Thursday July 18, 2019

Research: Having Diverse Natural Areas Near Agriculture Helps Farmers Financially During Calamities

"New global and local policy should specifically target conserving and enhancing biodiversity"

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farmers, nature
University of British Columbia ecologist Diane Srivastava, with a damselfly, an insect often used as an indicator species for estimating biodiversity and assessing ecosystem health. (T. Zulkoskey). VOA

Farmers reap surprising benefits from having areas that are biodiverse  with many plant and animal species nearby, according to new research. A study finds that having diverse natural areas near agriculture helps farmers financially during droughts, and the more diverse the areas are, the better. Policies that preserve biodiversity near farms may ease economic pressure in places with severe droughts, the authors say.

“If you plant the same sort of crops next to a natural area that is very high in biodiversity versus one that’s very low in biodiversity, [the positive effect] spills over into the agricultural products,” said Frederik Noack, a professor of food and resource economics at the University of British Columbia who led the study.

Some of that spillover can be tied to the increased diversity of insects in places that host many different species of plants, experts say. Pollinators that help plants reproduce, like bees and moths, and spiders that prey on agricultural pests like aphids and beetles are especially important.

Noack hoped to learn if having biodiverse areas close to farms could help crops be more resistant to drought  and if that impact would be big enough to be seen in farmers’ incomes.

farmers, diversity, agriculture
Farmers reap surprising benefits from having areas that are biodiverse with many plant and animal species nearby, according to new research. Wikimedia Commons

Big data from small farms

The researchers used data from 7,556 households in 304 villages in Asia, Africa and Latin America, where farmers derive their incomes from traditional agriculture as well as forest products like lumber and firewood.

Noack and his research team looked for a connection between the level of natural biodiversity  in this case, the number of plant species in the area  and how strongly drought affected the incomes of local farmers.

The researchers had expected that greater local biodiversity would benefit farmers, and it did. Farmers in areas with half the biodiversity lost twice as much income when droughts hit during the growing season.

Noack said that initially they thought the effect was just correlated with crop diversity. “Maybe you plant more different crops in areas with higher natural biodiversity because maybe there are just more crops available in those areas and that’s actually what’s driving the effect.”

But that’s not what they found. Even when they accounted for the effect of greater crop diversity, the farmers’ incomes seemed to be stabilized just by being close to diverse natural areas that can host many types of pollinators.

farmers, agriculture, diverse
“If you plant the same sort of crops next to a natural area that is very high in biodiversity versus one that’s very low in biodiversity, [the positive effect] spills over into the agricultural products,” said Frederik Noack. Pixabay
Having access to forests was also an income stabilizer. Because forests are the result of many years of growth rather than just a single season, income from forest products is less susceptible to drought and can offset agricultural losses, the researchers found.

ALSO READ: Government to Launch Solar Scheme for Farmers to Ensure Rs. 1 Lakh Income

Encouraging conservation

Bruno Basso, an ecosystems scientist at Michigan State University who was not involved in the research, commented in an email that the researchers had been able to show that “biodiversity and forest conservation play a critical role in adapting and mitigating the negative effects of increased climate variability.” Noack hopes that this study can become part of the larger debate about conservation of natural areas.

“Should we just have protected area far away in areas that we don’t use or shall we try to integrate that into normal land use?” said Noack. “This study actually says maybe we should at least have some level of biodiversity conservation in the agricultural landscape because of this positive spillover.” Basso agreed. “New global and local policy should specifically target conserving and enhancing biodiversity,” he said. (VOA)

Next Story

New Technology May Help Indian Farmers Double Income

Given that the intensive fish culture does not require to be limited in geography to coastal areas, it can also be used in inland areas, further confirming the flexibility of the system

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farmers, solar scheme
If given to the developers, the farmer will get at least 30-35 paise per unit to ensure an annual income of Rs 1 lakh. Wikimedia Commons

The National Institute of Rural Development and Panchayati Raj (NIRDPR) is working on a new technology in aquaculture to help double the income of Indian farmers, an official said on Monday.

The institute has recently established a ‘Backyard Re-circulatory Aquaculture System’ developed by Cochin University of Science and Technology.

The system, an intensive fish culture pond, enables high density stocking of fish in cages. This would allow off-setting of the load by stocking different varieties and sizes of fish in smaller cages in a pond, the institute said in a statement.

Since the water requirement for this system is quite low, the high-density stocking of fish in different cages enables flexibility in managing a fishpond.

“We can only double the income of farmers by promoting integrated farming practices. Such technology-backed smart farming solutions will encourage youth to undertake farming as an occupation,” said W.R. Reddy, Director General at NIRDPR.

coffee farmers
A farmer examines his coffee plantation in Kirinyaga near Nyeri, Kenya, March 14, 2018. VOA

This system, inaugurated at the Institute’s Rural Technology Park, was established with funding support of the National Fisheries Development Board, a government organisation.

Fish varieties that can be grown in the system include Tilapia, Pangasius, Murrel and Pearlspot. The economics of growing Genetically Improved Farm Tilapia (GIFT) in the pond, for a stocking period of 120 days over three cycles per year, demonstrates that an average monthly return of Rs 25,750 can be expected from fish culture.

The aquaculture system can act as a source of additional income for farmers located even in low water availability areas, helping them double their income, the statement said. In addition, the sludge periodically pumped out of the pond can be utilised to grow agriculture crops without the addition of chemical fertilizers, it said.

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Given that the intensive fish culture does not require to be limited in geography to coastal areas, it can also be used in inland areas, further confirming the flexibility of the system.

The Rural Technology Park at NIRDPR will demonstrate the functioning of the system and provide necessary training to farmers, self-help groups (SHGs) and youth who are keen on undertaking fish culture for enhancing their income. (IANS)