Paludiculture in its true, eco-friendly form is a rare practice. I suspect this is because it requires traditional environmental knowledge about local ecosystems and is limited by regulations or competition surrounding resource use. First, let’s go over the different types of environmentally conscious agriculture.
- Sustainable agriculture is farming in a way that doesn’t destroy the planet. Some might view this term as a complicated word for gardening, others may argue that it must be large scale. For me, all of the terms in this list are types of sustainable agriculture!
- Subsistence agriculture is when people plant just enough crops or raise just enough livestock to feed themselves or their family.
- Aquaculture is raising and harvesting fish, crustaceans, mollusks, aquatic plants, algae, or other aquatic creatures in controlled conditions to reduce the impact of commercial fishing on wild populations.
- Permaculture is the art of mimicking natural systems in an efficient way in order to meet agricultural needs, build community resilience, and restore the environment.
- Paludiculture is when food, paper, biofuel, or other resources are grown alongside natural vegetation in peatlands with rewetted soil. One goal of this practice is to reduce greenhouse gas emissions.
In Europe, the term “paludiculture” is used very loosely to describe plots of land that are heavily farmed for peat, sphagnum moss, or other wetland plants. It has even been used to describe wastewater treatment wetlands and wetlands used for raising livestock. Indonesia provides some of the best examples of sustainable paludiculture. According to Wetlands International, paludiculture reduces the occurence of Karhutla, or forest and land fires, because it helps maintain higher water table levels than other agricultural or development activities. It also reduces harm from smoke inhalation, greenhouse gas emissions, loss of biodiversity, and loss of local food resources & income. Industrial forest plantations can benefit from the water table management features of paludiculture as well.
“In Indonesia there are three areas that could be the example of paludiculture practices such as beje system in Kutai and Banjar Tribes in East Kalimantan, Nut plantations in Segedong West Kalimantan, and Sago farming in Meranti Island district and Riau Province.” – Food and Agriculture Organization of the U.N.
Some scientists doubt the integrity of paludiculture projects where wetlands are only partially rewetted rather than fully restored to historical water table levels. In this study conducted by a scientist at the Forest Research and Development Centre of Bogor, Indonesia, it is recommended that all drainage canals be removed and peatlands be rewetted & planted with suitable crop and tree species in order to be considered “paludiculture”. It was also noted that peatlands in Indonesia were once largely unused, with the exception of non-timber purposes on the local scale, but over time these ecosystems have suffered from over-use.
Still, the data on the environmental impact of various forms of paludiculture is severely lacking. In my own searches for information I have been unable to find studies that measure long-term, high frequency greenhouse gas emissions from “true” paludiculture plots, replicated studies, or studies that compare emissions across wetlands with varying degrees of degradation. I think it is essential to thoroughly understand all environmental and social impacts of paludiculture (good, bad, and in-between) before eliminating it as a sustainable way to move forward. As scientists work towards understanding our changing world, more studies will emerge that provide answers to questions just like this one. The question is, will they be able to find the answers quick enough?