Annual Report
2015 - 2016

Enhancing ecosystem services for greater economic and social benefits in Latin America

CIAT and its researchers make use of modern tools and scientific knowledge to contribute strategically to the sustainable management of rural lands. The idea is to improve the services that ecosystems provide while offering alternatives for land use to generate increased economic and social benefits.

The Center is involved in several initiatives to ensure that agriculture is climate smart. It also aims to help develop public policies that will improve the productivity, efficiency, and sustainability of rural landscapes in Latin America. Projects include:

  • The USAID Agroforestry for Biodiversity and Ecosystem Services (ABES) project in Central America
  • Sustainable Amazonian Landscapes in Peru and Colombia
  • Water Footprint in Colombian Agriculture

Some significant activities and achievements in 2015 are described below.

Hope for La Montañona Forest Reserve, El Salvador

The majestic Montañona, an important forest reserve in El Salvador, suffered through one of its most complex episodes during 2012 and 2013: more than 1,000 hectares of its forests were destroyed by smallholder farmers. At risk stood 84 water sources, born within the heart of the reserve and supplying the precious liquid to the 80,000 inhabitants who live in the area.

Two years after the ABES project was implemented under the leadership of CIAT’s Soils Research Area, La Montañona already looks different. The slash and mulch agroforestry system, already adopted in Honduras and Nicaragua, enabled farmers of El Salvador to use more environmentally friendly practices. La Montañona slowly returned to being the forest guardian it once was.

The ABES project began with slash and mulch agroforestry systems for the cultivation of maize and beans. But it soon developed a component related to pasture research, as livestock production was potentially recognized as a major cause of land degradation in the area.

With funds from the ABES project, complemented by those from the CGIAR Research Programs on Integrated Systems for the Humid Tropics (Humidtropics) and on Water, Land and Ecosystems (WLE), CIAT aims to actively involve farmers in participatory research towards adopting improved pastures and using organic materials.

CIAT’s pioneering soils research cuts across several crops and environmental conditions to restore, for example, degraded lands, improve soil health, and climate-proof agriculture. These activities were carried out in those Central American countries where farmers were identified as particularly vulnerable, environmentally and socially. Already, a positive impact can be seen as the result of an agriculture that is environmentally friendly and contributes towards mitigating the effects of climate change.

The ABES project also contributes to the CGIAR Research Programs Humidtropics and WLE, and collaborates with the Program for Ecosystem and Rural Landscape Restoration (PREP, its Spanish acronym), a component of the National Environment Strategy that was approved by the Salvadorian Government in 2012. The project is implemented by the U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID) in partnership with the Earth Institute at Columbia University (USA), La Montañona Association, the Salvadoran Research Program on Development and the Environment (PRISMA, its Spanish acronym), the Ministry of the Environment and Natural Resources, and CIAT’s Soils Research Area.

A landscape approach to research in the Amazon

For Marta Vanegas and CIAT’s Ecosystem Services team, it is clear that being offered masato (a traditional drink) is something they cannot refuse as that is the best welcoming gesture by the indigenous and mestizo community of the Yurimaguas District.

They are also very aware that this region of the Loreto Department in the Peruvian Amazon is characterized by numerous land uses, including livestock, African oil palm, saw palmetto, and rice production; fish farming (aquaculture); and timber extraction. The region also exhibits a mosaic of sociological profiles such as mestizo settlers, emigrants from the Andean cordillera, native migrants, and non-migrant natives. All these groups depend on both agriculture and the tropical forest for their livelihoods.

Yurimaguas District, Peru

Caquetá Department, Colombia

This region and the Department of Caquetá in Colombia were selected for the Sustainable Amazonian Landscapes (SAL) project, supported by the International Climate Initiative (IKI, its German acronym).

