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Deforestation rates in Papua New Guinea (PNG) are more rapid than the Brazilian Amazon. This high rate of forest degradation and loss largely impacts scientific understanding of biodiversity in PNG. While many factors have been linked to deforestation and land degradation in PNG, the relationship between agricultural practices and deforestation have not been fully examined. The effects of agricultural expansion have been overestimated in some areas due to population growth, the negative perception of swidden agriculture (slash-and-burn), and difficulties in discerning agriculture from logged areas in aerial imagery. To examine how swidden agricultural strategies contribute to land cover changes a coastal village was selected. This village, Kamiali, has thwarted logging industry advances and maintained primary forest cover. To assess agricultural and land use changes participatory research was conducted and responses were linked to land cover change via aerial imagery.
Temporal analyses of satellite imagery revealed that cultivated area in Kamiali has increased by 9% between 1992 and 2010 despite an estimated population growth of 63%. Thus, agricultural strategies other than expansion were employed to sustain the population. Interviews supported intensification strategies, which included 1) shortened fallows, 2) an increase in crops planted per area, and 3) new cultivar and crop introductions. The intensification was supported with brightness-wetness index, a tasseled cap band subtraction analysis. Image differencing then suggested a temporal increase in crop coverage and density. These results show that subsistence agriculture has influenced land cover changes, but has not been a major contributor to deforestation rates in Kamiali.