Wildlife & Biodiversity

Pineapple agroforestry can help tackle climate change, biodiversity loss: Study

Can be an alternative to jhum cultivation, which has become unsustainable due to a reduced fallow cycle, in northeast India

By India Science Wire
Published: Thursday 19 August 2021

Pineapple-based agroforestry, traditionally practiced by ethnic Hmar tribe in southern Assam, can be a sustainable alternative to jhum cultivation in northeast India.

This traditional practice can provide twin solutions for climate change and biodiversity loss, according to a new study. The study was carried out by the Department of Ecology and Environmental Science, Assam University, Silchar, with support from the Climate Change Program Division of the Department of Science and Technology (DST).

Researchers have been looking for agroforestry options that would also offer high carbon storage potential and tree diversity to couple this with solutions for challenges of climate change and biodiversity loss, the DST statement said.

Jhum cultivation, also called swidden agriculture, a dominant agricultural practice in the region, has become unsustainable due to the reduced fallow cycle resulting in depletion in soil fertility, severe soil erosion and low agronomic productivity.

Hence, northeast India and many south Asian countries are shifting to agroforestry and high-value cropping systems from traditional jhum practices over the past decades, which are considered sustainable and profitable alternatives.

The study assessed the tree diversity and ecosystem carbon storage through the traditional agroforestry system practiced by the local communities. It showed that the system they practice maintains a steady ecosystem carbon stock while reducing land-use-related carbon emission and providing additional co-benefits to the communities.

The research team, led by Arun Jyoti Nath, associate professor, Department of Ecology and Environmental Science, Assam University, conducted the study in the ethnic villages located in the Cachar district of Assam, part of the Himalayan foothills and the Indo-Burma, center of a global biodiversity hotspot.

They explored changes in tree diversity and transition of dominant tree species from swidden agriculture through different aged pineapple agroforestry systems (PAFS). The changes in the biomass carbon and ecosystem carbon storage in tree and pineapple components from swidden agriculture through different aged PAFS were also noted.

Researchers found that farmers apply traditional knowledge for tree selection through prior knowledge and long-term farming experience. Additionally, fruit trees such as Areca catechu and Musa species are planted on farm boundaries as live fences. The live fence reduces soil erosion and acts as a windbreak and shelterbelt.

 A combination of economically important trees like Albiziaprocera, Parkiatimoriana, Aquilariamalaccensis, as well as fruit trees like papaya, lemon, guava, litchi and mango with pineapple caters for both home-consumption and selling all year round.

The upper canopy trees regulate light, enhance biomass inputs, and increase farm diversity, resulting in soil fertility and improved plant nutrition. The tree-related management practices promote the conservation of the farmers’ favoured indigenous fruit trees. In the older pineapple agroforestry farms, farmers introduce rubber trees.

The research shows that the practice can be applied for the REDD+ mechanism to add to the carbon capturing and reducing deforestation by contributing to tree cover, which may further incentivise against the carbon credit to the poor farmers.      

PAFS are dominant land use in the Indian Eastern Himalayas and other parts of Asia and are mostly grown in association with multipurpose trees. The ethnic Hmar tribe in southern Assam has been cultivating pineapple for centuries.

At present, they practice the indigenous PAFS for, both home consumption and boosting economic benefits. They have applied traditional knowledge to evolve a unique agroforestry system.                               

The study published in the Journal of Environmental Management recently, can provide information about emission factor for the indigenous agro-ecosystems in North East India for mitigation purposes, which may facilitate the formulation of incentives for the communities.

It could also equip forest managers with information for accounting the changes in carbon storage due to deforestation and jhum cultivation. (India Science Wire)

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