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Tree fodder as source of resilience for the traditional farming systems: reviving tree hay related knowledge in Zalánpatak (Transylvania, Romania)

Global changes are increasingly affecting human societies. Within these changes, the extreme variations in climatic conditions, including precipitation regimes will pose serious challenges to the resilience offood production systems and farming communities. In general terms, a system is resilient when it is able to navigate periods of shocks in a way to maintain and re-gain its main defining features and properties (sometimes these being cumulatively termed ‘identity’). The structural diversity of native vegetation is a crucial‘source’ of resilience for the farming systems, besides the healthy soils and water resources.

Scattered trees and shrubs on farmland represent several option- and insurance values for the farming communities, contributing overall to the resilience of the farming landscape.Trees and shrubs can locally mitigate the climatic variations, can play significant role in halting soil erosion and maintaining soils fertile and can represent keystone habitat structures for wildlife. Woody vegetation can provide wood and nutrient supplies for livestock and people in periods of food shortage, in the form of fruits, leaves and their products. Nevertheless, scattered trees and shrubs are important components of the cultural identity of the farming landscapes. Several evidences shows that the local farmer communities were well aware about these values of the trees.

Despite the above mentioned several and important values, the traditional knowledge types and skills related to the management of trees on farmland are sharply eroding, even in the traditional rural communities such are those from Transylvania. Reasons are multiple, but the most important are related to the formal institutional regulations, which de-coupled farmer societies from trees. For example the Common Agricultural Policy and the Romanian national level forestry regulations largely ignore or actively discourage the use of trees in farming.The consequences being the removal of trees and shrubs from farmland and the lack of coherent strategies for their regeneration.

The main goal of the project is to revive the knowledge and skills related to tree fodder – more specifically tree hay – in a traditional village from the Eastern Carpathians. Several historical writings as well as the vivid memories of elderly persons shows that the leaves of the trees can be prepared and used as fodder for livestock. The knowledge of this alternative resource and its rational use (e.g. while not damaging the trees) helped local communities in navigating the fodder shortage caused by drought, while the lack of knowledge about this resource increased the economic damages caused by drought.

The first piles of tree hay were made on 31th of May, in Zalánpatak, a small village from the Eastern Carpathians (Romania). The trees used for this purpose were the grey willow, hornbeam, beech and oak. Before the activity started, experienced locals were consulted about the tree species and the technique of tree-hay making. An important source of local knowledge and inspiration in this respect was Mr. József Farkas – 84 years, a local retired forester. Formal expertize for this activity was provided by Jill Butler, Ted Green, Luke Steer and John Smith (members of the Ancient Tree Forum). The activity was carried out in the presence of HRH Prince of Wales, Rory Stewart, OBEFRSL – the Minister of Environment UK, Patrick Holden – Funding Director of Sustainable Food Trust, Count Tibor Kálnoky and local farmers with experience and knowledge on tree hay.Romanian academic institutions were represented by Dr. Tibor Hartel – Associate Professor at Sapientia University – Department of Environmental Sciences and Arts, Cluj-Napoca (the coordinator of the project) and Dr. Kinga Réti – Lecturer and Vice Dean at Babeş Bolyai University - Faculty of Environmental Science and Engineering.


Dr. Tibor Hartel was born and raised in Sighisoara a small town in the Saxon region of Southern Transylvania, central Romania. With a strong background in population and landscape ecology, his current interest is in the social-ecological understanding of the cultural landscapes of Transylvania, including wood-pastures. Tibor was an Alexander von Humboldt postdoctoral fellow at Leuphana University Lüneburg (Germany). After returning to Romania, he established as Associate Professor at Sapientia University (Cluj-Napoca). His publications are available on his Google Scholar profile. His further contributions include the Remarkable Trees of Romania project, a citizen based project to map ancient tees of Romania, where he is leading the steering group and is the scientific adviser of this initiative. Currently Tibor is member in the international EU-FP7 project AGFORWARD as well as leading the Sapientia University team of the Biodiversa funded project, STACCATO

Photos: Dr. Kinga Réti

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August 2020