Silvopastoral systems for intensifying cattle production and enhancing forest cover: the case of Costa Rica
Pezo Quevedo, Danilo A.
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In the last 50 years, significant increases in human population and per capita consumption of animal source foods have been observed in Latin America and the Caribbean (LAC), resulting in increased demand for livestock products in the region. Moreover, some LAC countries are net exporters of milk or beef. The growth in global demand for livestock products is increasing the pressure to increase production in LAC. Projections to 2050 suggest that regional and global demand will continue to grow. The traditional cattle ranching approach, which increases the area under pastures to maintain the growing animal population at expense of forests, is not the option anymore for LAC. The dominant, extensive pasture-based livestock production systems need to shift from their current paths that degrade natural and social capital to more intensive silvopastoral (SP) systems that generate goods such as milk, meat, and timber, that contribute to increase tree cover on farm and landscapes to maintain ecosystems, and that render environmental services including the reduction of GHG emissions and climate change vulnerability. The pillars for such change should: (a) promote the rehabilitation of degraded pastures and soils and prevent further degradation of those resources; (b) increase the availability, quality, diversity, and persistence of plant biomass; (c) protect and rationally use water sources; and (d) increase animal productivity on a per hectare basis. SP systems are considered win-win options as they are oriented to increase livestock productivity, to augment incomes and products diversification, to enhance resilience to climate change by the microclimatic conditions that trees and shrubs provide to animals and pastures, to harness mitigation benefits by reducing GHG emissions, and to increase Carbon sequestration in pasture and woody perennial root systems that in the end render valuable ecosystem services such as water, soil, and biodiversity conservation along with other contributions to avoid deforestation. Several SP options can respond to the objectives described above. However, the decision on which innovations to recommend will depend on the prevalent constraints on a given site and a farmer´s objectives. Therefore, it is possible and even desirable to have a mosaic of SP options for diverse farms and landscapes. This report describes, discusses, and shows the geographical distribution of the following nine SP options: (a) scattered trees and shrubs in pastures; (b) grazing under native or secondary forests; (c) grazing under tree plantations; (d) live fences;(e) fodder banks; (f) alley farming with pastures; (g) windbreaks; (h) hedgerows; and (i) riparian forests. Based on more than 150 references found in the literature for LAC, the highest diversity of SP options is found in tropical environments, followed by the temperate region, and followed by the boreal agroecological zones. The SP option most frequently practiced in all regions is scattered trees in pastures, followed by live fences in the tropical agroecological zones. In temperate and boreal regions, the most frequent practice is grazing under tree plantations. The potential application of such options for the case of Africa is also discussed. The potential biophysical benefits and co-benefits of silvopastoral approaches for the sustainable intensification of livestock production systems are also discussed in the report. Among those are: (a) animal nutrition and welfare; (b) nutrient cycling; (c) nitrogen fixation and carbon sequestration; (d) biodiversity conservation; (e) water conservation; (f) greenhouse gas mitigation; and (g) climate change resilience. The socioeconomic benefits associated with the change of traditional pasture systems to SP approaches are analyzed for this report using ex ante procedures, given the limited availability of such data in the literature. The analysis carried out for this report showed that SP systems are more profitable than traditional systems, even in the absence of payment for environmental services schemes. The adoption rate for SP systems has remained relatively low despite abundant information documenting the benefits of SP innovations for increasing productivity, improving economic performance, and adapting to/mitigating climate change in livestock systems. The contribution of SP systems to halting deforestation and increasing the presence of trees in livestock farms is also well documented. This situation has been attributed to the complexity of SP innovations, the reluctance of farmers to invest and take risks with new technologies that have a time lag before profits, the limited access to information and technical assistance on SP systems, the fact that few financial institutions have SP options in their credit agenda, and the lack of financial and non-financial incentives for promoting SP options, among other factors. It is suggested that some enabling mechanisms for promoting the adoption of SP innovations are: (a) the existence of premium prices for certified products coming from environmental friendly and sustainable cattle systems; (b) a well-organized, trusted, and affordable certification and traceability system to verify that products respond to the conditions; (c) access to payments for environmental services schemes; (d) the availability of reforestation incentives programs accessible to all types of livestock farmers; (e) financial system offering “green credit” lines, in which the interest rate is lower for those producers who comply to a set of environmental friendly technologies than the regular rate in the market. Also, it is recognized that the faster adoption of SP innovations could be enabled by knowledge management interventions such as (a) coordinated research and technology transfer efforts on SP systems involving institutions with mandates and expertise on livestock production, forestry, and environmental issues, (b) capacity building, training, and outreach efforts for spreading the principles of SP systems, (c) more efficient use of information and communication technologies to facilitate the dissemination of SP innovations and to survey landscapes to assess the extent of adoption of SP systems and their impact, (c) participatory learning and action research for testing promising SP options in different agroecosystems, (e) implementation of successful pilot projects to demonstrate the potential of SP interventions, followed by large-scale projects aimed at mainstreaming lessons learned, and (f) the development of appropriate legal framework, policy, and planning regulations as well as adjustments in the wood processing enterprises to support the conservation and sustainable management of forests under SP use. The different climate change initiatives will serve as boosters to promote structural adjustments to the current livestock production systems including the adoption of SP innovations. The World Bank Group (WBG) could facilitate adoption of such initiatives. Three WB/GEF projects are presented as examples of the relevant role the WBG can play to promote the adoption of SP systems in LAC and elsewhere. The relevance of cross-fertilization between regions through south-south cooperation efforts facilitated by the WBG are also discussed.