There is a first time for everything, as the saying goes. And for CIAT´s Soils Research Area, the project “Confronting the challenges of smallholder farming communities: Restoration of degraded agroecosystems,” provided the entry point for a new effort in Paraguay to enhance the livelihoods of smallholder producers through restoration of soils and landscapes that are degraded, and conservation of those that are still in good health.
With assistance from the German Agency for International Cooperation (GIZ, its German acronym) and financial support from Germany´s Federal Ministry of Cooperation and Economic Development (BMZ), the project is focusing on two regions of strategic importance.
One is the buffer zone of the Mbaracayú Biosphere Reserve, which is a major remnant of the Atlantic Forest in Paraguay. CIAT scientists are working in this area with the Moisés Bertoni Foundation to help smallholders improve their systems for producing yerba mate (used to make a traditional beverage) in the shade of native tree species. The idea is to establish green corridors in the landscape, which has been extensively deforested, with severe soil degradation resulting from large-scale production of soybean and other crops.
The other area on which the project focuses is in the department of San Pedro. CIAT is working there in close collaboration with Unique Wood, a private company working in forestry, and the government´s Program for Sustainable Rural Development (PRODERS, its acronym in Spanish), which is helping achieve sustainable improvement in the livelihoods of smallholder producers in 60 micro watersheds, which encompass about 40 indigenous communities in the departments of San Pedro and Caaguazú.
Begun last January and expected to conclude in December 2016, the project gives particular emphasis to exploring the potential of agroforestry and silvopastoral systems for boosting producers´ incomes, while helping sustain ecosystem services, such as soil fertility maintenance, soil erosion control, carbon sequestration, and biodiversity conservation.
In July, CIAT researchers visited 20 farms in the municipalities of San Estanislao, Itacurubí del Rosario, and Villa del Rosario, San Pedro, to collect soil samples and evaluate the potential of agroforestry systems for restoring degraded soils. The land use systems they examined were traditional crop and livestock production, compared with livestock production in a silvopastoral systems incorporating Eucalyptus trees, regeneration of native tree species, or Leucaena trees. The researchers also studied the impacts of these production systems on soil quality – including its physical, chemical, and biological features – and on ecosystem services at the plot and landscape scales. The results will be shared with producers in the last 3 months of the year.
“We met with professors from the Faculty of Agricultural Science at the National University of Asunción (UNA) to strengthen our ties and exchange impressions about the progress of several students who are doing their thesis work with this project. It provides a nice opportunity to contribute to the development of a new generation of agricultural and environmental scientists in Paraguay. While this may seem like a small project, it could represent the start of what we hope will be a new and continuing story of team work focused on sustainable development for Paraguay´s smallholder farmers in harmony with the soils and ecosystem services.”Mirjam Pulleman
The project takes place in parallel with research in Nicaragua, which is being conducted in collaboration with the University of Hohenheim, Nicaragua´s National Autonomous University (UNA), and Catholic Relief Services (CRS-Nicaragua). Focusing on the restoration of degraded ecosystems, this work contributes to the CGIAR Research Program on Water, Landscapes and Ecosystems (WLE), in which CIAT is among the implementing centers.
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