Country Pasture/Forage Resource Profiles


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Dr. Raul Vera


1. Introduction
Livestock and poultry
2. Soils and Topography
3. Climate and Agro-ecological Zones
4. Ruminant Livestock Production Systems
5. The Pasture Resource
Coastal pastures
Andean pastures
The Andean temperate ecozone
The Andean cold temperate ecozone
Introduced pastures in the Andes
Pastures of the eastern region
6. Opportunities for Improvement of Fodder Resources
7. Research and Development Organizations and Personnel
8. References
9. Contacts
10. The Author


Ecuador, the smallest of the Andean countries, borders with Colombia to the N and NE, with Peru to the S and SE, and with the Pacific Ocean to the West. It lies between 1° 20' N and 4° 58' S, and 75° 10' and 81° 10' West (see Figure 1). Its capital is Quito. Its surface area is 283,561 km² (with small variations according to different sources of information) not counting the disputed 174,565 km² allocated to Perú according to the Río de Janeiro Protocol (1942) to which Ecuador has not yet agreed.

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Figure 1. Location and map of Ecuador

Ecuador’s population, of which 62 percent is urban, was estimated at 11,900,000 in 2000 by the Army Geographic Institute (According to the World Factbook estimated population in July 2006 was 13,547,510 with a growth rate of 1.5%). The population is characterized by a high percentage of mixed race (mestizos) and indigenous people: in fact, mestizos form 55 percent of the population, Amerindians 25 percent, Caucasians 10 percent and blacks 10 percent. The majority live in the inter-Andean central highlands ("Sierra"), and include close to 700 ethnic groups, many of which do not speak Spanish but only the native Quechua. They are largely farmers, and in many cases practice old agricultural traditions. In the Eastern, Amazon portion of the country and the Coastal ("Costa") areas the indigenous population is smaller. The distribution of the population is as follows: 50 percent along the Coastal region (77 persons/ km²), 47 percent in the Sierra (68 persons/ km²) and 3 percent in the Eastern ("Oriente") area (3 persons/km²).

Ecuador is predominantly agricultural (Ecuador, 2001), despite oil having become its main source of revenue and industry having expanded substantially. The per capita gross national product ranged between US$ 1,200 and US$ 1,600 in the last decade. Ecuador’s human development index was 0.726 in 1999 (UNDP, 2001). Agriculture employs 32 percent of the workforce and provides 13-17 percent of the gross national product. Animal production contributes approximately a third of this amount (SICA/MAG, 2002). Agricultural imports over 1999-2001 ranged between US$ 199-267 million FOB, whereas exports amounted to US$ 1462-1968 million FOB (SICA/MAG, 2002). Half of agricultural exports are bananas and plantains; shrimps, coffee, cocoa, cut flowers and fish make up the rest. The evolution of important indicators of agricultural production in Ecuador is shown in Table 1.

Table 1. Indices of agricultural production, and land resources of Ecuador 1990-2000. (CEPAL, 2001)




Physical volume of agricultural production, index



Physical volume of agricultural crops, index



Physical volume of livestock production, index



Per capita food production, index



Arable land, 1000 ha



Permanent crops, 1000 ha



Irrigated land, 1000 ha



Bananas and plantains, 1000 tons



Consumption of fertilizers, tons



The area under cultivation is 3,100,000 hectares, nearly 9.3 percent of the country's area. Permanent pasture covers 18 percent of the country and forests nearly 43 percent, 30 percent is uninhabited mountains. In the highlands subsistence agriculture and the production of staples for the urban areas are predominant (maize, wheat, barley, potatoes, pulses, and various vegetables). In the coastal lowlands tropical crops are mainly grown for export. Since the late nineteen-forties bananas have been the main commercial crop of this region. Large-scale production of cocoa for export began in the 1870s. Production of coffee for export began in the 1920s.

Ecuador's forests produced 8,700,000 cubic metres of timber in 1986. Livestock, raised mainly in the highland region, included 3,800,000 cattle, 2,100,000 sheep and 4,200,000 pigs in 1987. Data on land use varies widely and was often considered by analysts as unreliable or at best an approximation of actual numbers. In the mid-1980s, for example, estimates of cropland ranged from 1,600,000 to 2,500,000 hectares out of a total land area of 228,300,000 hectares. Different sources put the amount of pasture at 4,400,000 or 4,800,000 hectares. Estimates for the total land area suitable for agriculture showed an even wider variation, from less than 50 percent to as high as 90 percent. Over half of the cultivated land was in the Costa, about a third in the Sierra, and the remainder dispersed throughout the Oriente region. Nevertheless, the last available census (2000), developed with foreign aid, appears reliable.

