Adaptation to climate change: silvopastoral systems in Central America
Livestock farming is one of the principal land uses in Central America with 13 million hectares in pastures, and with a high percentage of the population dependent on this activity as the main way of life. However, the predominant monoculture pasture-based production systems in the region are associated with high environmental degradation and low animal productivity. It is estimated that more than 50% of the pastures are in an advanced process of degradation, which could decrease productivity by less than 50% of their potential. This situation is aggravated by variability and climate change, especially due to the greater incidence and duration of droughts.
Silvopastoral systems could be one of the best alternatives to recover degraded pastures, increase livestock productivity, improve the environment and build resilience to climate change.
The project aimed at generating scientific knowledge for the design of modern silvopastoral systems that are resilient to climate change, and that offer better indicators of livestock profitability, generation of ecosystem services and contribute to the reduction of rural poverty.
The project had the following components: i) Analysis of pasture degradation and climate change effects in livelihoods; ii) Construction of a local and scientific knowledge base on functional traits of woody and herbaceous species for the design of silvopastoral systems; iii) Bioengineering of silvopastoral systems for adaptation and mitigation to climate change; and, iv) Design of a financial mechanism for the compensation of ecosystem services in silvopastoral systems.
The technological solution
The project has generated knowledge about the characteristics of dual-purpose livestock production systems in three representative locations in Nicaragua, Costa Rica and Panama. It has identified the limitations in the quality of pastures and productive practices. It has also identified alternatives to improve production systems and therefore livestock productivity, as well as producers' perceptions regarding the practice of silvopastoral systems, and has also quantified the benefits of using better technologies in both productive and environmental terms.
Existing policies have been identified in the three countries to promote livestock farming and a set of incentives has been designed to promote the implementation of silvopastoral systems. These could generate both productive, economic and environmental benefits.
The dairy-beef system predominates in all three countries. In Nicaragua, 77.5% of pastures are in fair or very poor condition, while in Costa Rica, 50% are in good condition and 37% need to be recovered, and in Panama 51% are in fair condition.
The biggest costs are in feed, labor and rental of grazing areas. Most of the farms obtained positive net profits, being in some cases the only source of income for producing families. Livestock productivity is directly related to pasture conditions. The following strategies are recommended to improve them: longer rest period, fertilization and weed control; association with legumes; silvopastoral systems with legumes and diversified silvopastoral systems with forage banks.
Regarding the bioengineering of silvopastoral systems and the perception about their adoption, it was found: i) the induction tours to demonstration plots motivated the inclusion of the systems in farm plans and that farmers who carried them out for more than three years implemented more than 51% of the practices; ii) in the Nicaraguan Dry Corridor, Fabaceae species represented more than 30% of the 47 identified woody species and that in the Compasagua river basin wooded pastures increased from 665 ha in 1980 to 6646 in 2010; iii) that as technological level increases, the water footprint (lt of water / lt of milk) decreases; iv) 85 to 115 trees per ha are recommended in paddocks; and v) in Panama, 61% of the trees were found in live fences, 32% in paddocks and only 6.8% in riparian forests. Incentive schemes were designed: credit, payment for environmental services and incorporation of environmental benefits into financial schemes.
10 scientific articles, two undergraduate theses and eight postgraduate theses were produced.
The direct beneficiaries were the dozens of researchers, technicians, and undergraduate and graduate students from the three countries that participated in the project, as well as the hundreds of professionals and scientists who have had access to the presentations and publications of the project. They accessed new knowledge about the characteristics of silvopastoral systems in the region, their limitations and ways to improve them.
Indirectly and potentially benefiting would be the thousands of livestock producers in the three participating countries, as well as those from other countries with similar agro-ecological conditions. They could have access to the knowledge generated in the project, and adopt silvopastoral systems that would result in productive and environmental improvements.
Sustainable Development Goals
- Centro Agronómico Tropical de Investigación y Enseñanza (CATIE) - Costa Rica
- Instituto de Innovación Agropecuaria de Panamá (IDIAP) - Panamá
- Instituto Nacional de Innovación y Transferencia en Tecnología Agropecuaria (INTA) - Costa Rica
- Instituto Nicaragüense de Tecnología Agropecuaria (INTA) - Nicaragua