Pineapple agroforestry could help tackle climate change and biodiversity loss

Pineapple agroforestry could help tackle climate change and biodiversity loss

Agroforestry based on pineapples, as done traditionally by the ethnic "Hmar" tribe in southern Assam, has the potential to be a more sustainable alternative to jhum farming in North East India. According to a new study, this ancient method may hold the key to combating climate change and biodiversity loss. The Department of Ecology and Environmental Science at Assam University, Silchar conducted this study with support from the Department of Science and Technology's Climate Change Program Division (DST).

Researchers are exploring for agroforestry options that combine high carbon storage capacity and tree diversity with answers to climate change and biodiversity loss, according to a DST statement.

Jhum farming, also known as swidden agriculture, has become unsustainable in the region due to the reduced fallow cycle, which results in soil nutrient depletion, significant soil erosion, and low agronomic productivity. Thus, North East India and many south Asian countries have shifted away from traditional jhum methods in recent decades and toward agroforestry and high-value farming systems, which are regarded more sustainable and economic alternatives.

The study analysed tree diversity and ecosystem carbon storage through the lens of the indigenous populations' traditional agroforestry system. It demonstrated that the approach they utilise preserves a stable ecosystem carbon store while lowering land-use-related carbon emissions and generating significant co-benefits to communities.

The research team, led by Arun Jyoti Nath, Associate Professor in the Department of Ecology and Environmental Science at Assam University, conducted this study in ethnic villages in Assam's Cachar district, which is located in the Himalayan foothills and the Indo-Burma region, which is home to a global biodiversity hotspot. They investigated changes in tree diversity and the transition of dominant tree species from swidden agriculture to various PAFS ages. Additionally, the changes in biomass carbon and ecosystem carbon storage in tree and pineapple components from swidden agriculture were noticed throughout different PAFS ages.

Farmers employ traditional knowledge for tree selection based on prior knowledge and long-term farming experience, the researchers discovered. Additionally, live fences comprised of fruit trees such as Areca catechu and Musa species are planted along agricultural boundaries. The living fence works as a windbreak and shelterbelt, thereby reducing soil erosion. Combining commercially significant plants such as Albiziaprocera, Parkiatimoriana, and Aquilariamalaccensis with fruit trees such as papaya, lemon, guava, litchi, and mango with pineapple allows for year-round consumption and sale. The top canopy trees control light, increase biomass inputs, and diversify farms, resulting in increased soil fertility and plant nutrition. The tree-related management approaches encourage farmers to conserve their preferred indigenous fruit trees. Farmers introduce rubber trees to older pineapple agroforestry fields.

The research demonstrates that the approach can be implemented to the REDD+ mechanism to contribute to carbon capture and deforestation reduction by increasing tree cover, which may further incentivize poor farmers against receiving carbon credits.

In the Indian Eastern Himalayas and other regions of Asia, pineapple agroforestry systems (PAFS) are the primary land use. They are typically planted in conjunction with multifunctional trees. For ages, the ethnic "Hmar" group in southern Assam has cultivated pineapple. They currently perform indigenous PAFS for both domestic use and economic advantage. They have developed an agroforestry system that is truly unique through the use of traditional knowledge.

The study, which was just published in the journal 'Journal of Environmental Management,' can provide information on the emission factor for indigenous agro-ecosystems in North East India for mitigation reasons, which may aid in the creation of community-based incentives. Additionally, it could provide forest managers with data to account for changes in carbon storage caused by deforestation and jhum production. (Inputs : India Scientific Wire)