The Costa, apart from the area near the Santa Elena Peninsula, has generally fertile land with a climate conducive to agriculture. Altitude, rainfall, and soil composition determine land use in the Sierra. The intermontane basins near Quito and farther south near Cuenca and Loja offer the most productive Sierra lands, whereas the basins surrounding Latacunga and Riobamba have dry and porous soil and the least fertile lands. Higher areas of the Sierra contain grasslands suitable only for grazing or cold-tolerant crops, such as potatoes.

Land tenure patterns evolved from Spanish colonial feudal systems and were first implemented in the Sierra where the Spanish encountered large native populations that gave rise to a predominance of small plots and farms (minifundios). Large scale agriculture developed later in the Costa. A land reform law, enacted in 1964, outlawed systems inherited from colonial times and set up the Ecuadorian Institute of Agrarian Reform and Settlement (Instituto Ecuatoriano de Reforma Agraria y Colonización--IERAC) to administer the law and to expropriate idle arable land for redistribution to farmers. The law was reviewed in the early 1970s. Despite many political and financial difficulties, by 1984 over 700,000 hectares had been distributed to 79,000 peasants.

Although current land tenure in Ecuador is somewhat skewed, it is less so than in the rest of the Latin American countries, as shown by a Gini coefficient of 0.43 for the 1990s. The 1999-2000 agricultural census (SICA/MAG, 2002) reveals that out of 1,700,000 holdings, 67 percent were in the Sierra, 26 percent in the Costa and the reminder in the Oriente. Overall, farms of under 5 hectares represented 63 percent of all holdings, but occupied only 6.3 percent of the agricultural land. Farms of 5-20, 20-50 and 50-100 hectares were evenly distributed in terms of agricultural land, occupying between 14 and 19 percent each. Farms over 200 hectares were 0.78 percent of the total number and had 29 percent of the total land.

Livestock and Poultry
Livestock raising represents an important part of agricultural output and grew significantly in the last 20 years. Livestock was produced primarily for domestic consumption and was one of the few agricultural products found throughout the country. Although animal husbandry was widespread, it was generally practiced on small plots of land.

Ecuador produced a total of 2M and 2.5M tonnes of milk in 2000 and 2004 respectively (FAO databases 2006) and 170,620 and 212,000 tonnes of beef and veal. Both products grew in the nineteen-hundreds at rates of 4.1 percent and 4.5 percent per year respectively, whereas the stock of cattle grew at only 2.97 percent per year. On the other hand, the stock of goats has remained nearly stagnant, while that of sheep grew 2.9 percent over the same period. Milk equivalent imports are still substantial with 5,042 Mt in 2000 and 6,243 Mt in 2004, although these have fallen from 11,650 in 1995 and a high of 53,158 in 1998 (presumably reflecting the earthquake of 1997).

The Costa and Oriente regions produce mainly beef and dual purpose cattle with dairy cattle found mostly in the Sierra. Cattle graze on Costa land otherwise unsuited for agriculture, such as the hilly terrain in Manabí Province, seasonally flooded river plains, or semiarid parts of the far south. Dairying in the Sierra is carried on typically in fertile valleys, particularly between Riobamba and the Colombian border. Beef cattle are relatively new to the Oriente, although large areas of land are suitable for grazing. The beef industry in the Oriente suffered a serious setback in 1987 when an earthquake damaged roads used to transport the beef. Ecuador had about 3,700,000 beef cattle in 1985, but by 2005 the number had increased to almost 5.0 M (4,951,390 according to FAOSTAT).

The nineteen eighties saw an improvement in stock with the introduction of European and Asian breeds. The native Creole breed represented about half of all cattle, with the rest being crosses between Creole and Holstein, Brown Swiss, or Jersey for dairy, and Creole and Santa Gertrudis or Charolais for beef. The absence of veterinarians and medicines remained a problem, however, and diseases and parasites plagued many herds.

Besides cattle, livestock include pigs, sheep, and some goats. For pigs, FAO data indicates 1.4 M in 2001, whereas the latest country survey (2000) records 1.53 M; the greatest concentration was in coastal areas. The FAOSTAT figure for 2004 was 1.77 M pigs and 1.95 M in 2005. Current stocks of ruminant animals are shown in Table 2.

