Conservación y Silvicultura de Especies Forestales de Honduras
(Conservation and Silviculture of Honduran Forest Species)
Jennifer K. Bovée
The international forestry class visited CONSEFORH on Thursday, March 15, 2000. We were able to tour some of the current research projects learn about the goals, activities and problems of this organization. It was an opportunity to see a part of Honduras' national forestry program, which has the difficult task of conserving trees that people have been depending on for firewood or have been clearing to begin their agriculture for many years.
CONSEFORH began as a bilateral project between the governments of Honduras and Great Britain. The project began in response to a growing pressure on Honduran forests and a need for seed to begin reforestation in 1987. Since then, it has been integrated into the Honduran governmental forestry agency, AFE-COHDEFOR. Today, CONSEFORH is a part of AFE-COHDEFOR's CIEF (Centro de Información y Estadística Forestal [Center of Forestry Information and Statistics]) section.
There are two main experiment stations of CONSEFORH. The first is La Soledad (where the international forestry class visited), established in 1988. It is located at an altitude of 640 meters. This station consists of 83 hectares and has a dry season of 5 to 6 months and about 880 millimeters per year of precipitation. This site is somewhat unique in that warm humid winds blow through the area along with warmer rains, from Lake Yojoa,a large resevoir to the north of Comayagua. Santa Rosa was established in 1990 with 83 hectares. At 100 meters altitude, Santa Rosa has a 6 month dry season and receivees 1500 to 2000 millimeters of precipitation per year.
CONSEFORH is funded only by the Honduran government. There are 7 full-time, permanent employees and 15 total employees. The project does research according to the AFE-COHDEFOR PLANFOR (Plan de Acción Forestal [Forest Action Plan]). It has an operating budget of approximately 2 million Lempira (approximately $140,000) per year.
CHARACTERISTICS OF THE DRY FOREST ZONE
The principal focus of CONSEFORH is the Honduran dry forest zone. This zone is very unlike the tropical rainforest in that it receives no rain for half of the year. In Honduras, this forest type occurs in the low altitude valleys including Comayagua, Otora and parts of the Departments of Valle, El Paraiso and Chouloteca.
Dry tropical forest may receive as little as 20 inches (50 cm) per year. This means that evapotranspiration exceeds precipitation for a large part of the year, so much of the vegetation in this zone is adapted to drought. Trees here have thicker bark to adapt to fire, deeper roots, and higher variability of leaf types. Most trees in this zone are deciduous (opposite of the tropical rain forest) and have smaller, thicker leaves to prevent dessication. Also, many plants (including Spanish Cedar, which I will discuss more later) have thorns to prevent damage from herbivore consumption. This area is also home to many species of nitrogen-fixing compound-leaved legumes. The more open canopy means there is more room for larger animals, especially motile mammals who are able to migrate to wetter areas in the dry season.
Species diversity in the dry tropical forest, although greater in comparison to other parts of the world, is lower than that of the tropical rain forest. Public awareness of these areas is low. The high productivity of this zone during the rainy season and relief from the rains in the dry season makes this area very suitable for agriculture. This has led to extreme degradation as a lot of the zone has been cleared and developed for pastureland. In some regions, dry forests are more endangered than rain forests.
In Honduras, there were once abundant woodlands through the dry forest zone but now there are only degraded remnants and isolated trees. The problem is compounded as these areas, where many tree species of both national and international importance occur, are being even further fragmented and felled. Also, there are many rural development agencies lacking the experience and information to effectively implement and coordinate their forestry activities. Thus, CONSEFORH focuses on the endangered tree species that could benefit communities in this area.
OBJECTIVES OF CONSEFORH
The fundamental objective of CONSEFORH is to "safeguard the environment and facilitate forest interventions that would benefit the local populations that depend on forest resources (especially the poor) through genetic conservation, applied forestry research, and technology transfer." More specific objectives are:
1. To carry out ex-situ conservation of threatened forest species of the dry woodlands of Honduras through the establishment of conservation stands at the project's three experimental stations: La Soledad in the Comayagua Valley, El Zamorano and Santa Rosa in the Southern Zone of Honduras.
2. To implement a programme of applied forestry research for the identification of the most appropriate tree species, provenances and silvicultural techniques for use in plantation initiatives in Honduras.
3. To establish seed sources for both native and exotic species. The tree seed produced from these seed sources is principally for use within Honduras although some is also for export.
4. To facilitate forestry interventions that benefit rural people and their environment.
These objectives are achieved by activities divided into three parts. The first is research, to establish what is possible for the dry forest zone. The second is training, which allows CONSEFORH to transfer the knowledge they gain. The third is publication, which allows them to mass produce printed copies of information that will help educate people about what CONSEFORH is doing.
