Bridging the Gap between Reforestation and Food Production
by Scott O’Bar
Taking strides towards a reforestation framework, which combines sensible ecological stewardship with the demands of a growing human population, yields an approach to solving the environmental challenges and basic resource scarcity of tomorrow. Many non-profits and NGOs aim to tackle either reforestation or food production, but rarely both simultaneously. 
As I give a tour of a water-efficient, edible, botanic garden conceived on a residential scale, we uncover some of the future crops of tomorrow as well as a forested setting, mimicking a natural ecosystem, which helps foster the growth of the drought-tolerant crop species. In similar climates worldwide, larger-scale projects modeled after this project could be used to sustainably reverse desertification and provide economically valuable products for humanity.
Text Box: Average Global Freshwater Allocation            According to the UN’s Food and Agriculture Organization, agriculture is responsible for 70% of humanity’s global freshwater usage. When analyzing global water crises with pie charts, that is a very big slice of pie. Recently, California’s Governor, Jerry Brown, mandated a statewide 25% reduction in water usage, which primarily targets residential and urban usage while largely ignoring agriculture’s water consumption. No matter how much we cut urban and residential water usage, it will never be enough. Therefore, in order to more effectively deal with future water shortages we must address the proverbial elephant in the room, the 70% of the water usage pie: Agriculture.
Reforestation projects focus on environmental restoration, which is helpful in repairing the hydrologic cycle and generating more available freshwater. However, such projects do not focus on producing food and other goods for human use. This does not have to be the case.
Text Box: Pruning a Tipu Tree
The 5-year old forest project demonstrated in this video is located in Santa Barbara, California. The video was filmed during 2015, the fourth year of one of California’s worst droughts in modern history. Within this forest setting we see that it is indeed possible to combine reforestation and food production by planting appropriate species. Such species are naturally drought-tolerant, and, with a little breeding work, could rise to prominence in agriculture, thereby reducing agriculture’s dependence on irrigation.
13December 23, 2012 (2).JPGThe forest was planted with fast-growing, Nitrogen-fixing pioneer species, including the Tipu tree (Tipuana tipu), which helps improve the soil and protect younger plants from desiccation. The forest employs Integrated Pest Management to prevent pest outbreaks by planting species such as the Rose-Scent Geranium (Pelargonium graveolens), which helps repel pests with its fragrant leaves.
Text Box: Rainwater Harvesting Contour Swale Enhances Drought Tolerance
The forest will change over time, and some plants will be sacrificed in favor of  alternative crop species such as the Jelly Bean Palm (Butia capitata), Apple Cactus (Cereus repandus), Jacket Plum (Pappea capensis), Lucuma (Pouteria lucuma), Chilean Wine Palm (Jubaea chilensis), and the rare Zabala Fruit (Lardizabala biternata), one of the only shade-tolerant edible vines in the world.
This forest project differs from most reforestation projects, because it uses species from similar climates all over the world rather than only the species native to the immediate geographic region. By replicating this method in other parts of the world we can employ the most utilitarian plant species, the “best of the best” for any given climate. In this manner, we cultivate designed ecosystems that grow with as much stability as a natural ecosystem, while providing for humanity’s basic needs.
BEFORE:  March 2010
April 2015
  15December 2014.JPG
Scott O’Bar is the author of Alternative Crops for Drylands: Proactively Adapting to Climate Change and Water Shortages. He holds a degree in Environmental Horticulture and has worked both domestically and internationally to help advance the development of novel, waterwise crop species. He may be contacted via email:
To learn more about Scott’s work, please visit
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