Table 2. Stock of ruminant animals, 1980-2005 (selected years)
(FAO database 2005, data for camelids not available)







2001 2002 2003 2004 2005



















In early 2001, the stock of South American camelids was estimated ( White, 2001) to include 1,700 vicunas (Vicugna vicugna), 10,000 llamas (Lama glama)and 4,600 alpacas (Lama pacos). The last two are domesticated. Camelids are largely grazed on high altitude commons, including national parks and reserves.


Ecuador is divided into three continental regions--the Costa, Sierra, and Oriente areas, plus one insular region--the Galápagos Islands (Ecuador, 2001). The Coastal region is located between the Pacific Ocean and the Andes Mountains, and it consists of lowlands and mountains. The lowlands are generally below 200 metres, whereas the Coastal mountains ("Cordillera Costanera") do not exceed 1,000 metres. The width of the Costa ranges between 15 and 150 kilometres.

The Sierra includes two major chains of the Andes Mountains that run North - South, the Cordillera Occidental (Western Chain) and Cordillera Oriental (Eastern Chain) respectively, and intermontane basins in between. The Western Chain contains Ecuador's highest peak, 6,267 metre Mount Chimborazo, and the Eastern Mountains consists of the Andean piedmont and eastern lowlands. Several transverse mountains cross the two chains, thus dividing the intermontane plateaus into 10 basins. The main transversal is the Nudo del Azuay, and divides the Sierra into two subregions--the area of modern volcanism to the north and the area of ancient volcanism to the south. The former area consists of newer, higher mountains than those in the ancient volcanism section, which with time have eroded to lower levels. Conventionally, the area located above 3,500 metres is identified as the Paramo.

The Oriente consists of two subregions: the Andean piedmont and the Eastern lowlands. The piedmont drops from a height of 3,353 metres to the lowlands, which spread out at an altitude of 150 to 300 metres.

The extremely variable topography of the country is associated with a complex mosaic of soils.

The Coastal littoral, located between the Pacific Ocean and the western Andes possesses an abundance of hydromorphic soils particularly in the well-watered parts, which have moderate to low drainage, and moderate fertility. It contains soils derived from deposits of diverse origins influenced by volcanic activity of the Andes, aeolian transport of volcanic ashes and alluvial deposits, all subjected to intense weathering.

In the temperate Andean ecozone (see below under ecozones), soils vary somewhat depending upon rainfall. It should be noted that classification of Andean soils is notoriously complex; details and equivalencies between systems of classification are available (Quantin, 1986; FAO, 2001; FAO-CSIC, 2002). The portion of the temperate area frequently classified as a low montane spiniferous steppe, with rainfall of less than 500 mm includes the following soils (León-Velarde and Izquierdo, 1993): (a) Durandept, sandy loams, with a calcareous layer located above a duripan placed at a depth of 70 cm - these are soils that if irrigated support a variety of annual crops, lucerne, oats and Kikuyu grass; (b) Durustoll, generally located on slopes, over fine ashes and also with an underlying duripan; (c) Eutrandept, loamy soils with very fine ash, low water retention, pH 7; and lastly (d) Torripsamment, very sandy soils, with less than 1 percent organic matter and pH 8. Farms surveyed in this area by Ramírez et al. (1996) had soils with pH 5.2 to 6.7, acidity increasing with altitude, generally low in organic matter (OM), and always very low P (< 4 ppm). When rainfall increases to 500-1,000 mm, the zone is classified as low montane dry forest, and includes very variable soils, most frequently derived from volcanic ashes. These are clayey loams, black soils, that support productive stands of lucerne if irrigated. The low montane humid forest zone is encountered in areas with 1,000 to 2,000 mm, and has similar soils to the previous one.

The cold temperate ecozone (see below) is found at high altitudes. Within it, the Paramo (or cold high steppe) is the typical landscape, receiving 250-500 mm rainfall. In general terms, Paramo soils are of volcanic origin; these include soils derived from recent volcanic ashes, and those derived from metamorphic and igneous rocks. (Medina and Mena, 2001). Those of the northern and central Paramos are generally Andisols, young, undifferentiated, high in organic matter, with high water retention capacity, highly permeable and resistant to erosion. Nevertheless, once they lose these physical properties as consequence of compaction, they begin to repel water. Soils of the southern Paramos are generally Inceptisols, derived from metamorphic rocks, older than the previous one, less fertile but have less capacity than the former to immobilize P.

