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Wildlife & Farmland: A Two-Way Relationship

A balance must be achieved on farms that allows for wildlife demands while not compromising food production potential

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As the world's population grows, more land will need to be diverted to agricultural production in order to fulfil rising food demand. This has the potential to increase the conversion of land that hasn't been used for agriculture before, as well as intensify agricultural activity on land that has already been used for food production. As the dominant land use type spanning about 60 per cent of the country, farmland habitat, also known as the agroecosystem, is possibly the most important ecosystem in India in terms of wildlife and biodiversity. As a result of agricultural intensification and industrialisation, this ecosystem has recently been linked to significant biodiversity loss and reductions.

Whilst carved-out Protected Areas provide some protection for wildlife, they only cover 4.9 percent of India's land area. As the ecosystem productivity and function are reliant on biodiversity, It is important for ecosystem stability, which is an indicator of a system's ability to adapt to environmental change, such as climate change. A balance must be achieved on farms that allows for wildlife demands while not compromising food production potential. This gives individual landowners and farmers the chance to contribute to the solution to the catastrophic loss of biodiversity. Although for years, private land conservation has been undertaken throughout Africa and Latin America, in South Asian countries such as India, it is less well-known, and there is some uncertainty about how it would work.

In the agro-ecosystem, land management is one of the most crucial elements impacting biodiversity. Management strategies such as fertiliser use and prolonged grazing in grassland systems, for example, have been proven to reduce biodiversity. Because of the decline in habitat diversity, these activities cause landscapes to become increasingly simple and homogeneous (Biotic Homogenisation), resulting in the loss of species both above and below ground. Synthetic fertilisers, notably nitrogen and phosphorus, are used extensively in modern intensive agriculture for crop management. This enrichment may have an impact on species richness by enhancing the competitive potential of a few productive species, resulting in fewer species overall. Increased depletion of soil organic matter and changes in soil microbial activity rates are both influenced by biotic homogenisation. Farming methods that use low nutrient inputs, such as organic farming, can help to decrease biodiversity loss, and these farms are often more wildlife-rich than conventionally managed farms. A number of recent studies have discovered that mixed agriculture-forest landscapes around protected areas can help to conserve biodiversity. The findings of these research all point to the importance of considering agricultural areas for biodiversity conservation because of their ability to serve as supplementary habitat.

There are two primary methods to promoting biodiversity conservation in farmlands at the moment: (i) Land Sparing - where portions of agricultural land are intensively managed to increase yield, allowing other land to return to a semi-natural state, which can then act as biodiversity reservoirs. (ii) Wildlife-Friendly Farming - where agricultural practises are tailored to enhance wildlife populations by creating a more integrated system. Both approaches have the potential to promote biodiversity and are not mutually exclusive as the goal is to increase the availability of resources for wildlife such as food and shelter in both cases.

By excluding areas of land from production around the edges of fields and restricting exposure to fertiliser and pesticide application, wildlife will benefit from increased food and habitat prospects. The amount of land that can be conserved depends on the size of the field and farm, but even a one-meter strip or bund between crops has been found to benefit wildlife. A strip of habitat in the middle of a field, for example, can be established to provide habitat for smaller mammals and invertebrates. Tree plantations, which provide woody vegetation patches, can also help wildlife and will have other ecosystem service benefits, such as carbon sequestration, to mitigate the changing climate. Wildlife-friendly farming practises can benefit wildlife species that are beneficial to agriculture, such as those that pollinate crops or act as natural control of crop pests. This, in turn, could have a positive effect on agricultural output.

Based on the existing evidences, providing shelter and food for wildlife on farms may have a positive impact on prospective production yield as well as enhancing ecosystem service delivery. Such initiatives may become even more critical in the long-term as a result of current rates of environmental change, which are anticipated to add additional pressure to an already vulnerable ecosystem. It may be able to increase the potential for resilience in the agroecosystem by modifying farming practises to conserve biodiversity by providing for wildlife, thereby helping to future-proof it against projected climatic disruptions.

About the authors: Manish Dabkara is CMD & CEO of EKI Energy Services Ltd; Arun Kumar is Senior Manager (Nature based Solutions) at EKI Energy Services Ltd.

Disclaimer: The views expressed in the article above are those of the authors' and do not necessarily represent or reflect the views of this publishing house. Unless otherwise noted, the author is writing in his/her personal capacity. They are not intended and should not be thought to represent official ideas, attitudes, or policies of any agency or institution.

Tags assigned to this article:
farmlands agroecosystem wildlife

Manish Dabkara

The author is CMD & CEO of EKI Energy Services Ltd.

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Arun Kumar

Senior Manager (Nature based Solutions) at EKI Energy Services Ltd

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