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Decision and Policy Analysis Research Area – DAPA

Silvo-pastoral systems: The elusive climate change win-win?

Last week I made a keynote presentation in the 6th Latin American Congress of Agroforestry about the implications of climate change for Latin American agriculture, and focussed on the opportunity for using silvo-pastoral systems to both adapt to future climatic stresses and mitigate climate change itself through accumulation of carbon and reduction of emissions from livestock.

A silvo-pastoral system i visited in Valledupar, Colombia, close to the Caribbean coast.

A silvo-pastoral system I visited in Valledupar, Colombia, close to the Caribbean coast.

Predictions indicate that we should at the very least prepare for a 2 degree Celsius temperature increase by 2050 and beyond.  The livestock sector is both exposed to climate change, but also in the public eye for its role in causing climate change through methane emissions.  In Colombia for example, livestock is the source of 20-25% of national greenhouse gas emissions.  It is therefore faced with a double challenge: how can it adapt to a changing climate and become more climate-friendly?

Our friends at CIPAV, an agricultural NGO based in Cali, have been promoting silvo-pastoral systems as an alternative to livestock production which increases production and enhances ecosystem services.  Some of the silvo-pastoral systems that CIPAV have been developing mix multiple vegetation types into a livestock production system.  They often include a ground grass species, with a bushy legume species like Leucaena, and an upper shade layer of timber species or another legume species.

In the context of climate change, silvo-pastoral systems seem like a real win-win.  In the presentation I showed 5 reasons why they’re a good option for adapting and mitigating at the same time:

  • Major climate change  mitigation potential in converting degraded and low yielding pastures into productive systems with high carbon stocks
  • Silvo-pastoral systems act as corridors and refuges for biodiversity to move through
  • Silvo-pastoral systems have been shown to increase milk and meat production
  • The shade lowers temperatures for the animals, and maintains soil moisture, and hence supports adaptation
  • The diversity in silvo-pastoral systems provides greater resilience to climate variability, and ensures constant provision of animal feed even in times of drought

The presentation made is available on slideshare, and embedded below.

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