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Slash-and-Burn Agriculture Can Increase Forest Biodiversity
Ohio Ag Connection - 11/29/2023

The slash-and-burn agriculture practiced by many Indigenous societies across the world can actually have a positive impact on forests, according to a new study done in Belize.

Researchers found that in areas of the rainforest in which Indigenous farmers using slash-and-burn techniques created intermediate-sized farm patches – neither too small nor too large – there were increases in forest plant diversity.

This contradicts what had long been the standard view in the past, promoted by the United Nations and others, identifying slash-and-burn as a major cause of deforestation around the world, said Sean Downey, lead author of the study and associate professor of anthropology at The Ohio State University.

“Our study provides quantitative evidence that these traditional agricultural practices can have positive outcomes on forests,” said Downey, who is also a core member of Ohio State’s Sustainability Institute and a member of the Translational Data Analytics Institute.

“Indigenous communities deeply understand forest ecology on their own terms and that knowledge leads to practices that can increase biodiversity and help enhance the ecosystem.”

The study was published online recently in the Nature journal Communications: Earth & Environment.

Researchers from Ohio State teamed up with local researchers and community members to study two Q’eqchi’ Maya villages in southern Belize.

The approximately 18,000-acre study area is in the Toledo District of Belize and encompasses the Maya villages of Crique Sarco and Graham Creek. Downey has been working in the villages since 2005.


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