Most farmers and ranchers have always understood that they need to be gentle with their lands to keep them producing. To put it another way, they work within the limitations of their lands and use whatever’s offered in surrounding areas to improve their chances of a successful harvest.

Aubudon‘s March-April 2009 issue had a short article on farmers in the Western Ghats, mountains on India’s west coast. The farmers there grow arecanut (betelnut), vanilla, coffee, bananas, and fruit trees near and in tropical forests. According to the article, “90 percent of the 51 forest bird species (including great hornbills and crested serpent-eagles) living in the region’s undisturbed native forests also live in cultivated arecanut palm plantations and other agricultural areas.” Apparently the farms’ mix of crops creates multiple layers that resemble the structure of nearby forests.

Why haven’t the farmers cleared the forests surrounding their farms? Because they use cartloads of leaf litter as mulch on their farms.

How is this restoration? Perhaps “tradition” might be a better word, or “maintenance.” To me, it seems like common sense. If you can farm or ranch in an area without clearing all the land and disposing of the trees and shrubs, why not do so? It’s less work.

As an ecologist quoted in the article points out, species that can’t adapt to agriculture may very well go extinct. That is especially true in crowded countries such as India and China.

Anything we can do to make agricultural lands more friendly to wild animals will help. Of course, in the case of large animals like elephants, and predators like wolves and cats, improving habitat around farmlands will also cause greater conflicts with human beings. It’s a balancing act that we have never truly mastered, but I believe we will be getting more and more practice in the years to come.

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