Small-scale agriculture threatens the rainforest

Date:

Share post:

An extensive study led by a researcher at Lund University in Sweden has mapped the effects of small farmers on the rain forests of Southeast Asia for the first time. The findings are discouraging, with regard to environmental impact, biodiversity and the economy, over the long term.

Small-scale agriculture threatens the rainforest
Small-scale farming in Southeast Asia is threatening surrounding forests reports new study 
[Credit: Y. Clough]

Until now, studies of this kind have always focused largely on large-scale palm oil producers and how they exploit the forest and soil. Now Yann Clough, a researcher at the Faculty of Science at Lund University, has mapped the choice of trees and agricultural methods of small-scale Indonesian farmers. Together with over 40 researchers from Germany, Indonesia, Switzerland and New Zealand, he has assessed the biodiversity and ecosystem functions in natural forest, in traditional agroforests and in monocultures of palm oil and rubber trees; the data measured includes amongst others forest growth, soil fertility and carbon storage. Furthermore, the team interviewed 450 small scale farmers to better understand why they chose to cultivate only oil palms or rubber trees and how this affects their economy.

“For the great majority of small farmers, chopping down diverse forests and investing in a single species of tree — monoculture — is the simplest and quickest path out of poverty. Productivity increases, the financial risk drops and income rises,” says Yann Clough.

Small-scale agriculture threatens the rainforest
Jungle rubber production is a lucrative business in Southeast Asia 
[Credit: Y. Clough]

However, the short-term financial gain is the only benefit of monoculture, according to the study. Biodiversity declines dramatically, the forest loses significance as a carbon source and the increased use of mineral fertiliser leads to additional leaching of nutrients such as nitrogen. Even though the study focused on Indonesia, there are equivalent problems in many other parts of the world.

The study and its results contradict the traditional view that small scale agriculture is environmentally friendly. Collectively, small farmers cultivate a larger part of Indonesia’s forests than that exploited by large landowners. When the small farmers largely embrace monoculture as an agricultural system, they put a great deal of strain on the environment and on biodiversity. Changing the agricultural methods of small farmers requires efforts from various sides and must comprise financial support in order for the farmers to change their way of producing, according to the researchers.

“Since the small farmers earn more with monoculture, sustainability aspects and the effects on nature currently are almost entirely unheeded. Changing the production methods of small farmers requires financial incentives along with political will; otherwise there is a risk that rich and productive agricultural land will have disappeared altogether in 20 years,” says Yann Clough.

The study is presented in an article in the online scientific journal Nature Communications.

Source: Lund University [October 14, 2016]

ADVERTISEMENT

spot_img

Related articles

New look at an old dinosaur: the rediscovery of the lost Austrosaurus site

The discovery of new bones belonging to a long-necked sauropod named Austrosaurus mckillopi has been announced by a...

Researchers discover rare new species of deep-diving whale

Researchers have identified a new species of mysterious beaked whale based on the study of seven animals stranded...

Restoration of Pompeii slated to begin next week

The long-awaited restoration of the Pompeii archaeological site will begin on February 6, the authorities said Wednesday. Aerial view...

El Nino is becoming more active

A new approach to analyzing paleo-climate reconstructions of the El Nino Southern Oscillation (ENSO) phenomenon resolves disagreements and...

55 million year old mammal fossils discovered in Antarctica

Investigators of the Plata Museum, the CONICET and the Argentine Antarctic Institute, with the collaboration of a German...

Pillars of Destruction

Spectacular new observations of vast pillar-like structures within the Carina Nebula have been made using the MUSE instrument...

Pile of ancient human skulls unearthed in Mexico

Archaeologists have unearthed a trove of skulls in Mexico that may have once belonged to human sacrifice victims....

Ancient alga knew how to survive on land before it left water and evolved into first plant

A team of scientists led by Dr Pierre-Marc Delaux (John Innes Centre / University of Wisconsin, Madison) has...