November 26, 2014

Analog Forestry: Creating Productive Landscapes by Imitating Forest Structure

Adam Kabir Dickinson, International Analog Forestry Network

As we look toward the 2014 Global Landscapes Forum, one of the key challenges we are faced with is to find a way for agricultural landscapes to contribute to ecosystem integrity and safeguard biodiversity. If one were asked to come up with a defining question or challenge for contemporary landscape restoration, it might go something like this:

How can we restore and manage landscapes that provide biological connectivity and other environmental services while also maintaining or improving the livelihoods of the people who inhabit those landscapes?”

This is not a question that can be answered in a single blog post; indeed, the idea of looking at landscapes through the lenses of ecosystems and agriculture is hardly a new one. This post highlights one land management approach, analog forestry, which is being used to meet the dual needs of enhancing livelihoods and restoring ecosystems.

Caption: Zenon Urbano, on his analog forestry plot in El Limpio, Dominican Republic, which he has been working for over two decades. Photo: Adam Kabir Dickinson.

Zenon Urbano, on his analog forestry plot in El Limpio, Dominican Republic, which he has been working for over two decades. Photo: Adam Kabir Dickinson

This post is part of an online discussion on large-scale land interventions that runs through December 14th. Can these initiatives fulfill their promises? Comment below or send a max 800-word response to

The key idea of analog forestry is to establish a tree-dominated ecosystem that is analogous in structure and function to native forests of the region. It places an emphasis on selecting species that fill similar roles as species in a natural forest, but which also provide an economic benefit – for example, understory trees may be replaced by crops coffee or cacao, while taller canopies might be ‘recreated’ with trees valued for their timber or other products.

One place where analog forestry has been used in this way is in the Colinas Bajas Model Forest, located in the heart of the Dominican Republic’s western Cibao region. As a member of the International Model Forest Network, it serves as a forum for multi-stakeholder dialogue organized around issues pertaining to large-scale, forest-based landscapes, including government, academic institutions, farmers’ and ranchers’ groups, and small, medium, and large forest enterprises.

Since 2012, various grpups, led by environmental NGO ENDA-dominicana, have been executing an ambitious reforestation project that intends to create a biological corridor that increases continuous forest cover between the Pueblo Viejo gold mine near Cotuí, Sánchez Ramírez, and the Los Haitises National Park on the country’s eastern coast.

The project’s goal of expanding forest cover through the agricultural lands of the western Cibao has mostly taken the form of supporting the development of analog forestry systems. The revitalization of the Dominican cacao sector has been a major driver of demand, as farmers are eager to learn more about cacao agroforestry systems in light of their proven profitability.

These efforts build on ENDA-Dominicana’s long history of involvement in this area, having worked with farmers’ groups in the area on analog forestry systems for the past 30 years. This has had the effect of making the prospect of changing production systems less daunting to farmers of the region, since there are several well-established analog forestry systems in the area that are frequently visited by communities that are establishing their own analog forestry projects.

Caption: Children with newly planted pine saplings in El Jobo, Dominican Republic. Photo: Elisa Bernier

Children with newly planted pine saplings in El Jobo, Dominican Republic. Photo: Elisa Bernier

In addition to smallholder agriculture, forestry plantations and pasture are important landuse activities in the Cibao region. Excluding these important stakeholders would be detrimental to a true landscape approach and to the overall goal of increasing forest cover in the biological corridor area. Therefore, the project involves the lumber and cattle industry in implementing management plans and forest pasture systems, which increase the forest cover and ecosystem services of woodlots and pastures. The emphasis on forest pasture systems, analog forestry, conservation and woodlot management shows how a landscape matrix approach can underscore a commitment to increase overall forest cover.

What the experience of ENDA-Dominicana shows us is that landscape innovations do not exist in a vacuum, but rather all play a part in a landscape mosaic. Since analog forestry is often used by certain groups, or in certain zones, it forms part of a landscape that includes diverse land uses, including pasture, annual cultivation, agroforestry, forest pasture, plantations and natural forests. Each one of these innovations plays a role in the landscape that is reflected in increased ecosystem services, the provision of forest products, and linkages between natural forest areas.

Another important point to consider is the impact of governance and inclusive decision-making. It is necessary to ensure that there is broad participation from the community, including farmers’ associations and other actors such as ranchers, foresters, and government agencies, as all of these groups have a significant impact on how land is owned, used, and protected. This makes regional platforms for inter-sectoral dialogue such as the model forest concept highly useful, as it helps diverse groups come to common accords on land use and policy.

Capacity building is also an important component of such plans, which often involve significant changes in local livelihoods, be it in production, consumption, or transport. The creation of local capacity is one of the most important factors in making the experience replicable in neighbouring areas, as it empowers practitioners to share their knowledge and experiences with others who are willing to learn.

Finally, landscape restoration is a complex issue that requires a number of innovative approaches and an ongoing dialogue. What are some practices that you have seen working? What are some pitfalls to be avoided?

Adam Kabir Dickinson works with the International Analog Forestry Network as Knowledge Management Officer. He can be reached at This post is a condensed version of an article that was published in the 2014 newsletter of the European Tropical Forest Research Network, ETFRN 56: Towards Productive Landscapes. The full article can be downloaded here. For more on analog forestry, please visit the website of the International Analog Forestry Network.


    November 27, 2014 at 7:59pm


    • Adam Kabir Dickinson
      November 29, 2014 at 8:59pm

      Hello Edward,

      Thank you for your interest! You can reach the IAFN secretariat at; from there they can guide you through the process of joining the network.

      Kind regards,

  • Hans Groenendijk
    November 26, 2014 at 2:05pm

    I have been working in Tropical forestry, Agroforestry and integrated rural development since 1980 starting in Costa Rica and West African countries.
    In Burkina Faso I initiated agroforestry by regenerating local tree species which implied cultivating annual and perennial crops in the understory.
    The term analogue forestry had not been coined yet but I suppose I practiced just that.
    It has ever since been a red thread in my forestry carreer in Africa and Central America.
    More recently I worked in Rwanda and Honduras with tea and coffee plantations.
    I always sought to discuss matters of ecology and economy with local farmers. Many ideas and concepts issued thereoff in the past 30 years nowadays have become “fashionable” under the growing pressure of environment awareness of scientists and the public at large alike (LinkedIn& twitter: groenendijkjj)

    • Adam Kabir Dickinson
      November 27, 2014 at 5:21pm

      Thank you for your comment, Hans! You are far from alone in this – many people who call their systems ‘analogue’ — or for that matter, ‘agroforests’ or ‘permaculture’ — were practicing these techniques far before the term was invented. Indeed, what I think we’re seeing with some of these ‘new’ techniques is, in fact, a re-integration of traditional forest knowledge into the agricultural discourse.

      • Hans Groenendijk
        November 27, 2014 at 7:48pm

        Exactly my point. Nothing new. Rural people all over the world have been practising these “analogue” land use systems for thousands of years. They only needed identification, rediscovering and above all recognition of their true values by technicians, scientists and administrators. But most of all by themselves instead of being blinded by so called sophisticated technology.

  • Linked from What are the conditions for successful large-scale land interventions? - Agriculture and Ecosystems Blog   December 5 12:45am

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