Farmers, biodiversity and plant protection: Developing a learning environment for sustainable tree cropping systems
Van Mele, P.
Van Chien, H.
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More diverse, perennial cropping systems often have better natural mechanisms for keeping pests at bay. But while scientists emphasise the broad benefits of conservation in terms of effective ecosystem functioning, farmers are more interested in biodiversity for the provision of food or of services such as shade or windbreaks. Because of their limited knowledge of the role of biodiversity in plant protection, farmers sometimes unconsciously disturb natural regulatory mechanisms. Some citrus farmers in Vietnam introduced sapodilla as an intercrop to diversify their source of income, and because this fruit tree requires little care. However, this apparently worthwhile attempt to combine two valuable crops has misfired. The ecological conditions that traditionally sustained natural pest control in citrus have been disturbed, thus trapping farmers in the pesticide treadmill. The weaver ant Oecophylla smaragdina stopped protecting citrus from stinkbugs and leaf-feeding caterpillars after facing competition from the black ant Dolichoderus thoracicus, which favours sapodilla trees as a nesting habitat. To avoid similar scenarios in the future, methods for linking scientific research on ecosystem functions with farmers' own knowledge, experience and priorities are presented. Examples are given of ways in which farmers in perennial cropping systems learn, and how scientists can facilitate this learning process.