Integrated silvo-pastoral approaches to ecosystem management

August 13, 2009

Colombia, Costa Rica, and Nicaragua


Project Manager: Juan Pablo Ruiz
Senior Natural Resources Management Specialist, World Bank

GEF grant US$ 4.5 million
Co-finance US$ 3.5 million
Project cost US$ 8.0 million

The project aimed to improve ecosystem functioning of degraded pasture lands through the development of more intensive silvo-pastoral systems that generate global environmental benefits while providing socio-economic benefits. Silvopastoral systems (SPS) were successfully introduced in the three participating countries. The project has been successful in demonstrating and measuring the effects of the introduction of payment incentives to farmers for the adoption of integrated Silvopastoral farming systems, resulting in 12,262 hectares of improved biodiversity status and enhanced carbon sequestration indices by the end of implementation (the target was 12,000 hectares). Many other environmental benefits of Silvopastoral systems were demonstrated: improvement of water infiltration; soil retention; soil productivity; reduction of fossil fuel dependence (e.g. substitution of inorganic fertilizer with nitrogen fixing plants); diversification of farm benefits; scenic beauty enhancement; and land rehabilitation.

Perhaps one of the most innovative outcomes of this project was the establishment of a differentiated payment scheme according to the degree of environmental service being provided. This was innovative in various fronts. First, it eliminated the inefficiencies of paying a flat fee per hectare for conservation on a farm irrespective of the level of conservation effort applied by the farmer. This scheme allowed farmers to decide “how much” conservation they were willing to undertake. While the flat fee is easier to manage it is not as economically efficient. Based on their experience in this project of applying the differentiated silvopastoral payments, Costa Rica is now considering a differentiated scheme of payments for other payment for ecosystem service schemes they are currently applying.

The ability of the Silvopastoral project to effectively integrate biodiversity conservation into cattle ranching was innovative. Farmers have been able to increase productivity, reclaim degraded soils and increase biodiversity conservation. The increased tree cover enhanced habitat for a wide diversity of species and facilitate the genetic flow of species by providing a biodiversity-friendly vegetative corridor. Another important outcome is in the use of SPS in improving productivity and mitigation of greenhouse gases. Carbon was sequestered both in the soil and above ground in the trees that were planted through the project. A resource monitoring methodology was developed which was used to measure carbon sequestration and biodiversity conservation. Carbon stocks measured in Silvopastoral habitats were higher than in degraded lands, and emission of green house gases was found to be lower in Silvopastoral habitats.

The project has been instrumental in increasing the awareness of the potential of integrated ecosystem management has on providing critical environmental services including the restoration of degraded pasture. This has been achieved through extensive training, capacity building and dissemination of knowledge generated through the project. Finally, based on the results of this project, Colombia is currently developing a national sustainable cattle ranching project that will incorporate lessons learned from the regional pilot project.