Building silvopasture systems and expanding riparian corridors radiating from protected natural areas
About the Implementing organization
Name: Fundación Cordillera Tropical
Year of establishment: 2000
Type of organization: Community-based association or organization / Legally recognized non-profit status
As road access in Sangay National Park and its buffer areas grows, regional economic ties allow access to this once isolated region. As a result, landowners dependent on dairy farming were initially expanding pastures into native cloud forest adjacent to or within the park, though FCT’s research showed that production conditions were marginal with no net increase to family income while causing considerable environmental impacts.
In response, FCT's innovations in silvopasture techniques seek to restore and protect environmental services while helping local ranchers achieve a dignified income by adopting sustainable ranching practices to improve milk and beef production. Novel in southern Ecuador, these practices incorporate native and forage trees into pastures, providing cows a nutritional complement to a grass diet, while achieving an array of conservation objectives (described below). In exchange for planting and tending trees in their grass pastures and along their riparian (stream) zones, landowners receive materials and training, such as mobile electric fencing for dynamic grazing management, to continue production improvements. The ultimate goal is to slow the advance of the ranching frontier by transforming ranching practices, making them environmentally and economically sustainable in existing pastures.
Forests / Mountains / Rivers / Wildlife
Type of Action
Protection / Restoration / Sustainable use / Pollution prevention, clean up / Awareness and education
Sustainable Development Element
Jobs and livelihoods / Food security / Water security / Disaster risk reduction / Health / Renewable energy / Climate action
Together, FCT and local landowners have to date planted >30,000 high-protein, species-diverse trees and perennial plants in forage banks, wind breaks, living fences, and riparian forest buffers on 23 properties in the project area’s mountainous terrain. Trees planted as part of these silvopasture initiatives are still young (0.5 to 3 years on-site growth), but are already helping achieve the project’s environmental objectives. These include: slowing loss of fertile topsoil to erosion; providing wildlife habitat and enhanced connectivity; sequestering carbon in growing forested areas; mitigating water contamination and siltation of riverine aquatic habitats; reducing risk of mass-wasting on slopes that lead to landslide disasters; helping ecosystems adapt to future climate change via planting species with wide ranges of environmental tolerances and via creating migration (dispersal) corridors; and avoiding further deforestation in the Park by halting the advance of the ranching frontier.
Sustainable Development Impacts
Silvopasture solutions in the Nudo del Azuay explicitly aim to protect water and food security, promote sustainable livelihoods, take climate action, enable more efficient renewable energy, and mitigate disaster risk. Planted areas improve water quality by increasing infiltration rates in upland areas and act as barriers to flash runoff of sediment and pollutants, particularly human and animal wastes, in these Andean headwaters of the Amazon River that are used downstream for drinking water, irrigation, and renewable (hydroelectric) energy. Such activities directly seek to alleviate poverty and hunger by doing more with less, improving livelihoods and keeping people on the land with decent incomes, while maintaining a healthy food source for themselves and for distribution to regional consumers.
Reforestation efforts to mitigate erosion and landslides have been undertaken in other parts of Ecuador by various Ministries, programs, or public companies each with their own conditions and ends. But a persistent impediment to long-lasting afforestation is lack of landowner buy-in, when these individuals don’t see the benefit to themselves and their economic well-being of allowing the planted trees to continue growing on their land. By engaging landowners in a responsive, dynamic process over the last 3 years that is designed to interest and benefit them directly via production improvements to their livelihood, FCT has demonstrated the key to a successful program ready for scaling up. Sensitivity to local ecological, social and economic realities is central to this initiative’s design, so scaling up may involve adjustment to other livelihoods and other deforestation drivers/pressures. But the core win-win approach could be applied, with creativity and local knowledge, to any context.
FCT’s silvopasture program began as demonstration plots in early 2014, testing silvopasture tactics being promoted in Colombia to the north. Since that time, FCT together with local landowners have been steadily measuring, adapting and replicating this approach for the Ecuadorian Andes, where it’s never been implemented before to FCT’s knowledge. Last year, community environmental monitors trained by FCT (See Solution 3) formed a small business enterprise to take over this silvopastoral approach, and with funding from the downstream hydroelectric company will reforest 80+ ha in 2017. Ecuador has the highest average overall population density in South America, so the urgent need to replicate this kind of solution for conservation that involves rural livelihoods is clear; and when local livelihoods and regional business interests are engaged to mutual benefit, there is every reason to believe this program can be replicated wherever the social and economic conditions are appropriate.
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