Sri Lanka's Pitekele utilizes agroforestery to boost its biodiversity
These unusually diverse agroforestry systems have reduced the pressure on native primary rainforest and serve to provide habitat, forest cover, biodiversity and food security within the buffer zone, where land is otherwise quickly being converted to tea plantations.
Home gardens in Sri Lanka's Pitekele enjoy a total species richness of 219 species in 181 genera and 73 families which is way higher than the neighbouring areas, making Pitekele a prime example of applied agroforestry.
Pitekele, literally meaning "the village outside the forest," is located inside the 3-kilometre buffer zone on the northwestern side of Sinharaja, once an extensive mature wet-zone rainforest containing endemic Sri Lankan species.
Villagers and the protected area have a complex relationship. They give full support to the conservation of the forest as it contributes to the local climate and clean water. But the conservation rules established in 1986 have curtailed their ability to use forest resources upon which they have thrived for generations.
These restrictions have compelled the villagers' "home gardens" that are multi-story combinations of trees in a terrace pattern, shrubs, herbs and lianas planted around their houses and have become significantly important for their livelihoods and food security.
Growing their own food in these gardens makes sure that even if the price of tea change, villagers in Pitekele are food secure. A study by Geiger et al. with Yale University found that an equal amount of Pitekele's land area is in tea cultivation as in home gardens.
Recognizing this, the Sri Lankan government has encouraged the establishment of home gardens through its rural development and agricultural policies. In 2011, the Sri Lankan Department of Livelihoods (Divi Neguma, later consolidated into the poverty alleviation program known as Samurdhi) launched an initiative to foster the establishment of more than 1 million home gardens. Annual targets continue to extend this number; in 2016, the Ministry of Agriculture aimed to create 500,000 additional home gardens throughout Sri Lanka.