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section 3 : regional examples

Traditional agroforestry practices under the edaphoclimatic parameters of Cyprus

L. Leontiades

Department of Forests
Ministry of Agriculture and Natural Resources
 Nicosia, Cyprus

 

Abstract

Various forms of agroforestry have been practised in Cyprus since time immemorial and many of them continue to be practised to the present day. Agroforestry was culturally, socially and economically imperative for the well-being of the rural household in that it provided a good variety of products on the limited land of the farmer, that made the family self- or almost self-sustained. Under the unpredictable and most frequently adverse (to annual crops) climatic conditions of Cyprus, this variety of crops was also of great significance in that it provided a buffering effect to the household budget and averted starvation in cases of failure of one or other of the crops.

Under such conditions, economic analysis, cost-benefit ratios and alternate rates of return from the land did not come in. Hence no serious attempt has ever been made to evaluate the inter-relations between ligneous plants and other associated plant or animal production on the same land.

In Cyprus there has been a gradual reduction in the practice of agroforestry in favour of intensive monocultural practices. This has come about as a result of a combination of factors, as follows:

  • Increased income and rising standards of living in rural areas enabled the fanner to become a partner in the nationwide economy, in contrast to the self-sustained household economy of his fathers. His purchasing power has increased and what he does not grow he can purchase. Under such conditions he finds monocultures easier.

  • The increasing use of water for irrigation stimulated intensive monoculture practices with non-ligneous crops of high cash-earning value.

  • Under rainfed conditions, short-rotation crops (annuals) lost their value due to climatic adversities, in favour of the ligneous, longer rotation crops, resulting in ligneous mono-cultures.

  • High wages for manual work necessitated mechanization in agricultural operations and this favoured monocultures.

  • Consolidation of small scattered holdings in many communities also favoured monocultures.

  • The easy availability and increased use of fertilizers reduced the importance of crop variety in maintaining soil productivity and favoured monocultures.

  • Lack of quantitative data and information on the values of agroforestry also favoured monocultures.

Research and education on agroforestry are necessary in order to establish its value as an economic and ecological land use practice, especially in countries with sensitive agronomic conditions and adverse climatic patterns.


Introduction

There are indications that Cyprus was covered with very dense forests in prehistoric times. Homer refers to Cyprus as the Green Island (Dasoessa) and Strabo who visited Cyprus more than one thousand years later (in 45 A.D.) writes thus about Cyprus in his Geographica (Cobham 1908):

Such then is Cyprus in point of position. But in excellence it falls behind no one of the islands: for it is rich in wine and oil, and oil, and uses home- grown wheat. There are mines of copper in plenty at Tamassos, in which are produced sulphate of copper  and  copper-rust   useful in the healing art. Eratosthenes   talks of the plains as being formerly full of wood   run to   riot, choked in fact with undergrowth and uncultivated. The mines   were     here of some little service,  the  trees being cut down for the melting of copper and silver; and of further help was shipbuilding, when men sailed  over  the  sea  without fear and with large fleets. But when even  so they were not got under leave was given to those who would and could cut them down to keep the land they had cleared in full possession and free of taxes.

Clearing and destruction of the forests continued throughout the long years that followed, until the year 1880 which became the turning point with the establishment of the forestry service and the beginning of rational forest management.

Forestry and food production were always competitive land use systems and there was hardly ever amicable symbiosis.


Forestry and food collection

For thousands of years, before man felt the necessity and had the capability to clear the forest and practise agriculture, he lived in harmony with the forest environment and fed himself with wild fruits seeds, roots, plants and honey that mother nature provided. He collected his food and moved about in search of it.

Collection of food from the forest was the earliest agroforestry practice. In Cyprus this practice survives to the present day with a big scope for increase. The modern Cypriot has preserved his rural habits through the ages and he takes great pleasure in the collection of food from the forest, though no longer for his subsistence but for a hobby and instinctive satisfaction.

