiversity; unfortunately, this biodiversity is now under significant pressure.

The operational group VALAB (Integrated Ecosystemic value-enhancement of the Guadeloupe Forest Agrobiodiversity), including the James Hutton Institute, was established with the aim to find solutions to benefit both biodiversity and agricultural production, with a focus on forest agrobiodiversity.

In the past, households in Guadeloupe would have one agricultural area near the home and another ‘forest garden’ in the mountains. There they would grow a variety of crops as well as harvesting wood and breeding animals. Having the two areas enabled them to benefit from favourable climate conditions, and the diversification of the activities made it a viable system.

Carla Barlagne, a researcher at the Institute and a member of the now completed European Union's H2020 funded project SIMRA, who carried out a case study on the social innovation processes at play within the VALAB initiative as well as an Innovation Action, said: “Today, those forest gardens, one of the various forms of agroforestry,  lack support tailored to their specificities”

Arsène Vinglassalon, the president of the Agricultural Union of Vanilla Farmers of Guadeloupe (SYAPROVAG), said: “We wanted to test and perfect a methodology (scientific, organisational and partnership) for small-scale farming practices in the forest undergrowth that would respect ecological balance.”

To do this effectively the group examined past and current agricultural practices in the forest as well as forest users’ perceptions. The partners carried out 170 field surveys and interviews with farmers, animal breeders, experts and consumers. The surveys and participatory workshops conducted by SIMRA allowed local stakeholders to share their visions of the challenges and opportunities ahead.

This form of research enabled the partners to produce an ecological impact evaluation grid. The grid includes biodiversity indicators and can be used to monitor the evolution of a cultivated forest plot, allowing the comparison of two forest plots. Farmers who were directly involved in its development can utilise the tool to assess the ecological potential of a forest plot, also it provides guidelines to monitor the impact of human activities on the forest.

The VALAB initiative is now moving into its second phase, which will build on the results and carry out an agronomic, environmental, social and economic experimentation of viable small-scale forest farming systems, applying the tools that it developed in the first phase.

You can learn more about VALAB by watching the video below:

Notes to editors

Innovation Actions within the SIMRA project aimed at accompanying local actors into developing their social innovation idea

Acknowledgments: Maria Nijnik, David Miller, Mariana Melnykovych, Valentino Marini Govigli

More information from: 

Adam Walker, Communications Officer, James Hutton Institute, Tel: 01224 395095 (direct line), 0344 928 5428 (switchboard).


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The James Hutton Research Institute is the result of the merger in April 2011 of MLURI and SCRI. This merger formed a new powerhouse for research into food, land use, and climate change.