Saving the Tropical Forest by Dumping Our Waste

Organic waste from the agroindustry could hold the key to reviving our tropical forests.

Forest restoration is urgently needed to counteract the effects of deforestation
Credit: Goodshoot on Canva

In 2020, the world lost 4.2 million hectares of tropical primary forests. With this loss comes reduced biodiversity, increased greenhouse gases in the atmosphere, and a whole range of other adverse environmental consequences.


Despite efforts to reduce deforestation, however, the increasing demand for agricultural land and the effects of climate change have worsen the situation. To revive our dying forests, several restoration strategies are now being explored.


Restoration strategies


One effortless way is by simply giving land the time and space it needs to regenerate. However, this passive method is heavily dependent on past land-use. Obstacles to natural regeneration such as aggressive growth of invasive species or soil with poor nutritional content can dramatically reduce the effectiveness of this strategy.

Agricultural waste can be used to nourish degraded pastureland
Credit: Piyawit Kamput on Canva

In Costa Rica, this method was successfully applied in two experimental cases—one using discarded orange peels, and the other using coffee pulp. In both instances, researchers found drastic differences in the soil treated with organic waste versus control treatments. Putting a thick layer of organic material on test sites helped to overcome barriers to forest regeneration and speed up tropical forest succession on post‐agricultural lands. The addition of agricultural byproducts resulted in “richer soil, more tree biomass, and a broader diversity of tree species.”


This solution is particularly attractive because of its cost-effective use of food scraps that would otherwise be disposed of. By matching “nutrient-limited degraded ecosystems (with) nutrient-rich waste streams”, the effect of destructive agricultural practices on tropical forests are offset.


Prevention is better than cure


Despite the initial success of using agricultural waste to enrich our forests, the lack of similar projects and peer-reviewed studiesmeans that more research still needs to be done to fully understand the potential impact and possible wider applications of this solution.


While it might be tempting to rely on forest restoration strategies to correct our mistakes, we must realise that secondary tropical forests have lower biomass and species richness than primary tropical forest. So, the preservation of intact forests should remain the top priority. Furthermore, the more of the primary forests we can leave untouched, the less effort—and expenditure—we’ll have to make for their restoration.

Main Source:

Cole, Rebecca J. and Rakan A. Zahawi. “Coffee Pulp Accelerates Early Tropical Forest Succession on Old Fields”, British Ecological Society, https://besjournals.onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/10.1002/2688-8319.12054

Other Related Sources:

Dockrill, Peter. “How 12,000 Tonnes of Dumped Orange Peel Grew Into a Landscape Nobody Expected to Find”, ScienceAlert, https://www.sciencealert.com/how-12-000-tonnes-of-dumped-orange-peel-produced-something-nobody-imagined

Choi, Jonathan J., Treuer, Timothy L.H., Werden, Leland K., Wilcove, David S. “Organic Wastes and Tropical Forest Restoration”, SAGE Journals, https://journals.sagepub.com/doi/10.1177/1940082918783156

Holl, Karen D. “Restoring Tropical Forest”, Nature Education Knowledge, https://www.nature.com/scitable/knowledge/library/restoring-tropical-forest-97756726/