Twenty years after being forgotten and abandoned, an old reforestation experience ends up bearing fruit

Sometimes it takes time before you realize the great potential of an idea ... a lot of time. In Costa Rica, an experimental and bold conservation project, abandoned and long forgotten, ended up bearing fruit ... more than two decades later. 
In the 1990s, two researchers at Princeton University (USA), Daniel Janzen and Winnie Hallwachs, imagined a new way of upgrading depleted and desert land, while recycling industrial waste. The two ecologists then decided to approach Del Oro, a fruit juice company, with a strange proposal: to allow the company to pour legally all its vegetable waste free of charge into a totally sterile grazing area of the national park. Guanacaste.
The goal was to leave a large mass of orange peels degraded in nature, to enrich the heavily depleted soils. In short, a kind of giant compost, on an industrial scale, enriched and reforest large areas.
Daniel Janzen / Winnie Hallwachs / Restoration Ecology
The Del Oro company accepts the idea with enthusiasm: after all, it costs nothing, it is a positive environmental action, and in addition it reduces the costs of waste treatment, in short everyone wins! In exchange for this right to dispose of his waste free of charge, Del Oro simply had to donate some of his lands bordering the conservation zone to the National Park: a golden deal for both parties.
In concrete terms, the equivalent of 1000 trucks of orange peel waste is dumped in a degraded area of Guanacaste National Park, over 12,000 tonnes of highly concentrated nutrient-rich plant material. This sudden bombardment of nutrient-packed matter had an impressive and almost immediate effect on the fertility of the earth: after only six months, the first layers of orange-peel began to turn into a good black soil , rich, moist and tender.
But, despite these extremely promising beginnings, the beautiful project quickly turns into vinegar, when TicoFruit, another fruit juice company (and direct competitor of Del Oro), is suing. According to TicoFruit, the rival company was "polluting a national nature park" and its way of dealing with waste was unfair competition. 
Daniel Janzen / Winnie Hallwachs / Restoration Ecology
The Supreme Court of Costa Rica finally decided ... in favor of TicoFruit: justice forces environmentalists to abort the project, and immediately stop all deposits of orange peels. Del Oro takes over the traditional methods of waste disposal, and the site is completely forgotten for the next 15 years ... with its mounds of peelings.
In 2013, as part of his research, another researcher from Princeton University named Timothy Treuer decided to go to the site to analyze the soil out of curiosity. And there, immense surprise: impossible to find the place, since the desert landscape had been totally transformed and a lush and totally uncontrollable jungle had taken possession of the territory! It will take no less than two trips before Treuer ends up finding what was once only a barren desert, and which has become a dense forest.
By comparing the site to a control zone that had not been treated with orange peels, Treuer and his team discovered that this experimental compost had given an infinitely richer soil, a phenomenally increased biomass, and a great diversity of species accordingly. In particular, they discovered that on the peelings of oranges had pushed a fig tree absolutely enormous: the tree was so big, that it took no less than three people end to end to succeed in surrounding with their arms the circumference of its trunk!
Daniel Janzen / Winnie Hallwachs / Restoration Ecology
Why and how did the simple stacking of orange peels produce such astounding results? Researchers fail to fully explain. What is certain is that the nutrients of orange peels, degraded by burrowing insects, earthworms, fungi and microfauna, have been transformed into assimilable matter by a new generation of plants according to well-known principles of composting. The rest could be explained, according to the researchers, by "a synergy between the suppression of invasive grass and the rejuvenation of heavily degraded soils ".
And this is how, in barely 16 years and nothing else but waiting, one passes from a desert to a jungle. It will have sufficed to dump matter there, and let Mother Nature do the rest!
In any case, it is hoped that now that the effectiveness of the method has been proved in the long term, there will be follow-ups ... And that other reforestation and conservation projects in the same vein will soon day!

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