Fruits like the berries of bramble (Rubus fruticosus) and the strawberry tree (Arbutus andrachne and A. unedo) and the fruit of the hawthorn (Crataegus azarolus) are delicacies of high esteem not only among the rural population but also among city dwellers. So are many herbs and vegetables that are eaten raw, cooked, or pickled; or are used to give flavour to food. A big number of plants is also widely used in herbal medicine and in extraction of essential and other oils.

Mushroom collecting from the forest is a very enjoyable hobby for the city dweller and a very profitable side-job for the villager. In 1986 the 'red mushroom' (Lactarius deliciosus) of the pine forests reached the price of CY3.5 (U.S.S7) per kilogramme in the city markets and it was a significant source of revenue to those villagers whose area was favoured with the right rainfall and temperature for the growth of the mushroom. Truffles (Terfezia spp.) are another valuable mushroom that grows in symbiosis with roots of various trees, but good production years occur very rarely, as the fungus grows only if there are late spring or early summer rains, that occur very rarely in Cyprus.

Snails of various species are also a delicacy. They are collected from wooded and other rural areas when there is sufficient rainfall or atmospheric moisture to bring them out of their underground hibernation.

Honey, collected from the cavities of tree trunks was perhaps the earliest form of sugar used by man. In Cyprus, wild honey is not collected today. Instead there is a well-organized scientific production through intensive methods of apiculture. Honey provides subsidiary income to many farmers and saves foreign exchange through reduction of sugar imports.

The forests of Cyprus are also good biogenetic reserves inasmuch as many of the cultivated varieties of fruits and cereals are found therein in their original wild form. Examples of such plants are wild apple and pear trees, wild wheat and oats, and wild carrot and cabbage. The latter (Brassica hilarionis) is endemic to Cyprus. These wild varieties are important sources of genes in the effort to rear cultivated varieties which will show increased resistance to environmental adversities such as drought, frost and disease that are frequent in the Cyprus environment.


Forestry and hunting

After food collection, hunting was probably the oldest of man's activities in his long struggle to feed and clothe himself. Excavations in Cyprus have shown the existence of such animals as the fallow deer (Dama mesopotamica) and the wild boar (Sus scrofd) that were hunted for their meat and their skins. The wild sheep (moufflon) of Cyprus (Ovis ammon orientalis Cyprus variety) was also hunted, as has been confirmed by bones of the animal found at Khirokitia in neolithic settlements dating back to 7,000 years B.C.

In 1396, A.D.O. D'anglure wrote (Cobham 1908):

The following Sunday, the ninth day of January, the King sent us again presents, to wit one hundred partridges, sixty hares, and five wild sheep, a sight fair to see. He was a prince who greatly loved hunting. He had a little beast no bigger than a fox. It is called 'carable', and there is no wild animal but this little beast will catch it, especially the animals named above.

Hunting of the moufflon is also depicted very vividly in mosaics of the Graeco-Roman period excavated at Paphos. The animal today is protected and its hunting is strictly prohibited.

Hunting in Cyprus today is not done for the sake of obtaining food, but for sport and recreation. Cyprus, with a population of about 600,000, has a hunter population of about 40,000, perhaps one of the highest proportions in the world. The most common species hunted are partridge (Alectoris graeca Cypriotes); hare (Lepus europea); wood pigeon (Columba palumbus palumbus); thrush (Turdus spp.); turtle dove (Streptopelia turtur turtur); and to a lesser degree, woodcock (Scolopax rusticola) and various species of ducks and waterbirds that come to Cyprus as winter visitors.

The catching of small birds on limesticks and nets has been reduced considerably the last three years through a government decision for strict enforcement of the law.

The catching of eels from forest streams and other inland waters has come almost to a halt, as eels have almost disappeared due mainly to the widespread use of insecticides, herbicides and fertilizers. Stream fishing is non-existent. However, through the good work of the fisheries service, the sport of fishing for trout and other fish in reservoirs that are artificially stocked with spawn, has gained ground in the last ten years. Rearing of trout and other fresh-water fish in farms is also practised. A prerequisite for trout rearing is cool, clear water that is secured only through the existence of forests and the absence of debris caused by erosion.


