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Sheffield 99 Monday, 13 September, 1999, 18:03 GMT 19:03 UK
Rice crop to fight rainforest destruction
Corinne Podger

By BBC Science's Corinne Podger

An isolated rainforest community on the island of Java in Indonesia is tackling the destruction caused by slash-and-burn agriculture by planting rice crops on the same land as fast-growing trees.

Festival of Science
The Baduy people of western Java regard the small pocket of rainforest they live in as sacred, and in a bid to prevent its depletion, they have made a rare concession to outsiders. They have accepted to plant trees, known as Albassieh, which come from eastern Indonesia.

The Albassieh tree is a legume, and like other legumes, it soaks up nitrogen from the air and returns it to the soil, so that land can be re-used for crops.

And it grows to maturity in just four years, compared to around 25 years for rainforest species, and so its timber is ready for cutting far more quickly. This allows the native rainforest to be preserved.

Burning rainforest
Crop will combat destruction of slash and burn farming
The Baduy people have traditionally resisted agricultural modernisation or interactions with outsiders, and refuse to grow cash crops like coffee or cloves.

But the threat to nearby rainforest and the need to support a growing community prompted their decision to accept Albassieh seeds from the Indonesian Agriculture Extension Service.

Professor Roy Ellen, of the University of Kent and Canterbury, studies the Baduy community, and presented his results at the annual British Science Festival in Sheffield, England.

He says the Baduy solution could help protect other threatened rainforests, such as forests in Sumatra. But more importantly, he says, it is an unusual - but highly beneficial - combination of agricultural science with indigenous knowledge and culture.

Links to more Sheffield 99 stories are at the foot of the page.


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