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Public Radio's Environmental News Magazine (follow us on Google News)

Emerging Note on Science

Air Date: Week of

Indian farmers are using ancient tricks on a modern problem. By working with native forests instead of against them, these stewards have been able to preserve biodiversity without hurting their harvest. Sandra Larson reports.


LARSON: Agriculture and biodiversity don’t always mix. When forests are cleared for crop planting, the diversity of the native species usually drops, and ecosystems are endangered. But a recent study brings encouraging news from an Indian palm plantation.
Researchers from Stanford University and in India studied bird populations near areca nut palm plantations in southwestern India. The nut from the palms is valued as a coffee-like stimulant.

The scientists discovered ninety percent of the bird species associated with the nearby native forest were found in and around the plantation. In other words, farming had not significantly affected the variety of birds.

Here’s why: The areca nut plantations use traditional agricultural methods of the region, including a complex system of intercropping. The farmers retain a mix of native vegetation and grow valuable crops such as pepper and vanilla between the areca nuts. And they integrate the nearby forest into their cultivation practices, including using leaves as mulch for crops. So the system is economical as well as environmentally friendly.

The findings, which appeared in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Science, give hope that well-managed harmonious farming methods could help conserve biodiversity in other tropical regions.

So one way to preserve species in the future is to take a lesson from an old system farmers in India have used for over 2000 years.

That’s this week’s emerging – or should we say ancient – science note. I’m Sandra Larson.



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