Q: What often happens when acres of forests are replaced with a monoculture (a single crop)?
Answer: the complexity of multi-species plant associations works synergistically.
- Soil fertility measurably declines compared to species rich communities;
- The predator-prey balance is upset, thus insects pests move in – requiring pesticides for mono-crops (see excerpt below)
- Increase in plant disease (see excerpt below about banana plantations)
- Decline in fauna as well as flora (ex: the Resplendent Quetzal became endangered with the laurel trees it relies on for food were taken out)
- On very large scale, can upset climate and socioeconomics
A Place in the World gave me a chance to insert some facts in my fiction that people may not know much about. Here are two excerpts. The first is in Chapter 2, where the Colombian owner is explaining to a guest about growing coffee; his young daughter-in-law, Alicia, is a biologist.
“See the trees there in the center of the field? Long time ago, when our Carvallo grandfathers cleared the land for planting, they did it a little by little, like los indios.”
Felipe spread his arms to take in the landscape. He told them a few fruit trees were left standing on each small plot and an occasional large tree was left for shade or because it was simply too big to take out. The cafetal thus had the pleasing effect of blending into the surrounding cloud forest. Of course the natural vegetation was constantly encroaching at the edges. “But sometimes this is where the most healthy and abundant crop is produced.”
“Allowing the native trees and plants to remain probably makes Carvallo coffee more resistant to disease and infestation than the larger operations,” Alicia speculated.
Don Felipe smiled at her tolerantly. “No, I think is because we take very good care of the land, and Finca Las Nubes is in the perfect location…it’s too hot down in el valle and too cloudy and cool farther up la montaña.”
She didn’t bother to point out that many banana plantations succumbed to blight and insects when the balance of plants and animals was destroyed for a large mono-culture covering many hectares.
* los indios = the native Indigenous people; a cafetal is a coffee field; la montaña is a mountain; el valle is the valley.
The excerpt below is from Chapter 18, The Coffee Connoisseur, where Alicia has taken over running the cafetales and a Dutchman is approaching her about buying her organic, shade grown coffee. This was mid-late 1970’s at the beginning of the specialty coffee market.
“… Most everyone else grows coffee in a mono-culture and it is more susceptible to insects, ” Van de Lande said.
“And disease too,” Alicia added
“Oh yes. Just like bananas. When foreign fruit companies planted thousands of acres in bananas, a disease that loved bananas moved in and wreaked havoc. Of course the natural check and balance system was destroyed when the rainforest was plowed in for the crop.”
“And now they are spraying and dusting for disease and insects, but it has not recovered,” she shook her head.
“We don’t want insecticides or pesticides of any kind here,” Van de Lande said.
Van der Lande refers to Panama disease, a fungus that attacked the banana monoculture crop of United Fruit; a single variety had been planted. Chemicals were dumped on the crops, but it didn’t work and the company moved on to make the same mistake in other countries. In 1935, an even more virulent fungus completely wiped out (United Fruit’s variety of) the banana and a new variety was planted. Standard Fruit and United Fruit companies have been accused of exploitative practices. Gabriel Garcia Marquez depicted an infamous strike and massacre in Cien Años de Soledad. (Disclosure: I worked as a bilingual teacher one year in Puerto Limon, Costa Rica. The school was funded by United Fruit Co.)
I don’t want to leave you with the impression that A Place in the World is solely an environmental novel. My publisher calls it a romantic adventure (and I like to think, literary) story with a multinational cast of characters. For more go to my home page or http://amzn.to/19wSFfX