Some results of the project include:

  • A landscape approach was developed and implemented to assess current land uses in the area in terms of their sustainability from an ecosystem services and socioeconomic perspective. This activity involved intensive field sampling to analyze characteristics such as soil properties, soil biodiversity, carbon stocks, and land cover. A baseline was created to allow the subsequent assessment of the impact of new land use and management practices, again in terms of landscape sustainability. Information was also collected on demographic variables, income sources, capacity for adapting to climate change, and well-being indicators. CIAT proposed this approach to provide a sustainability evaluation framework and protocol as a guide to adopt the so-called “landscape approach,” which is increasingly present in agricultural and environmental policy making and academic speeches.
  • Potential land use and management practices were identified, based on current farming preferences – including options of shrubs, trees, and forage species for restoring deforested landscapes – and production costs. Together, in 2016, farmers and scientists will use these inputs to co-design improved production systems.
  • An exhibition of forages was organized in Colombia to (1) assess the performance of shrubs and grasses in restoring degraded lands in the Colombian Amazon; and (2) share with farmers new options for diversifying their land uses and enhancing carbon storage and other benefits.
  • With support from the Universidad de la Amazonía (Colombia), 10 MSc and PhD students from the Amazon Basin became engaged in the project.

The SAL project is supported by the German Federal Ministry for the Environment, Nature Conservation, Building and Nuclear Safety (BMUB, its German acronym). CIAT leads the project, which is implemented jointly with the Potsdam Institute for Climate Impact Research (PIK, its German acronym), the Colombian Center for Research on Sustainable Farming Systems (CIPAV, its Spanish acronym), the Amazon Institute for Scientific Research (Instituto SINCHI, Colombia), the Universidad de la Amazonía (Colombia), the Peruvian Amazon Research Institute (IIAP), and the Universidad Nacional Agraria La Molina (UNALM, Peru).

Towards an eco-efficient agriculture

Another important aspect of CIAT’s work on ecosystem services is the measurement of indicators of eco-efficiency in agriculture. CIAT has assessed the impact on the water footprint of (1) conservation agriculture in potato-based crop rotation systems in the Andes, and (2) water-efficient management practices for irrigated rice. These activities were funded through the agreement between CIAT and the Colombian Ministry of Agriculture and Rural Development (MADR) on the water and carbon footprints of important production systems in Colombia. National partners include FENALCE, FEDEARROZ, CENIPALMA, and FUNDESOT.

The water footprint in maize and dairy systems was also studied, revealing significant potential for water savings in maize systems. Recommendations were discussed and subsequently adopted by farmers managing the study sites.

Lisimberg Nieva tells us, for example, that, to irrigate his maize plot, he used to need as much as 5 hours for a satisfactory irrigation. He was losing so much water through the furrows that, very often, there was not enough water for the whole plot. The farm that he runs, located in the Municipality of Buga, Department of Valle del Cauca in Colombia, was the first to participate in the project on “Measuring the water footprint in maize, rice, and potato production systems”. A year after the project was implemented, Lisimberg can irrigate the entire plot in one and a half hours.

The carbon footprint was also estimated for biofuel production from oil palm in the Colombian Eastern Plains. The collected data will be used as baseline indicators for measuring the impact of improvement plans in residue management in 2016.

Eco-efficiency starts at home

Building on previous efforts and on the expertise of its Ecosystem Services team, CIAT is moving forward with its initiative to reduce its own carbon footprint. A rigorous process, following international standards, was initiated in 2015 to estimate the Center’s carbon footprint. Specific measures, co-designed with CIAT’s Infrastructure and Operations Office, were put in place to monitor the Center’s carbon footprint. The results will provide the basis for the Center to assess its carbon footprint and to undertake carbon reduction actions.

Advancing the implementation of payment for ecosystem services schemes in Peru

Helping to shape policies, monitor progress, and assess impact on livelihoods

CIAT served as an advisor to the Peruvian Ministry of Environment (MINAM) in the lead up to the passing of the law on payment for ecosystem services (PES) schemes in 2014. CIAT is now helping the country to develop the necessary technical tools, strengthen the legal framework, and monitor progress in the law’s implementation.

A study carried out by CIAT in 2015 identified several remaining bottlenecks that were of legal, institutional, economic, financial, and technical character. To catalyze the implementation of PES mechanisms in the country, these bottlenecks had to be removed. Results from the study were used to guide a series of public consultations organized by MINAM to discuss the contents of the specific regulations of the law and its implementation.

The prototype of an online platform for PES schemes has been designed and is currently being validated. It will be the official platform for MINAM to record, track progress, and target its support towards PES initiatives.

An ex ante analysis of PES schemes in the Cañete River watershed was also conducted to assess the likely impacts of such mechanisms on the livelihoods of local communities.