Forestry and grazing

The taming of animals by man and the practice of grazing in Cyprus are almost as old as the practice of hunting. Although extensive free range grazing on land that does not belong to the grazier is a primitive mode of subsistence, it survives to the present day. It was an easy method of providing meat, milk, cheese, wool and other products for the household and for trading. In the xeroclimatic conditions of Cyprus, grazing in the forests on ligneous maquis was a secure land-use practice, in that it was not affected by the frequent droughts that severely affect annual crops such as wheat, barley and legumes that provide forage in areas outside the forests.

Free-range goat grazing in the forests of Cyprus was common practice. However, after many years of experience and careful study and considerations, it was decided that free-range goat grazing and sound forest management on the mountain forests of Cyprus could not co-exist. At the same time, with rapidly rising living and social standards, the life of the landless shepherd did not appeal to the new generation. Through a series of measures initiated in 1880, forest grazing was continually reduced; and by the year 1940 almost all free-range goat grazing was eliminated from the mountain forests, through methods that generally met the consent of the graziers themselves. Today there is controlled goat grazing only on an area of lowland forest (maquis) which is about 5% of the total area of state forests.

To replace free-range grazing, intensive animal husbandry methods with better breeds of animals have been initiated and encouraged by government action. These methods have proved to be rewarding from both economic and social aspects.


Foresty and food production

The process of clearing the forests to produce food crops was intensified as man settled down and became a farmer and as the human population increased. It was only natural that in the long struggle of man to feed himself and survive, production of food would receive top priority. Man thus went on clearing the forests and extending the agricultural land. Notions of ecological balance, soil and water conservation, soil fertility, indirect influences of forests, let alone agroforestry, could not be even dreamt of. There was cut- throat competition between the people's needs for natural ligneous vegetation and for cleared areas suitable for cultivation and food production.

There is bitter evidence in Cyprus that man went too far in his uncompromising fight against the forest. He clear-felled forests and established food crops on steep slopes and other sites that were suited only for forest. The result did not take long to come and is evident today in the extensive areas of hilly land that lie derelict and devoid of any vegetation, deteriorating through constant erosion and constituting a wasting asset through desertification. Derelict stone terraces and abandoned vineyards are still to be seen, as evidence of irrational human activity. In many such cases the forest is creeping back to occupy its ground.

Today more wisdom has prevailed in land use. Very steep, rocky ground has been left to forestry; and crop production has been restricted to the better soils, mainly in small patches along streams, where irrigation makes crop production feasible. The crops are usually deciduous fruit trees such as apple, pear, plum and peach; with annual field crops such as runner beans and potatoes grown before the canopy of the fruit trees closes. There is generous application of fertilizers. Under these circumstances, ligneous crops are not beneficial to the food crop and the two are not therefore mixed on the same ground.

Many lowland, flat areas where the forest cover has been removed, have been converted today to very productive agricultural land, where water for irrigation is available. Examples of such forest land that is used today exclusively for agriculture are to be found in the Kokkinochoria (Red-Soil Villages) which are the granaries of Cyprus for potato production. These lands are very near to sea level, the climate is very mild and they are ideal for late winter production of potatoes that earn the highest foreign exchange of any agricultural crop of Cyprus. There are two crops of potatoes every year on the same land. The limiting factor to more production is water for irrigation.

All this 'potato land' is leased to farmers by the Forestry Department at nominal rent. The farmers see no place at all for any ligneous production in combination with potatoes. Even where shelter is needed from the blasting effect of the sea, the farmers use mechanical wind barriers, e.g., fences with canes or nets and, rarely, windbreaks of lines of cypress trees. The reason for the mechanical windbreaks is that water and light competition between the trees and the field crops reduce yields considerably.