Soils in farms surveyed by Ramírez et al. (1996) in the Paramos had pH 5.8 to 6.2, high OM (6-15 percent), high K and trace amounts of available P. Soils in the interandean regions are highly eroded (de Noni, Viennot and Trujillo, 1989-90) and it has been estimated that 48 percent of the national territory has some degree of erosion (Ecuador, 2001, see below).

Soils of the Amazon piedmont, on the eastern slope of the Andes are mostly Inceptisols of low to medium fertility (Hicks et al., 1990). Thus, farms surveyed by Ramírez et al. (1996) had soils with pH 5-5.8, frequently high OM (> 5 percent) particularly if associated with poor drainage, P < 3 ppm and moderate to low K. In the lowland plains three main types of soils are recognized (Estrada et al., 1988): (a) alluvial sandy soils in the flatter portions along the rivers, seasonally cultivated with a variety of crops; (b) black, fertile volcanic soils, in the plains located N of the Napo River, and (c) red ultisols in broken hills, characteristically acid and of low fertility.


The Coastal area has a tropical humid climate (Ecuador, 2001). Temperatures for the region range between 23° C in the South and 26° C in the North. Although seasonal changes in temperature are not pronounced, the hottest period is during the rainy season, especially from February to April. Near Guayaquil, the coolest months are August and September. Rainfall decreases North to South, with vegetation changing from tropical rainforest in the North to tropical savannas and desert in the South. These phenomena are associated with the Peruvian (Humboldt) Current and periodic appearances of El Niño. When the Peruvian Current is dominant, the amount of precipitation along the coast varies from north to south, with levels ranging from 3,000 mm to 300 mm. Two rainy seasons in the northernmost part of the coast become a single season (December through June) in the south. Near Esmeraldas, average annual rainfall is 2,500 mm. The rainy season shortens farther south, lasting only from January to May at Guayaquil. Very little rainfall occurs on the end of the Santa Elena Peninsula west of Guayaquil. Arid conditions prevail on the border with Peru south of the Gulf of Guayaquil. Separated from the effects of ocean currents by the coastal mountains, the internal part of the Coastal area has a hot and humid climate. Temperatures can surpass 26 °C, and the vegetation and cloud cover tend to retain and augment the heat. Rain is constant during the winter months of December through May, with the heaviest rainfall occurring in February and March.

Temperatures in the Sierra do not vary greatly with the hottest month averaging 16 °C and the coolest month, 13 °C at higher elevations. Diurnal temperatures vary markedly from cold mornings to hot afternoons. The almost vertical sun and the rarefied air in the higher Sierra region allow the land to warm quickly during the day and lose heat quickly at night. Mornings typically are bright and sunny, whereas afternoons often are cloudy and rainy. In general, rainfall is highest on exposed locations at lower altitudes. Rain also can vary on a local basis. The interandean region has a rainy season that extends from October to May, and the driest months are June through September with maximums of 1,500 to 2,000 mm along the mountains, and 500 mm in some interior valleys. Sheltered valleys normally receive 500 mm per year, whereas annual rainfall is 1,500 mm in Quito and can reach 2,500 mm on some slopes exposed to winds.

Climate in the Sierra is divided into levels based on altitude. The tropical level--400 to 1,800 metres--has temperatures ranging from 20 °C to 25 °C and heavy precipitation. The subtropical level-- 1,800 to 2,500 metres--has temperatures from 15 °C to 20 °C and moderate precipitation. The temperate level--2,500 to 3,200 metres- -has a year-round temperature in the range of 10 °C to 15 °C and an annual rainfall of 1,000 mm. The temperate level experiences rainstorms, hailstorms, and fog. The rainy ("winter") season, lasts from January through June, and the dry season or summer from July through December. Most rain falls in April. There also is a short rainy period in early October caused by moisture penetrating the Sierra from the Oriente. Quito and most other populated areas in the Sierra are at this temperate level. The cold level extends from the temperate zone to 4,650 metres. Here, average temperatures are 3 °C to 9 °C, and the precipitation often appears in the form of rain, hail, and thick fog. Above 4,650 metres is the frozen level, where peaks are constantly capped with snow and ice, and temperatures range from below zero to 3 0C. Precipitation frequently is in the form of snow, fog, and rain.

