Small Scale Diversity is Healthier than Huge Monocultures

I’ve been rereading EarthDance, and I also picked up the Nature Conservancy’s magazine.  I read about a project in Northern Australia (Fish River Station) where they are giving a big chunk of land back to the Aboriginal people to manage.  Before the European settlers came, the Aboriginal people created a patchwork of small controllable fires on the open grassland.  This mosaic burning produces a landscape that is resistant to big fires because the burned areas create firebreaks.  The following year, the burned place is rejuvenated, providing food for a variety of wildlife.  When the European settlers came, they created huge “Stations” (Fish River Station is 700 sq mi) where they planned to graze large herds of animals.  But because the harsh climate alternates between lots of rain and then no rain at all for months, this system didn’t thrive.  It’s very similar to monocultures which are vulnerable to unusual weather or large numbers of pests, versus diversity planting which has strength and sustainability.  It also makes me think of the way women in India preserve the forests through a system of learning about the trees in great detail, going in to harvest only what they need for food, fuel and medicine.  This knowledge has been passed down from generation to generation.  The result is a forest that is sustainable instead of the flooding and erosion caused by clear-cutting.  A similar story is of farmland that’s irrigated by a system of small ditches and earth dams that can be created or removed by one person with a shovel.  Again, the people need to understand how the system works in great detail, so they will know exactly how long to water a particular patch under a variety of conditions, and also how to adjust things so the water is distributed evenly in a way that works for the whole community.  (I couldn’t find my original source for this information so I Googled, found one such system in Bali, also the entry in Wikipedia is somewhat helpful.  Very frustrating. It’s probably in some book I read, about some entirely different subject. Sorry folks.)


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