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CATIE and CIRAD presented results on the ecological and timber potential of secondary forests

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FTA communications

Originally posted on CATIE’s website.

The results are based on research on the characterization of biomass accumulation potential in secondary forests in Nicaragua and Costa Rica, and the contribution of timber species to this potential.

Scientists from CATIE (Tropical Agricultural Research and Higher Education Center) and the Center for International Cooperation in Agronomic Research (CIRAD), in collaboration with the National System of Conservation Areas (SINAC, its Spanish acronym) of Costa Rica, held the webinar Potential of secondary forests, in which the results of research on the ecological and timber potential of secondary forests in Nicaragua and Costa Rica were presented, as well as the economic and environmental impact they can generate in tropical landscapes.

Marie Ange NgoBieng, a researcher at CATIE’s Forests and Biodiversity in Productive Landscapes Unit who led the research, explained that two-thirds of tropical forests are secondary or degraded and are equally relevant for the ecosystem services they provide, yet they are very vulnerable.

The activity presented the current context characterized by the vulnerability of tropical secondary forests and introduced the potential of these secondary forests to respond to the current challenges of forest systems, mainly in terms of timber supply.

In addition, from the research results presented by NgoBieng, the importance of these forests was concluded: secondary forests effectively sequester carbon from the atmosphere in their biomass, thus contributing to climate change mitigation. Also, the existence of a significant timber potential in secondary forests was highlighted, meaning that the contribution of timber species in the aboveground biomass of the plots is very significant.

“Disseminating these research results provides an extremely interesting and novel scientific basis for the planning and implementation of sustainable forest management in secondary forests, which will contribute to the well-being of producers, post-COVID19 economic revival and climate change mitigation,” said Bryan Finegan, director of Inclusive Green Development Research, who introduced the webinar.

According to NgoBieng, during the event there was an exchange of ideas about secondary forests in Latin America, taking into account not only ecological and timber production aspects, but also other important but less studied ecosystem services, such as the production of medicinal plants and the conservation of native and endemic species, among others. Her presentation is downloadable here.

The webinar, which took place on March 26 with the participation of more than 140 professionals from Mexico, Central and South America, was funded by the Forests, Trees and Agro-forestry (FTA) research program for the development of forests, trees and agro-forestry and its financial partners. Participants in the webinar included researchers, professors, students, politicians and representatives of indigenous institutions.

The results of this work are presented in a scientific article submitted to the special issue on active restoration of secondary and degraded forest of the scientific international review Forest Ecology and Management, co-edited by Marie Ange Ngo Bieng, Plinio sist and Bryan Finegan, scientists of Cirad and CATIE.


More information:

Marie Ange NgoBieng
CATIE’s Unit of Forests and Biodiversity in Productive Landscapes


Written by: 

Daniel Cedeño Ramírez
Communications Assistant
Information Technology and Communication

FTA is the world’s largest research for development program to enhance the role of forests, trees and agroforestry in sustainable development and food security and to address climate change. CIFOR leads FTA in partnership with ICRAF, the Alliance of Bioversity International and CIAT, CATIE, CIRAD, INBAR and TBI. FTA’s work is supported by the CGIAR Trust Fund.

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  • Moving past tree planting, expanding our definition of forests and restoration

Moving past tree planting, expanding our definition of forests and restoration

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Peruvian law prohibits the logging of Brazil nut trees — but the forest around them has been cleared, affecting the amount of nuts they produce. Photo by M. Simola/CIFOR
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Peruvian law prohibits the logging of Brazil nut trees — but the forest around them has been cleared, affecting the amount of nuts they produce. Photo by M. Simola/CIFOR

Secondary forests are often neglected and overregulated in forest management. Recognizing and governing those spaces is essential for proper landscape restoration.

What is a forest? And how do you restore one?

These seemingly simple questions were interrogated — with a focus on solutions — during a panel discussion at the 2017 Association for Tropical Biology and Conservation Meeting (ATBC), which recently concluded in Merida, Mexico.

A group of experts on Latin American forests examined both the conservation and restoration of secondary forests from a variety of angles, including the ecological, political and social dimensions of such spaces.