Forestry and water for agriculture

As was mentioned in the previous section, forests in Cyprus are today restricted to very poor soils on what may be termed absolute forest ground, where agricultural crops (which are more exacting to soil conditions) could not survive. Even so, there exists in Cyprus a very special form of agroforestry practice based on water relations. Through very extensive dam construction, large quantities of rain water are collected from forest areas and stored in reservoirs. This water is transported over considerable distances as far as 120 km in the case of the Red-Soil Villages mentioned in the previous section and used very profitably for the irrigation of agricultural crops.

Though in this case the forests and the agricultural crops are not on the same ground but hundreds of kilometers apart, there can be no doubt about their interrelation and about the importance of this system of agroforestry (which could perhaps be termed teleagroforestry). It can even be said that this system possesses advantages over the system of trying to grow both ligneous and agricultural crops simultaneously on the same ground.


Forestry and agricultural protection

The essence of this system of agroforestry is that forest trees are used to provide protection to agricultural crops.


Shelter-bells

The small size and wide distribution of rural holdings in Cyprus is a limiting factor to the establishment of shelterbelts. There are no large continuous holdings of agricultural land; practically all households in the rural community own a share of the land. The average size of holding is 3.8 ha, but varies according to region from 1.3 to 6.3 ha. Each holding is scattered in many small areas around the village. It is obvious that under these conditions the establishment of shelterbelts is not easy.

It can however be said that the existence of large continuous stretches of State Forests on the upper catchments of practically all the watersheds in Cyprus provides a huge continuous shelterbelt that affords protection to agricultural lands lower down in the watershed and especially to the land in the neighbouring foothills. The protection consists in the amelioration of the microclimate; by the reduction of extremes in low and high temperatures; the protective effect on plants and animals from the cold winds and the frost of winter; and the protection against soil erosion through the action of water that would come down the steep slopes dangerously had they not been clothed with the forest vegetation.


Windbreaks

The use of windbreaks to afford protection to agricultural crops is very common in certain parts of Cyprus. Their use is more frequent in western Cyprus, to protect crops from the cold spring winds during the flowering season, from the strong westerly winds throughout the year and from the blasting effect of the sea.

The trees most commonly used as windbreaks are cypress (Cupressus sempervirens), various species of eucalyptus, casuarina, tamarix, the wattle tree (Acacia cyanophylla) and, to a lesser degree, pines. The planting is usually done in two rows along the boundary of the holding and the trees are staggered in the two rows. The planting distance between the trees varies from 0.5 to 2.0 m depending on species and on the degree of protection required.

The most conspicuous examples of the use of such windbreaks are:

  1. Extensive lines of cypress in the Limassol area to protect citrus groves from the effects of the sea winds;

  2. Lines of poplars along irrigation channels in the mountain villages;

  3. The relatively young windbreaks of tamarix in the areas of Argaka and Yialia, which make possible the establishment of banana plantations right on the sea shore; and

  4. The cypress windbreaks that are being established at a very fast rate in the south coastal areas of Paphos, to shelter the plantations that are coming up in the newly irrigated areas of a big irrigation project.

Ligneous crop trees with annuals

The growing together in the same field of ligneous crop trees with annual crops is one of the oldest forms of agroforestry practised in Cyprus. Carob (Ceratonia siliqiia) and olive (Olea europea) trees are indigenous to Cyprus and they grow naturally almost everywhere from sea level to about 1200 m asl. The fruit of these trees has been harvested and utilised in Cyprus since time immemorial. The carob fruit was known as the black gold of Cyprus as late as the 1940s, due to the significant foreign exchange that was earned from its export; whilst olives and olive oil constitute a basic diet of a large majority of the population.

It was only natural that many farmers would utilize the crop from those trees that grew naturally on their land. In the same way they utilized the annual growth of grasses and other plants for the grazing of their animals mainly sheep and goats. With the advent of agriculture and the evolution of cultivated varieties of annuals such as wheat, barley, oats, various vetches, etc., it was again natural for the Cypriot farmer to try to obtain the benefit of two or more crops on the same field, i.e. the fruit of the carob and/or the olive and a cereal or leguminous crop which he sowed annually. The latter crops are harvested as grain, or used as green fodder for grazing or for cutting and transporting to animals in the pen. In years of abundance, green fodder is also dried and used as hay.

