Rubber plantation in Thailand, photo: Gaetan Lee (CC) via flickr
Slash-and-burn agriculture has often been cited as not exactly being the most eco-friendly thing for forests. But, as a new report in Science magazine and summed up over at Mongabay shows, promotion of plantation agriculture is actually much worse. The example is conversion to rubber plantations in Southeast Asia. This is what the report finds:The work was done by researchers from the National University of Singapore and looked at policies favoring rubber plantation over traditional slash-and-burn (swidden) agriculture. It looked at Yunnan province in China, as well as broader regional trends in Laos, Thailand, Vietnam, Cambodia, and Myanmar.
The report says that despite the widespread perception of slash-and-burn being "a destructive system that leads to forest loss and degradation," policies that support conversion to rubber plantations (which gets counted as reforestation, even though a plantation forest is hardly the same thing as natural forest) don't have a great environmental benefit.
Monocultures Increase Erosion, Impair Water Quality
In retrospect, it has become clear that the environmental impacts of traditional swiddening were inconsequential until mountain populations increased, cropping periods lengthened, and fallow periods became shorter, and the cultivation of opium as a cash crop proliferated after the Second World War.
Recent intensification of permanent agriculture has had numerous negative environmental consequences: Erosion has accelerated and stream sediment loads have increased where repetitive cultivation is performed on steep slopes without appropriate conservation methods; permanent conversion of hill slopes and road building have increased the risk of landslides; irrigation of cash crops in the dry season has desiccated streams; and use of pesticides and fertilizers to sustain commercial agriculture has reduced water quality.
Paying Farmers to Preserve Forests May Be the Best Thing
So, what's the best way to preserve forest? The report authors recommend increasing the area of remaining forest under protection, as wells as directly paying farmers to keep forests intact. Additionally, encouraging diversified agroforestry is recommended as being a better option than monoculture plantations.
Read the original article: The Rubber Juggernaut (subscription or pay-per-view required)