Agroforestry systems: Preliminary lessons learned with small farmers in El Salvador
“Smooth sailing” is the way to describe the progress made by CIAT’s agroforestry project on biodiversity and other ecosystem services.
The project aims to promote the adaptation and dissemination of agroforestry production systems as options that can eco-efficiently respond to climate change, while restoring the provision of key ecosystem services. The project collaborates with the farmers and local organizations in northern El Salvador. It is supported by the Salvadoran Ministry for the Environment and Natural Resources (MARN, its Spanish acronym) and sponsored by the United States Agency for International Development (USAID). It works in close collaboration with Columbia University’s Earth Institute, La Montañona Community, the Salvadoran Research Program on Development and Environment (PRISMA, its Spanish acronym), and CIAT’s Soils Research Area.
Although the project ends in mid-2016, preliminary results and lessons learned are already providing solid foundations for further projects on restoring and conserving rural landscapes. Key results include:
– Multiple social and environmental benefits offered by agroforestry systems such as carbon retention in aerial biomass at 10 to 20 t ha–1, the sheltering of as many as 70% of arboreal species found in the rural landscapes, and maintenance of food production at adequate levels of food security for small farmers (i.e., averaging 2.5 t ha–1 of maize and 1 t ha–1 of beans).
– About 75% of the rural families of La Montañona, a community conformed by seven municipalities and totaling 50,000 inhabitants, would be able to adopt agroforestry systems in their farms. This would encompass about 7,000 ha, which would be equivalent to 100,000 t of carbon.
– The combination of agroforestry systems with other good agricultural practices such as no‑burns, use of improved pastures, and rotational grazing also contribute towards reducing the environmental impact of livestock production. For example, soil erosion can be reduced by about 80%, compared with traditional pasture management practices.
– In fact, field experiments conducted in collaboration with farmers showed that, 90 days after establishment, improved pastures produce much more dry matter (DM; up to 3.7 t ha–1, with 9–15% protein content) than naturalized pastures (DM at 0.9 t ha–1, with 4–8% protein content). Improved species such as Brachiaria decumbens and brizantha cv. Marandú adapted more effectively and were preferred by farmers. The importance of involving the active participation of farmers was also reaffirmed.
– The sustainable intensification of livestock production systems requires alternative sources of protein, particularly during dry seasons. Field trials, carried out with farmer collaboration, demonstrated that the use of herbaceous forage legumes could generate as much as 5.3 t ha–1 of DM per cut, with a protein content ranging between 20% and 25%. Legumes that adapted the most effectively, and were preferred by farmers, included Canavalia ensiformis, brasiliensis, and Vigna unguiculata (cowpea).
With a little more than a year left, the project’s plan is to continue monitoring the ecosystem services of different production systems in collaboration with farmers and other key actors. The idea is to consolidate knowledge on the how, where, and which agroforestry systems could be scaled up to other rural landscapes in Central America and the Caribbean Region.
Likewise, scientists from CIAT’s Soils Research Area will follow up their plan to consolidate partnerships with national and international institutions to ensure the continuity of activities to restore ecosystem services in rural landscapes of both this and other areas of Central America. Thus, this research will help fulfill the goals proposed by two CGIAR Research Programs (Water, Land and Ecosystems or WLE; and Integrated Systems for the Humid Tropics or Humidtropics) towards the sustainable development of Central America.