After the harvest, a third 'crop' is left in the field: the stubble, which provides good grazing material in late summer and early autumn when little other forage is available.

A fourth crop, of a much longer rotation, are the woody parts of the trees obtained through pruning or, rarely, through the felling of overmature or dead trees. They are top quality wood and fetch prices as high as CY40 per ton, for use as luxury fuel for heating in open hearths in urban households, or for charcoal manufacture. This system of multiple agroforestry is very advantageous as it secures at least a basic subsistence income to the farmer under the unstable and often adverse climatic conditions of Cyprus, where droughts very frequently bring about complete failure of the annual crops of cereals and legumes. The revenue from the tree crops is not affected much by the annual whims of climate, and has a buffering effect on the farmer's income, which helps him go through adverse years.

A very intensive and very productive system of this form of agroforestry is practised when there is water available for irrigation. The extensive use of fertilizers also brings about increased production under this system. However, when water is available, the tree used is no longer carob and olive but mainly citrus, which is more profitable. Also the undercrops, if they exist at all, are not cereals and legumes for animal food, but strawberries, peanuts, beans, carrots and other vegetables that bring in high cash returns to the farmer.


Trees for shade

Summer temperatures in the flat, fertile plains of Cyprus may rise as high as 40 C during the hot dry season from June through August. Under such conditions, the presence of trees with a large, dense canopy to provide shade for the farmer and his animals becomes invaluable. It is thus a very common phenomenon in Cyprus to see large isolated trees on agricultural and grazing lands. These trees and their surroundings are very lonesome and isolated during the cold season; but their shade makes them an oasis during the hot season, when man and animal seek refuge beneath their branches to find shelter from the scorching heat of the overhead sun.

The traditional trees used for shade are carob, mulberry (Morus alba), Persian lilac (Melia azedarach), oak (Quercus lusitanica) eucalyptus of various species, wattle (-Acacia cyanophylla), pines and fig trees (Ficus carica).


Conclusions

Various forms of agroforestry have been practised in Cyprus since time immemorial and many of them continue to be practised to the present day. Agroforestry was culturally, socially and economically imperative for the well-being of the rural household in that it provided a good variety of products on the limited land of the farmer, that made the family essentially self-sustained. Under the unpredictable and most frequently adverse (to annual crops) climatic conditions of Cyprus, this variety of crops was also of great significance in that it provided a buffering effect to the household budget and averted starvation in cases of failure of one or other of the crops.

Under such conditions, economic analysis, cost-benefit ratios and alternate rates of return from the land did not come in. Hence no serious attempt has ever been made to evaluate the interrelations between ligneous plants and other associated plant or animal production on the same land.

In Cyprus there has been a gradual reduction in the practice of agroforestry in favour of intensive monocultural practices. This has come about as a result of a combination of factors, as follows:

  1. Increased income and rising standards of living in rural areas enabled the farmer to become a partner of the nationwide economy, in contrast to the self-sustained household economy of his father. His purchasing power has increased and what he does not grow he can purchase. Under such conditions he finds monocultures easier.

  2. The increasing use of water for irrigation stimulated intensive monoculture practices with non-ligneous crops of high cash-earning value.

  3. Under rain-fed conditions, short-rotation crops (annuals) lost their value due to climatic adversities, in favour of the ligneous, longer rotation crops, resulting in ligneous monocultures.

  4. High wages for manual work necessitated mechanization in agricultural operations and this favoured monocultures.

  5. Consolidation of the small scattered holdings in many communities also favoured monocultures.

  6. The easy availability and increased use of fertilizers reduced the importance of crop variety in maintaining soil productivity and favoured monocultures.

  7. Lack of quantitative data and information on the values of agroforestry also favoured monocultures.

Research and education on agroforestry are necessary in order to establish its value as an economic and ecological land use practice, especially in countries with sensitive agronomic conditions and adverse climatic patterns.


References

Cobham, C.D. 1908. Excerpta Cypria. Cambridge: Cambridge Univ. Press.