Traditional farming strategies could protect humanity against global warming and prevent deadly wildfires. Yet scientists seem determined to ignore them
Prejudice against indigenous people is visible and ingrained in cultures everywhere, from US football team names (the Washington Redskins for example) to Hindu folk tales where the forest peoples are rakshasas, or demons.
But it’s arguable that these prejudices also influence our science and policy. Take, for example, the specialised method of rotational farming used by many indigenous farmers all over the world but particularly in the global south. Farmers use seasonal fires to clear and farm parcels of natural landscapes and rotate their crops while the previously farmed parcel is allowed to regain fertility and natural vegetation – a method known as swidden agriculture. This technique helps preserve the soil quality and creates variation that helps counter the dominance of a few species and promotes biodiversity. It also helps prevent larger wildfires of the type that ravaged California recently, leaving 41 people dead and causing financial losses worth $30bn (£22.7bn). After decades of neglect, the US Forest Service is now embracing the Native American methods of fire management.