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How the Mexican Lilac tree is helping with large-scale ecosystem restoration on Timor

Blog | Tue, 07 Mar, 2023 · 5 min read

The Giliciridia sepium can be used as fodder for the cattle in Bali

Most of the primary rainforest on the island of Timor has disappeared. One of the challenges on Timor has been that geological processes have generated inherently infertile, high-alkaline clay formations resulting in heavy clays as well soils developed on limestone formation. Restoring these degraded, inherently infertile landscapes has proven very difficult. However, after Giliricidia was introduced as an option for cattle fodder and fencing 40 years ago, it spread, with positive ecological impact.

In 2016, UNEP calculated that unsustainable development would result in short-term benefits followed by adverse long-term, socio-economic impacts on local populations. Forests need to be protected in an agro-based economy because forests provide essential elements and conditions required for the growth of crops. Forests make an indirect but essential contribution to food security by helping to maintain the environmental conditions needed for agricultural production. They stabilize the soil, prevent erosion, enhance the land's capacity to store water and moderate air and soil temperatures.

This underlines the need for an effective approach to landscape restoration, an example of which is the targetted spread of Giliciridia. Even at four months, young trees significantly contribute to soil quality which in turn enables other tree species, like Casuarina junghuhniana, to get reestablished. In addition, the Giliciridia provides fire wood and fodder (for who? goats? all animals? please clarify). With its high caloric content, it is preferred over other species by the local population, widely available and found in most gardens and is common on grazing land.

Farmers value and appreciate the Giliricida as it survives during extremely dry years and provides all kinds of other benefits. Its leaves are used to cure sick goats and it is often used for fencing fields and gardens. 

The picture emerging in South Central Timor is a gain in tree cover. According to Global Forest Watch, the area gained 7.01k ha of tree cover, despite the loss of tree cover from fires. By employing agroforestry-based restoration, it is possible to restore heavily degraded lands at a large scale at low cost with substantial positive benefits for the population including increased access to water, improved soil fertility and reduced wildfire incidence. A wider-scale application requires a proper understanding of the ecology and perspective of smallholders on the benefits of populating degraded lands with a multi-purpose tree species. The case of the Gilicirdia in Timor underlines how this can generate major environmental and local economic benefits if well integrated in jurisdictional spatial planning through integrated land use planning.