Farmers can make their fields more productive by having many kinds of plants and animals.
That is the finding of a team of international researchers. They were studying how farmers can avoid big losses from extremely dry weather. Their study was published in the Journal of the Association of Environmental and Resource Economists.
The researchers found that having biodiversity in natural areas near agricultural land helps farmers financially during periods of little or no rainfall.
Frederik Noack led the study. He said, “If you plant the same sort of crops next to a natural area that is very high in biodiversity versus one that’s low in biodiversity, [the positive effect] spills over into the agricultural products.”
Noack is an Assistant Professor with the Food and Resource Economics Group at the University of British Columbia.
Experts say some of that “spillover” can be tied to the increased diversity of insects in places that have many different kinds of plants. Pollinators that help plants reproduce, such as bees and moths, are important. So are spiders that eat harmful insects, like aphids and beetles.
Noack said that he hoped to learn if biodiversity close to farms could help crops resist drought conditions. He also wanted to know if it could affect farmers’ earnings.
Farms across many developing countries studied
The researchers studied records of about 7,500 homes in 300 villages in Asia, Africa and Latin America. In these areas, farmers earn money from traditional agriculture as well as forest products like firewood.
Noack and his research team considered a connection between the number of plant species in an area and how strongly drought affected the earnings of local farmers.
The researchers had expected that greater local biodiversity would help farmers, and it did. Farmers in areas with about half the local biodiversity lost two times as much money when droughts struck their areas during the growing season.
The reason for this was not what Noack and his team had expected, however. At first, he thought, maybe farmers “plant more different crops in areas with higher biodiversity.”
But that was not what the researchers found. Even when they accounted for the effects of greater crop diversity, the researchers found that just being close to natural areas improved farmers’ earnings.
The researchers also found that being close to forests helped farmers’ incomes. They said, because forest growth is less tied to a growing season, income from forest products could help farmers in time of drought.
Bruno Basso is a scientist at Michigan State University, but he was not involved in the research. He told the French News Agency that the study shows how important biodiversity is to easing the effects of changes in climate.
Noack said he hopes the study will begin a larger discussion about the protection of natural areas.
He asked, “Should we just have protected area(s) far away in areas that we don’t use or shall we try to integrate that into normal land use?”
Noack added that it is important to save biodiversity in agricultural areas “because of this positive spillover.”
The research team said that policies that support biodiversity may help ease economic pressures on farmers affected by drought.
Basso agreed, saying that new international and local policies should work to save and improve biodiversity.
I’m Mario Ritter Jr.
Words in This Story
biodiversity – n. the existence of many different kinds of plants and animals in an environment
versus – prep. used to show the difference of one thing from another
spill over – v. the condition of flowing out and going past or over a condition or situation
pollinator – n. creatures, like bees, that gather and spread a plant’s pollen, aiding in its reproduction
drought – n. a long period with little or no rainfall
account for – v. to give a reason or explanation for something
integrate – v. to combine two or more things