Forest gardens of highland Sri Lanka: An indigenous system for reclaiming forest land

TitleForest gardens of highland Sri Lanka: An indigenous system for reclaiming forest land
Publication TypeBook Chapter
Year of Publication1995
AuthorsEverett, Y
EditorWarren, DM, Slikkerveer, LJ, Brokensha, D
Book TitleThe cultural dimension of development: Indigenous knowledge systems
Date Published1995
PublisherIntermediate Technology Publications Ltd [Practical Action Publishing]
ISBN1-85339-264-2; 978-1-85339-264-1; eISBN 978-1-78044-473-4
Call NumberGN380.C85 1995
Keywordsagroforestry; Sri Lanka

This paper describes initial efforts made to understand farmers' ecological theory and management of forest garden systems located immediately around owner's homes, in a village in highland Sri Lanka. These were studied by the author for 13 months in 1985-86, during which time the structure and composition of the gardens were documented. The gardens are part of a larger farming system which may also include rice paddies, vegetable fields and/or plantation crops (such as tea). The research undertaken was multidisciplinary, and employed a combination of methods from landscape and vegetation ecology and ethnoscience. Different sections of the paper discuss the relevance of forest garden research, the process of understanding the principles of garden management, and ethnoscientific exploration of the farmers' approach. The results show that the farmers' classification of compatible and incompatible species in the gardens was commensurate with the pattern predicted by forest successional theory, and that the patchy structure of the gardens could be interpreted as a successional pattern, like gap phase succession, but understood and managed by the farmers, in part, on the basis of compatibility. An appendix lists the perennial species found in the gardens: on average the gardens contained 250 individual woody perennials of 29 species.

[EVERETT from agroforestry, ecology, sustainable agriculture]

Existing agroforestry systems in the tropics may provide valuable insight for sustainable tropical forest management. The basis for understanding such land use lies in the accumulated knowledge of generations of farmers as expressed in the design of their agroforestry systems. The forest gardens of highland Sri Lanka are dense, species-diverse systems. These analogs of natural forests provide their owners with food, fuel, fodder, timber and cash crops, and the native flora and fauna with habitat. The forest gardens have persisted through centuries of socio-political upheaval and economic change, while the natural forests surrounding them have been felled for timber and to make way for large scale plantation agriculture. Natural forest regeneration on abandoned plantations land is hindered by recurring fires during the dry season. Today, in the largely deforested highlands, the villages with their gardens resemble forest islands in a sea of degraded grasslands. The farmers in the traditional villages hold the key to reforestation encoded in the management of forest gardens which are planted in the grassland as villages expand. Principles from the farmers' knowledge, particularly patterns of vegetation change over time, may also provide insight for reforesting marginal lands with ecologically and economically viable agroforestry systems elsewhere in the highlands of the tropics and for buffer zone management of forest reserves.

Number of pages

17 pp

Short TitleForest gardens of highland Sri Lanka