Wednesday February 26, 2020

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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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

Environmental Factors Contribute to Insect Extinctions: Scientists

Insect extinctions happening every day: Scientists

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Factors such as climate change, habitat loss, overexploitation and extinction of dependent species and pollution, including harmful agricultural practices, all variably contribute to insect extinctions happening every day. Pixabay

Factors such as climate change, habitat loss, overexploitation and extinction of dependent species and pollution, including harmful agricultural practices, all variably contribute to insect extinctions happening every day, scientists have warned.

“With species loss, we lose not only another piece of the complex puzzle that is our living world, but also biomass, essential for example to feed other animals in the living chain, unique genes and substances that might one day contribute to cure diseases, and ecosystem functions on which humanity depends,” said Pedro Cardoso from the Finnish Museum of Natural History Luomus, University of Helsinki, Finland.

The ecosystem functions he mentions include pollination, as most crops depend on insects to survive.

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The ecosystem functions he mentions include pollination, as most crops depend on some or the other insect to survive. Pixabay

Additionally, decomposition, as they contribute to nutrient cycling, as well as many other functions for which we have no technological or other replacement.

Two scientific papers by 30 scientists from around the world discussed both the perils and ways to avoid further extinctions, intending to contribute towards a necessary change of attitude for humanity’s own sake. The papers were published in the journal Biological Conservation.

The scientists also suggested possible practical solutions based on existing evidence gathered from around the world, which would help to avoid further insect population loss and species extinctions.

These include actions such as setting aside high-quality and manageable portions of land for conservation, transforming global agricultural practices to promote species co-existence, and mitigating climate change.

Also Read- All You Need to Know About Anti-Semitism and Religious Conflicts

Above all, communicating and engaging with civil society and policy makers is essential for the future and mutual well-being both of people and insects.

“While small groups of people can impact insect conservation locally, collective consciousness and a globally coordinated effort for species inventorying, monitoring and conservation is required for large-scale recovery” said Michael Samways, Professor at Stellenbosch University, South Africa. (IANS)