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Hybrid improved tree fallows : harnessing invasive legumes for agroforestry
For several decades, agroforestry specialists have promoted the planting of fallow fields with nitrogen-fixing, fast-growing trees or shrubs to accelerate soil rehabilitation and provide secondary products like woodfuel. Yet, such 'improved fallows' have not been widely adopted, in part due to the costs of labour and seedlings. In some situations, however, farmers have developed novel approaches to agroforestry fallows by taking advantage of spontaneous invasions of woody leguminous tree species present in the vicinity of their fields. In this paper, we examine cases from Réunion, highland Madagascar, the Bateke plateau in Congo, and the Palni hills of southern India where farmers have adapted their cultivation practices to take advantage of the invasive characteristics of Australian acacias that were introduced earlier for other reasons. We focus on the key social, economic, and environmental factors that influence farmers in these places to gain opportunistic benefit from these introduced tree species that biologists have been deemed invasive and damaging to local ecosystems and biodiversity. We conclude that opportunistic fallowing of invasives can be viewed as a hybrid strategy combining elements of natural fallows and improved fallows-which we call 'hybrid improved fallows'-in that it takes advantage of the 'weedy' characteristics of introduced leguminous tree species in the landscape and offers a cost-effective and pragmatic strategy for soil and vegetation management for farmers.
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