(Photo : Wikimedia Commons)
(Photo : Wikimedia Commons)
Can Agricultural Intensification Increase or Decrease Deforestation?
The answers bring with it some good news. A recent study by the NatureNet Science Fellows Program revealed that smallholder farmers who are using improved maize seeds had boosted their yield and reduced pressure on vast forests while tackling climate change.
The discussion on agricultural productivity and deforestation goes back to Norman Borlaug, a Nobel Peace Prize laureate and a Green Revolution father. He believed that by using better inputs such as improved seeds and using organic fertilizer on smaller tracts will naturally prevent the smallholder farmers from destroying the forests.
In particular, Zambia has 44 million hectares of forests, which are mostly in Miombo Woodland, the home of diverse wildlife. From 2000 to 2012, Zambia lost more than 1.3 million hectares of forests. The Zambian government is on a race against time to reduce the deforestation nationwide.
In sub-Saharan Africa, food insecurity is a serious issue, and smallholder farmers are accused of being the main drivers of deforestation in sub-Saharan Africa.
According to the lead author, Johanne Pelletier, a postdoctoral researcher in the Charles H. Dyson School of Applied Economics and Management, the main driver of deforestation is the agricultural expansion in Africa, South America, and Asia. It is important to learn what works on improving food security and keeping forests standing.
This study provides evidence of the link between deforestation and modern inputs, such as applying inorganic fertilizer on maize and improved seeds by smallholder farmers.
Chris Barrett, the paper’s senior author, said, “there are synergies to using a modern hybrid seed and good agronomic techniques to maintain healthy soils with stopping the degradation of tropical forests and halting climate change.”
Their study also highlights the following results :
- Agricultural intensification revealed a land-sparing effect among smallholder farmers. Land sparing, the practice in which farmers intensify their agrarian preparations to improve their yields, supposedly allowing them to waive expansion into natural areas.
- Improved maize seeds are associated with reduced deforestation.
- Predicted forest cover loss would double without the modern inputs.
- The adoption of the recommended seed application rates reduces forest clearing.
- The key to sustainable intensification is improved seeds and soil conditions.
The Smallholder Farmers
In Zambia, 20 percent of the GDP is on agriculture. Twenty years ago, agriculture accounted for 85 percent of employment, which is a potential source of economic growth. The country has abundant fertile land and good rainfall. However, its agricultural productivity is low, based on global standards.
The primary crop is maize, which is grown by 80 percent of the farming households. Cassava, on the other hand, is the main crop in the northern areas. There are 1.5 million smallholder farmers, with 20 percent headed by women.
Ten years ago, 78 percent of Zambians were extremely to moderately poor in rural areas. The majority of farmers complained that they could not afford agricultural inputs, and there is a lack of capital to finance or expand their farms.
As of 2017, the Zambian government promoted agribusiness investment on large tracts of land as a “panacea” for rural poverty. However, commercial farms also have impacts: it cleared the land of trees and most settlements. Smallholder farmers, who are living and farming in the lands for generations, are displaced to give way to commercial farms, a Human Rights Watch report says. Commercial farms cultivate soybeans and wheat, mixed with other crops, mostly for export.
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