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Decision and Policy Analysis Research Area – DAPA

Los Llanos Orientales: the Wild East

Guest post: Julian Moll-Rocek

The savannah, cattle country

I went on a field trip with two of CIAT’s best: Silvia Elena Castano and Carlos Nagles, experienced field workers, GPS button-pushers and expert ‘mamagallanistas’, which translates crudely to jokesters.

We were here to georeference 4 fincas, and document the division and land use history of the pastures. Many pastures are planted with Brachiaria sp. a genus of African grasses that is hugely productive. Other land is natural savannah that has had the few scrubby trees removed. Between farms there are neatly curving rivers outlined with small gallery forests.

Here a cool ant domatium on a melastomatacea in one of the gallery forests. The ants actually get in from the underside of the leaf, where there are holes between the leaf’s vasculature leading into their swanking green apartment (You can see a blurry ant leaving his pad near the top of the photo). These ants are very defensive of their homes, a neat symbiosis of plant-landlord for overly aggressive ant-tenants.

We’ll get all the botanical oddities out of the way first: Here a crazy legume fruit, with a fleshy-red inside of the bean and shiny blue seeds.

But, as mentioned, this is cattle country. Most of the cows in this area are descendants of the indian Brahmin breed, or a hybrid called Brangus.

They can be very stubborn: this one had laid down in front of the gate we had to pass through. Carlos manning the tail; Andres, the son of the farm administrator at the ears.

The farms are subdivided into many different lots, and some are managed very intensively with rotations, a la Sweet Grass Beef (featured in Omnivore’s Dilemma, Michael Pollan 2006). Here we see two things of interest: on the left, an improved pasture (planted with African grass), on the right a degraded natural pasture for lack of rotation and over grazing.

The savannahs are an incredibly expansive open area, covering 18% of the national territory (Wiki). Parts are characterized by ‘Serrania’ or sawed-up areas, like this highly eroded plateau.

Recently, much more perennial and annual crops have been planted across the llanos. Here a rubber plantation, with ‘fertilizer bean’- Mucuna, planted in the alley.

The trip was an extremely refreshing week of 18 hour work days, wind, sun, and dust. This is one of the most rapidly ‘developing’ areas in Colombia; for now though, the sun still sets on the wild east, where cowboys tend to their herds.




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