There’s a lengthy review of an interesting-sounding book — People and Forests: Yunnan Swidden Agriculture in Human-Ecological Perspective1 — in the latest Agriculture, Ecosystems and Environment (though the book seems to have been published in 2001). You do need a subscription, but that turned out to be a blessing in disguise, because in an effort to get around the problem I did some googling, and that not only revealed a very similar review (I know because I had access to the AEE piece at work) by the same person2. It also led me to a resource I hadn’t come across before: People, Land Management and Ecosystem Conservation (PLEC) News and Views.
The March 2004 issue, which includes the book review, is devoted to “agrodiversity.” Here’s an excerpt from the introduction, by Miguel Pinedo-Vasquez, PLEC Scientific Coordinator (at the time), which certainly struck a chord:
Smallholder agrodiversity strategies have proved to be effective in dealing with widespread declines in the value of agricultural products, yet they continue to be underutilized by most programmes that aim to reduce rural poverty, environmental degradation, erosion of biological diversity, and other problems affecting rural communities.
Here’s more about PLEC from the website of the Department of Anthropology of the Australian National University:
PLEC is a global network, set up by the United Nations University in 1992. From 1998 until 2002 it was funded by the GEF through UNEP. It brings together over 200 professionals, including more than 130 scientists and researchers, together with 190 skilled expert farmers, and 180 undergraduate and graduate students. PLEC members work out of 65 institutions in Brazil, China, Ghana, Guinea, Jamaica, Kenya, Mexico, Papua New Guinea, Peru, Thailand, Tanzania, Uganda, Britain, the United States and Australia. From 1992 until 2002 it was coordinated scientifically by Em. Prof. Harold Brookfield, who is now Senior Adviser.
Conservation through agriculture underpins PLEC’s approach to conserving and utilising biological diversity. Most biodiversity projects relate to protected areas or crop plants alone. PLEC is unique still in its strong and pervading management approach to biodiversity in the context of the livelihoods and social organization of smallholder farmers. Through generations of innovation and experiment, they have nurtured a great diversity of plants and animals, both wild or domesticated, and accumulated rich knowledge of the managed biodiversity.
PLEC also has its own website, where you can subscribe to an electronic list.
Anyway, back to the book about swidden cultivation in Yunnan which started all this. One of the reasons the review caught my attention was the mention of the use of Alnus nepalensis in local agroforestry systems, and in particular the description of that tree as a nitrogen fixer. I had totally forgotten about the phenomenon of “alder-type” actinorhizal symbiosis between some plants and fungi of the genus Frankia. Fungi are agricultural biodiversity too!