The Eastern lowlands have an equatorial climate. Rainfall is abundant, especially in the Andean piedmont, sometimes exceeding 5,000 mm per year. Temperatures average 25 °C in the western parts of this region. The jungle-covered plains of the Eastern lowlands register high levels of rainfall (> 2,500 mm) and temperatures surpassing 28 °C.

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Figure.2 Ecozones of Ecuador

Vegetation types are related to climatic conditions, and in particular to rainfall. Classification of vegetation types varies between countries in the region and also among authors, but a glossary is available (Huber and Riina, 1997). The following types are identified (see Figure 2 Ecozones of Ecuador):

  • (1) tropical rainforest found in the wettest parts of the eastern lowlands, northern parts of the coast and on parts of the Andean piedmonts. The rainforest here is as rich as that of the Colombian rainforest. Its composition is influenced by altitude, and at 1,000-2,000 metres it is mixed with shrubs and ferns, whereas above 2,000 meters a cloud forest is commonly encountered;
  • (2) Along the drier portions of the (southern) coast, a dry deciduous forest predominates with
  • (3) a savanna further south, and scrubs composed mostly of Mimosa sp. that alternate with more open grassy types;
  • (4) in the extreme south-western part of the coast the savanna yields to desertic, xerophytic vegetation;
  • (5)in the Andes, vegetation depends on the altitudinal level and evolves from dry forest to grass "Páramo" (see Figure 3) or steppe as altitude increases, finally reaching the area of permanent snow.

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Figure 3. Location of the Paramos of Ecuador
[Click to enlarge map]

Depending upon the altitude, soils and rainfall a variety of farming systems occur, exemplified in a highly stylistic form in Figure 4, but generally speaking, milk was the most important commodity in terms of value of production throughout the nineteen-nineties.

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Figure 4. Cropping systems in the high Andes.
[Source: Walker et al. (1994); Arce and Paladines (1997)]

The hot Coastal lowlands are used for plantains, cocoa, coffee, rice, cotton and sugarcane. Important parts of the coastal Pacific shores and mangroves are dedicated to shrimp production. Some of the previous crops extend into the lower floors of the Sierra, together with maize. Above 1,800 metres, temperate cereals, fruit and horticultural crops dominate, while extensive cattle, and mainly sheep and South American camelids production are practiced above 3,500 metres.


Farming systems that include ruminants cover nearly half of the national territory (Thornton et al. 2002). This estimate includes rainfed mixed systems (32 percent of the territory), rangeland-based systems (10-11 percent), and irrigated mixed systems (8 percent). Production systems vary somewhat between agroecozones, but a distinctive characteristic of Ecuador is the general predominance of dual-purpose systems over beef and dairy production systems across most of the country. As in all other countries of tropical Latin America, these systems utilize crossbred cattle (Bos indicus x Bos taurus) resulting from miscellaneous, uncontrolled, crosses between Zebu, Creole, Holstein and Brown Swiss.

Cows are generally milked by hand once daily with the calf on foot to allow milk let down. After milking, the calf is allowed to suckle and remains with the cow after the morning milking until mid afternoon when calves are yarded and cows generally left on pastures. The amount of milk thus milked seldom exceeds 5 kg per day over lactations that may extend anywhere between 150 and 350 days or more, depending upon the financial needs of the farmer, the cow’s milk potential and the available forage resources. It constitutes a very flexible system in that if temporarily milk cannot be carried to local markets or made into cheese, it is utilized by the calf to gain weight.

Dual-purpose systems predominate in the Coastal area, where it is estimated that 75 percent of the farms practice it (Ramírez et al., 1996), whereas the rest have mostly cow-calf beef systems based on Bos indicus breeds. As expected, all cattle directly graze available pastures and may be supplemented with cut-and-carry forage (elephant grass, sugarcane, etc) during the drier part of the year. Farm-level data (Ramírez et al., 1996) show that milk for sale (or for cheese making) is generally low (3-4 kg/ Similarly, in beef systems weight gains of yearlings do not exceed 400 g/