Beginning with the premise that “secondary forest regrowth following agricultural land use represents a major component of human modified landscapes across the tropics”, the panel emphasized the essential role of secondary forests for humans living in proximity, as well as for restoration initiatives and international goals, such as the United Nations Aichi Biodiversity Targets.


“Natural regeneration in secondary forests has been overlooked, and can be a restoration tool for large-scale initiatives,” said panelist and Center for International Forestry Research (CIFOR) Principal Scientist Manuel Guariguata, whose work forms part of the CGIAR Research Program on Forests, Trees and Agroforestry (FTA).

The 12 July 2017 discussion titled “The role of tropical secondary forests in conservation and restoration” was a welcome exploration of these neglected landscapes, formerly native forest cleared for agriculture, ranching or other purposes and later deserted.

Research carried out across the tropics over the last few decades unanimously agrees that these lands, which then start to host trees and shrubs and slowly attract birds and other wildlife on their path to maturity, are valuable in countering primary forest loss and as providers of ecosystem services. With proper management, they provide both timber and non-timber products to people nearby – thereby proffering both social and ecological rewards.

Read the paper: Natural regeneration as a tool for large-scale forest restoration in the tropics: prospects and challenges

Freshly harvested Brazil nuts await processing in Peru. Photo by M. Simola/CIFOR

In a presentation titled “Key governance issues and the fate of secondary forests as a tool for large-scale forest restoration”, Guariguata said, “the permanence of secondary forests in tropical landscapes largely depends on good governance, particularly through continued dialogue between government agencies, particularly environment and agriculture ministries.”

Improved governance for improved forests “would include the recognition that secondary forests are part of highly dynamic land-use systems that can and do change and unlikely to be managed either by a single government sector or scientific discipline,” he added.


This complexity is evident in the myriad of ways secondary forests are engaged with and understood.

Guariguata urged for a multifaceted, interdisciplinary approach to improve restoration processes beyond tree planting to incorporate secondary forests.

“Often, because of definitional, technocratic issues, foresters may not see a secondary forest as such because they are looking at specific criteria, even though there may be plenty of trees in secondary forests. Agronomists are trained to look at soil and vegetation and also may not see a forest. But forest smallholders do both — and we shouldn’t overlook that,” Guariguata said in a later interview.

“Education and training at the university level also needs to enhance interdisciplinarity,” he added.

Secondary forests can naturally regenerate, and with this in mind, there is an argument for letting nature take its course, so to speak. Guariguata said, “There’s a lot of inherent resilience in secondary forests and we can harness that.”

“There is a tradeoff, as some of these forests have a central human component and require more effort, others don’t need interventions, but they need governing. The process needs steering.”

Evidence of selective logging, which has coexisted with Brazil nut production for a long time but is becoming more intense, is seen in Peru. Photo by M. Simola/CIFOR


Offering examples that demonstrate the differing approaches to secondary forests and the issues involved, from Peru to Indonesia and Ethiopia to Mexico, Guariguata zeroed in on Mexico’s success with steering.

“Mexico is redrafting its Forest Code with a reassessment of their definition of secondary forest. Until 2014, the code restricted traditional harvesting of timber and non-timber forest products due to definitional issues of what is and is not a secondary forest. The revision will allow forest users to harvest products from young secondary forests without a permit,” Guariguata said.

Such progress is in part a result of CIFOR’s recent synthesis on governance of forest restoration.

Read more: Success from the ground up: Participatory monitoring and forest restoration

At the opening of the panel discussion at ATBC, the moderator asked the audience: “Should secondary forest fragments be protected as conservation areas in regions with low forest cover and little primary forest remaining?”

The consensus was “yes,” and as the panel continued to discuss regenerating forests and their role in large-scale restoration initiatives and countries’ increasingly ambitious commitments to reforest degraded lands, the need for protection and proper management of such places became clearer and clearer.

These muddled yet vital spaces have a major role to play in forest landscape restoration, which, ultimately, means helping to mitigate the effects of climate change the world over.

By Deanna Ramsay, originally published at CIFOR’s Forests News

For more information on this topic, please contact Manuel Guariguata at

This research forms part of the CGIAR Research Program on Forests, Trees and Agroforestry. We would like to thank all donors who supported this work through their contributions to the CGIAR Fund

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