Jocelyn McLaren visits Japan

Jocelyn McLaren, a student at University of the Highlands and Islands (UHI), visited Japan. Jocelyn reports on her visit.

Forestry students from all over the world, Jonathan Hawick (ICF Student member) and Jocelyn McLaren (UHI), Washington Olegário Vieira (Universidade Federal Rural da Amazônia, Brazil), Manuel Angel Pérez-Andrade (Universidad Autonoma Chapingo, Mexico).

Same problem, different answer

It is amazing that across the world, we have such similar issues in terms of environmental sustainable development. While our issues may be similar, each country seemed to have a different solution. I recently returned from the 18th International Student Summit on Food, Agriculture and Environment in the New Century in Tokyo, Japan. The summit included 31 presentations from 26 countries describing how students and youth were trying to close that gap between actors in the food system and implement sustainable agriculture.

University of the Highlands and Island’s answer

As a forestry student, much of my education is based in woodland creation and management. At UHI, we try to broaden our horizons by gathering with other land-based programs and following the forestry commissions leadership to lean towards “Integrated Management Plans” instead of single objective models. That’s the message that Jonathan Hawick (ICF Student member) and I were going to present about by explaining UHI’s Integrated Land Use Conference.

Jonathan Hawick (ICF Student member) and Jocelyn McLaren before their presentation at Tokyo University of Agriculture’s International Student Summit.

Improvements in Agriculture in Japan

In the first of our two weeks, we completed the Comprehensive International Education Program. Four days of field visits and practical work and two days of lectures provided us information to create short presentations about a solution to problems currently facing Japanese Agriculture.

We were introduced to research done at the Kanagawa Agriculture Technology Center on pears. Trees were planted at wide spacing and then grafted together to form straight lines. The combination of grafting and height restriction created a quick and easy harvesting system.

One of the other group presentations pitched agro-forestry as a method to increase productivity in restricted land areas. Japan, much like the United Kingdom, has a small area of productive land and a high population, meaning they need to use every hectare effectively. Agroforestry is the practice of growing trees in amongst crops or pastureland. They pitched a three-level crop system with trees producing fruit such as olive or cherry, mid-level shrubs such as aubergines or berries and then a low-level crop such as broccoli or spinach.

Similar models with different outcomes

As we transitioned into the second week, we would see lots of countries including Brazil, Mexico, and Australia using this model. Most countries methods were agrisilvicultural, using fruit trees to grow crops among other low-level crops such as wheat or cocoa. They identified the sustainability benefits but noted there were many gaps in the educational system that meant implementation was slow across the country.

While some were not specifically about agro-forestry, many presentations touted the benefits of multiple income streams and specialities on single farms or in forests. The delegate from Malaysia presented about educating current farmers on meliponiculture (beekeeping) to increase pollination rates and diversify income streams through honey and wax sales. Mexico offered the benefits of grasshopper farming, both to reduce environmental impacts and as a low-cost method to sustain families in marginalized areas.

Crops of multiple heights at a farm in Chiba Prefecture, Japan. Mixed heights create increased stability during extreme weather events like Typhoons.

How can the UK utilise these techniques?

It’s possible that the United Kingdom could take up some of these methods to revitalize our suffering traditional orchard sector. While already a composite habitat, the introduction of low-level crops or beekeeping could add some financial stability and biodiversity to those businesses.

The biggest opportunity I see for Scotland specifically is the use of silvopastoral systems to create timber revenue on livestock farms. Woodland expansion is a priority for Scotland and tree planting on farms is currently still relegated to shelterbelts and riparian zones. Trees could be planted at wide spacing across grazing pastures. While grants and technical guidance exist in Scotland, we need a pilot project or further economic research to encourage woodland owners and farmers to take the calculated risk and see the long-term rewards.

Japanese pear trees (Pyrus pyrifolia) that have been “Joint Trained” to grow in long straight lines.

Future proofing through education

It was incredibly valuable to me as a future land manager to see how other countries are playing to their strengths. It’s easy to get stuck in a rut and create land management plans similar to what is already working successfully. By listening to those presentations, while we had similar issues, the methods of solving these problems were incredibly different and by seeing these methods, we can attempt to implement new solutions right here at home. Getting in early and finding this information before I started my career will help me to bring these diverse views to my designs for Scotland’s landscape.

Disclaimer: The views and opinions expressed in this article are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of the Institute of Chartered Foresters. 

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