Dual-purpose systems also occur in much of the Andean region, below 2,500 to 3,500 metres. Yields per cow are similarly low, age at first calving is generally in excess of 36 months, and calving intervals are long (> 450 days). Milk in many of these systems is converted into cheese and the residues fed to pigs. As altitude increases, sheep and guinea-pigs become part of the livestock raised by farmers, with guinea pigs and poultry mainly destined for household consumption. However, in the most favoured, northern part of the Andes, farming systems are generally mixed and more productive, including up to 70-80 percent of the area under pastures, and crops such as potatoes, cereals, maize and beans in decreasing order of importance make up the difference, but the base is generally milk-potatoes, with a high proportion of Holstein crossbreds and purebreds, It should be noted that the milk-potato system is characteristic also of parts of the well watered Andes in Peru, Colombia and Venezuela, and detailed characterizations are available (e.g., Proaño and Paladines, 1998).

A summary of numerous on-farm research projects (Estrada, Paladines and Quiroz, 1997) indicates that potato yields vary between 20 ton/ha in unfertilized stands, to 30-35 ton/ha in well managed and fertilized fields. Forage yields in sown pastures currently range between 4 and 10 tons DM/ha. Nevertheless, these potential yields are severely constrained by a number of socio-economic factors. By 1998, the milk-potato system occupied 2,000,000 hectares in the Sierra, including 67,000 hectares under potatoes and 1,940,000 hectares in pastures (CONDESAN, 2000), and contributed 5.5 kg/ and 7.5 ton/ha of potatoes, the latter mostly for household consumption.

The northern part of the Sierra (north of Quito, up to the Colombian border) is the most favoured area in terms of soils and rainfall; historically it was relatively less modified by human intervention. Important agricultural activities include the production of cereals, potatoes, garlic, onions, milk and sheep, with milk increasing in importance towards the valleys, in competition with floriculture (Recharte and Gearheard, 2001). South of Quito rainfall decreases in the Sierra. This area concentrates a large number of indigenous communities which grow wheat, barley and potatoes at 3,200-3,800 metres, in close association with a small number of cattle and sheep, whereas at higher altitudes they practice extensive grazing of the Paramo vegetation (see Figure 3 and\coppusetal-eser.doc). Ruminants in these systems play, among others, an important role in the supply of manure for crops. (Recharte and Gearheard, 2001). North of the Peruvian border, the Sierra is drier and soils more superficial; medium to large ranches exist in the southern most extreme, evolving to small to medium mixed systems, as described above, in the northern direction.

It was indicated earlier that the high Andes are largely inhabited by indigenous communities. On-farm activities generally provide 40-90 percent of household income, with milk accounting for 20-70 percent of it, depending on the specific community and location (Candill, Bremner and Vohman, 2001). Off-farm employment is generally essential to the maintenance of households since they have been so highly subdivided (through successive generations) that many of them are marginally viable, particularly as these communities undergo rapid transition to a market economy.

As altitude further increases, generally above 3,500 metres, cattle are seldom raised, and sheep, South American camelids, and guinea pigs become relatively more important. In some areas though, fighting bulls can be important in the larger holdings. Farming systems at these altitudes make intensive use of the most favoured parts of the landscape to grow barley, potatoes and fava beans, whereas ruminants and camelids are raised extensively in the Paramo rangelands. Vicunas (wild) are generally found above 4,300 metres, mostly in nature reserves. Llamas are concentrated in the Central portion of the Sierra, and are used by indigenous communities as source of meat, leather, manure and for freight. Alpacas were introduced from Chile and Peru in 1985. A large part of them is in a nature reserve, but private producers are becoming common (White, 2001).

A peculiar characteristic of cattle raising systems in the Andes is the prevalence of "sogueo", a form of tethering whereby individual cattle are tied with a long rope to pegs placed in the paddocks and are moved daily or more frequently. This of course implies very intensive (and labour intensive) grazing management since 27 percent of farms practice it. As expected, it is commoner on smaller farms, and its use decreases from 35 percent in the smaller sector, to 6 percent in the larger farms (SICA/MAG, 2002).

