Can Agroforestry Save the Amazon?
The Amazon rainforest is under severe threat. The summer of 2019 saw an 84% increase in the number of fires occurring in Brazil's Amazon forests. This a not only a catastrophe for the millions of plant and animal species that inhabit the Amazon, but also for our planets climate, due to the enormous reserves of carbon that will be burnt as a result.
Although wildfires do occur naturally in Brazil, there has also been an increase due to deliberate attempts to deforest land for cattle grazing. Brazil's president, Jair Bolsonaro, has come under increased criticism for his lack of action, as well as his suggestion in April, that a protected reserve in the Amazon may be opened up to mining.
The largest rainforest in the world is a vital carbon store that slows down the pace of global warming. It is also home to about three million species of plants and animals, and one million indigenous people. It is therefore essential that every attempt is made to prevent further deforestation.
One farming practice that could make a difference is Agroforestry.
What is Agroforestry?
The term agroforestry was coined in the 1970's and refers to a system of land use management which involves growing both trees and agricultural or horticultural crops on the same piece of land. In the Amazon this means that crops such as coffee and cacao can be cultivated under the canopy of tropical forest. Agroforestry has the potential to maximise food production from an ecosystem, while increasing the value of land and biodiversity.
How can Agroforesty help?
The combination of agriculture and forestry has a number of benefits for the local ecosystem; primarily increased biodiversity and reduced erosion. This is because agroforests provide a habitat suitable for native forest-dependent species whilst stemming deforestation.
Agroforestry systems aren't currently widely used in South America. This is primarily because the free access to natural resources makes it more economically attractive to set up large scale intensive agricultural production, with crops such as coffee, cocoa and sugar cane.
However with the ongoing environmental crisis, farmers should be utilising traditional methods such as agroforestry, that help replenish forest cover, whilst maintaining important ecological mechanisms such as the water cycle and carbon capture.
What can you do?
Although farming practices like agroforestry will help protect the Amazon, we must all take responsibility for our own actions. Much of the produce grown in the Amazon is exported to Western countries and consumed by you and I. It is therefore essential that we reduce or, even better, cease our meat consumption. Rainforest beef is typically found in fast food hamburgers or processed beef products. Reducing your consumption of beef will lower demand for it, reducing pressure to clear more forests for cattle.
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