Rich agroforestry ‘home gardens’ in Sri Lanka protect biodiversity while ensuring food security

 

The rich biodiversity of a unique area inside one of Sri Lanka’s largest remaining primary rainforests was a rich source of food and sustenance for local villages for generations.

But when the Sinharaja Man and Biosphere Reserve became part of a UNESCO World Heritage Site, villagers had to fall back on their own resources by creating ‘home gardens’.

Now, writes Chandni Navalkha on the Mongabay website, “the bucolic village landscapes of rice paddies, sprawling tea gardens, and homes are surrounded by some of the most diverse, and biodiverse, gardens in the whole region”.

 

Pitekele village is within the 3km-wide (1.9-mile) buffer zone northwestern of Sinharaja, “the last remaining example of a once extensive mature wet-zone rainforest containing species endemic to Sri Lanka, and is itself a prime example of applied agroforestry”.

While villagers fully support conservation of the forest, creation of the reserve in 1986 meant they could no longer use the forest resources they had always depended on.

Instead, they developed ‘home gardens’, multi-story combinations of trees, shrubs, herbs and lianas planted around houses that are now vital to their livelihoods and food security.

 

A study on Pitekele by Klaus Geiger, in association with Yale University, finds that the tropical home gardens found here demonstrate a much higher species richness than those found in other locations.

The age of home gardens is less well understood, but villager Vijaykumara knows his family has maintained one in Pitekele for at least 200 years. “I am the fifth generation here,” he says, “this is my ancestral village.”

Writes Chandni: “The benefits of home gardens extend from village life to Sri Lanka as a whole. Sri Lanka’s commitment to protecting endangered species and resilience to climate change depends on this important agroforestry system continuing as a widespread land-use option in this biodiversity hotspot and island nation.”

Read more here.

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