Research. Through the results of a 1995 study and results from research trials, CONSEFORH developed a list of priority native and exotic species to focus on:
Scientific NameCommon Name
Native: Swietenia humilisCaoba del Pacífico
Albizia guachepeleCarreto Real
Albizia samanCarreto Negro
Bombacopsis quinataCedro Espino
Cedrela odorataCedro Real
Cordia alliodoraLaurel Blanco
Leucaena salvadorensis Sipia
Exotic: Casuarina equisetifoliaCasuarina
The research of CONSEFORH involves genetic resources of the priority tree species, collection of information about the use, silviculture and conservation status of these species, identifying community forest product needs, studies of initiatives of small-scale farmers, studies of regeneration, and studies of currrent and potential silvicultural practices.
Probably the most important aspect of CONSEFORH's research is their seed production, which seeks to conserve important tree species through research and the development of a seed bank. The first step in seed production is the exploration of different places and their current needs and the collecion of necessary seeds. Many of CONSEFORH seeds come from the ESNACIFOR (the Honduras national forestry school) seed bank. After collection, they are established in plantations and experimental crops. Next, the best species and providences are selected. These species are then established in nurseries. After on site trials, the trees, seeds or seedlings are brought into the community and tested on-farm. This validates their potential uses. Finally, the results are evaluated and the seeds are processed and sold directly from CONSEFORH.
While we visited the El Soledad site, we were able to see some of the research in progress. At a nursery, an investigation was underway of a mist irrigation system for seedlings. Another experiment in agroforestry used sheep to eat grass, preventing fuel build up which can reduce the frequency and severity of fires. We also learned about a project to preserve a species of pine that was nearly lost on Guanaja island during Hurricane Mitch.
On the tour were also some seed establishment research plots. The set up of one, Albizia saman (Carreto negro), included 4 repetitions of plots from 46 sources over 1.61 hectares. We also several of Honduras' important species. The first was Spanish cedar, Bombacopsis quinata (also known in Honduras as cedro espino). This tree is usually about 3 feet but can be up to 5 or 6 feet in diameter and reaches a height of about 100 feet. Its trunk and larger branches are covered in hard, sharp, large prickles. The wood is important due to its fast growth and resistance to marine borers and some fungis. The wood, which has an appearance similar to mahogany, is used for construction, millwork, interior finish, furniture, veneer, and carving by local artisans. In addition, it is sometimes used as part of a living fence on farms. Unfortunately, it is in danger of extinction in Honduras.
Another species we saw was Neem, Azadirachta indica, which was being studied for its natural insecticidal properties. This tree is a nitrogen-fixing legume whose wood is sometimes used for veer and plywood, furniture and cabinetwork, joinery and carving.
One of the last plantations we visited was Eucalyptus, Eucalyptus citriodora a species quickly gaining popularity in Honduras. The stand we visited was between 10 and 11 years old and had alread reached 50 or 60 feet in height. This exotic species, first planted in Honduras in 1960, has been discovered to grow quite well here. This species is known for the medicinal and practical uses (cough supressant, disinfectant, aromatherapy, decorative, fabric-making, etc.) of its leaves. The wood also has a variety of uses. Besides being a fast growing tree, the wood is strong and resistant to pests such as termites as well as being considered a "pretty" wood. Thus, the wood is used for construction, furniture and arts and crafts.
Many are benefited by CONSEFORH's research including the government, private enterprises who utilize the seeds, communities who apply the knowledge gained, and international parties who purchase the seed. In additioin, CONSEFORH collaborates on projects from many other places, including: the Oxford Forestry Institute and Department of Plant Sciences (Oxford University, UK); Natural Resources International (Chatham Maritime, UK); CSIRO, Austrailia; CIRAD-Forêt, France; IRAD, Cameroon; ITE, UK; KEFRI, Kenya; University of Helsinki, Finland; and the Overseas Development Institute, UK.
Training. The training activities of CONSEFORH concentrate mainly on educating the poor farming communities in the dry forest zone on planting, silviculture, agroforestry, and the possiblities of natural regeneration. Other training is directed at technicians and extensionists working in forestry and agroforestry as well as Non-Governmental Organizations. At the research stations, tours are offered as well as seminars. These seminars are oriented towards agricultural extensionists, facilitators, and campesino leaders and cover establisment and maintenance of nurseries, establishment and maintenance of forestry plantations, managment and utilization of forest plantations, and formulation and evaluation of forestry investment projects.
Publications. This is considered to be the strongest component of CONSEFORH's activities. They publish a variety of manuals and papers on the research that they have conducted. These documents can be used by extensionists or farmers. They include manuals for 10 of the most promising species that include pictures. A newer publication is about the use of natural regeneration.
The conservation and establishment of forest species that can survive in the dry tropical forest is a crucial need for Honduras. CONSEFORH offers a huge step in the right direction. Still, they face many problems. In an area largely without electricity, the need for firewood is enormous. This need can easily counteract the progress in conservation CONSEFORH makes when surrounding communities don't understand the need for a sustainable forest resource. While CONSEFORH's outreach and training programs help a a great number of people, there are many more that they need to reach. The availability of a seedbank is an incentive for many farmers to listen, but years of tradition can be difficult to reverse, even in the face of a great environmental loss.
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