Small Scale Tropical Farms Better For Preserving Biodiversity & Preventing Hunger Than Large

amazon industrial farm photo

photo: Samuel M Beebe/Ecotrust, Creative Commons Attribution 3.0 via flickr.

One line of conservation thought believes that the best way to preserve remaining tropical forests is to concentrate agriculture into industrial-scale fields so that the maximum amount of forest space is preserved. As more people move to cities, and agriculture is intensified, eventually areas of forest may be able to expand as well.

Except that, according to new research published in Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, based on case studies throughout Central and South America it doesn't quite work that way:Agroecological Techniques Needed to Maintain Biodiversity Corridors
Ivette Perfecto of the University of Michigan says the best way to preserve biodiversity in fragmented areas of tropical forest is to allow animals to migrate between the patches. Large scale agriculture doesn't allow that, but small-scale agriculture based on "agroecological" techniques can.

Small, family-owned farms that use agroecological techniques come closest to mimicking natural forest habitat, thereby creating corridors that allow plants and animals to migrate between forest fragments. Agroecological techniques can include the use of biological controls instead of pesticides, the use of compost or other organic matter instead of chemical fertilizers, and the use of agroforestry methods, which involve growing crops beneath a canopy of trees or growing crops mixed with fruit trees such as mangoes or avocados.(Science Daily)

In addition to better preserving biodiversity, the researchers point out that in many areas of the tropics small family farms match or exceed the productivity of large scale operations.

In fact, report co-author John Vandermeer says he advocates breaking up large-scale farms and incentives to encourage "a large number of small-scale farmers, each managing the land to best of his or her ability, using agroecological techniques.

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