Forest concern, a better synergy between agriculture and ecosystem services
The beginning of the new year is a great opportunity to share progress on studies recently started by CIAT to generate new knowledge on the synergy between agriculture and ecosystem services in upland Ucayali (Peru). This part of the Amazon region has been showing increasing and alarming rates of deforestation. The landscape has been significantly modified by logging and land use change during the past twenty years: especially along the main highway and its ancillaries, cocoa and pasture have replaced large parts of the original forest. Oil palm cultivation, which started as a United Nations development plan to substitute coca production in the late 90s, has increased strongly as a cash generating business, albeit heavily subsidized by the government. On the other side, although significantly declined, coca production is still an issue and a real challenge for researchers to understand its role in household income, security and deforestation.
The first phase of the studies that CIAT is developing was carried out in the communities of Pueblo Libre, Yerbas Buenas, Naranjal and La Union and based on a participatory approach. Three main activities were conducted: mapping key moments in land use change at the community level to understand the dynamics intervened since an IDRC-CIAT study carried out in the early 2000s; describing costs and benefits of cash crops and cattle production that may compete with forest areas; and mapping the current functioning of local farming systems and their potential short-term changes.
Mapping together different farming systems, five management strategies were identified
During five focus groups we drew maps with 23 farmers highlighting the main flows between the different sub-systems of the farm and particularly between forest and production activities. Once a comparative analysis was done, five management strategies were identified as well as the associated role of forest in the system:
- Transition strategy where farmers are in the phase of setting up or decapitalisation after a shock: the system is not diversified, farmers cultivate mainly for home consumption, and forest is a reserve of land subject to family needs (money for health problems, to repay debt, and so on).
- Palm oil specialized strategy where the system is not diversified, farmers cultivate almost exclusively palm: this system is much more intensive than the previous one and forest is again a reserve of land affected by development projects.
- Livestock oriented strategy where the system is diversified mainly with palm or cocoa and forest is a reserve of land affected by the increase in feed demand for livestock but also by development projects.
- Forest concern strategy observed for some oil palm farmers who value and try to protect their forest area for different concerns.
- Diversified strategy where farmers use diversified cropping system and manage many flows of biomass and nutrients, but the forest remains for them a reserve of land affected by market prices.
Unfortunately a main finding was that for these different types of management strategies the forest is more often than not a reserve of land for other potential uses. In other words there seem to be no clear synergies between forest management and food security.
But good news is on their way and some farmers follow a strategy that we call “forest concern”, where farmers try to improve these synergies, meaning that instead of cutting the forest before introducing palm, they introduce the palm in the forest. This practice is more costly in labor and skills to manage competition with other trees, but produces important benefits while keeping forest services for the family and for the palm plantation too (e.g. maintaining water infiltration, soil fertility). Such strategy demands a new type of farmer that diversifies his farming activities and integrates them with forest conservation.
This preliminary analysis already highlights the need for specific alternative practices and farmer support, empowering their skills to apply them, and for different management strategies to improve synergies between agricultural production, food security and ecosystem services, to achieve beneficial integration between forest and farming systems.
New challenging questions are coming
Is it possible with alternative management strategies to improve the trade-offs between food security and ecosystem services in upland Ucayali? And are the current livelihood strategies more efficient and/or resilient than those of the past?
Challenging questions that we will try to answer in a second phase through the design of a farm model and the collection of household data to compare livelihood strategies of the present and the past.
This study is aligned with the project ‘Managing ecosystem services for food security and the nutritional health of the rural poor at the forest-agricultural interface’, also called ASSETS, and with research conducted by the Impact Assessment Unit of CIAT. The ASSETS project aims to document the relations between ecosystem services, food security and the nutritional health of local communities living in the forest-agriculture interface. The project is conducted by an international consortium including the University of Southampton, the International Center for Tropical Agriculture (CIAT), Conservation International, the Basque Center for Climate Change and the University of Malawi Chancellor College. ASSETS is part of the ESPA initiative funded by DFID, NERC and ESRC from the UK; and belongs to the CGIAR Research Program on Water, Land and Ecosystems.
The Impact Assessment Unit of CIAT is conducting a study on changes in land use, diets and use of ecosystem services intervened since the early 2000s when these data were collected in the same communities by a CIAT project funded by the International Development Research Centre. The project studied how child nutrition and health were affected by seasonal ecosystem dynamics following the ‘Rhythm of the rivers’ ((Learn more about this project).
Blog post by Nadine Andrieu and Genowefa Blundo Canto