In the piedmont of the Amazon basin cattle are the mainstay of the rural economy. Ramírez et al. (1996) estimated that 95 percent of household income is provided by cattle, with minor contributions from sugarcane, banana, plantains, and other crops. Depending upon the location, dual-purpose or beef cattle may predominate. Cattle are grazed year round, with very little if any supplementation. Yields are similar to those already mentioned, and in well-stocked farms, stocking rates range between 1 and 2 AU/ha. In the lowlands of the Amazon basin (< 450 metres, > 3000 mm rainfall) settlers’ farms average 40-50 hectares(Estrada et al., 1988), 5-15 of which may be pastures and 1-5 under coffee, and/or cocoa, with the rest under forest. During the nineteen-eighties and early nineteen-nineties pastures were constituted by elephant grass and Brachiaria decumbens, but Brachiaria humidicola was increasing rapidly in the late nineteen-nineties. As elsewhere in much of the lowlands tropics, relative scarcity of cattle implies that stocking rates of beef or dual purpose animals seldom exceed 1 head/ha, although experimental data suggest that at least Brachiaria humidicola should be able to carry 2 head/ha.


According to census data (SICA/MAG, 2002) the agricultural land of Ecuador in 1999-2000 amounted to 12,400,000 hectares, 27 percent of which was under sown pastures, 9.1 percent under native grasslands, 4.9 covered by Paramos and 3 percent fallow. If all of these are considered as grazing resources, nearly half of the usable land was available for grazing. Although the data reveal that there is trend for larger farms to have more of the land covered by the above resources, even farms under 5 hectares dedicate 32 percent of the land to grazing and 24 percent to sown and native pastures. In farms over 200 hectares these percentages increase to 48 percent and 33 percent respectively. The Sierra and Costa have 51 and 36 percent of Ecuador’s cattle stock respectively, with the reminder in the Oriente. Cattle are evenly distributed across farm sizes, oscillating very little between 12 percent of the stock in farms of 100-200 hectares to 19 percent in farms of 20-50 hectares; farms of less than 5 hectares own 17 percent of the cattle stock. The previous data show the extreme importance of livestock raising in Ecuador across regions and farm sizes.

The area of sown, native and naturalized pastures of Ecuador has been variously estimated between the 5,510,000 hectares reported in SICA/MAG (2002) and FAO databases and the 6,500,000 hectares reported by some analysts (Hervas, 1985). These are distributed as follows: 3,070,000 hectares in the coastal area (48 percent), 180,000 hectares (3 percent) in the Amazon basin, 1,865,460 hectares in the high Paramos (29%), 883,400 hectares of naturalized pastures where Pennisetum clandestinum (Kikuyu grass) is a very important contributor (14%), and close to 400,000 hectares of sown pastures, including lucerne (Medicago sativa) and other temperate forages.

Coastal pastures
Pasture development along the tropical, wet, Coastal belt relies on sown tropical grasses, and to a much lesser degree legume species, some of which have become endemic. Where soil fertility allows, grazed pastures are based on star grass (Cynodon nlemfuensis), Pangola grass (Digitaria decumbens) or Guinea grass (Panicum maximum), while elephant grass (Pennisetum purpureum) is used for cut-and-carry systems, particularly in dual purpose systems. Legumes such as Centrosema pubescens, Stylosanthes spp., Desmodium spp., Dolichos lablab, Neonotonia wightii, and numerous others have been tried but their contribution to sward composition is generally unimportant. Following the trend observed across all of tropical Latin America, the last 15 years have witnessed the expansion of Brachiaria-based pastures (Brachiaria decumbens, B. humidicola, B. brizantha) in the area. Extremely limited information regarding the animal production potential of all of these pastures is available for Ecuador, but it can confidently be estimated that their potential is similar to that observed in neighbouring countries, meaning that carrying capacities for directly grazed pastures will range between 1-4 AU/ha, whereas elephant grass can supply forage for 7-12 AU per hectares over limited periods of time. A potentially important niche for one of the newest legumes, Arachis pintoi, is as a cover crop under plantains, cocoa and coffee, as shown in numerous other tropical countries of the region.

Ramírez et al. (1996) describe a recent survey of pastures in a subregion of the Coastal area, located at 150-260 metres, latitudes between 0 11’ S and 0 28’ S, mean temperature of 250 C and rainfall of 1,560 to 2,000 mm. The area surveyed, included 55,000 hectares of sown pastures, 95 percent of which was Panicum maximum and 5 percent Cynodon nlemfuensis with a token presence of native Desmodium sp. and some broadleaf weeds such as Sida acuta and others. Across 11 on-farm experimental sites, aboveground yields averaged over three years were estimated at 15,400 kg DM/ha.year, with two thirds being produced during the wet season. This annual yield was nearly 50 percent less than that obtained under controlled, well managed conditions in a nearby experimental research station. Clippings taken at 60 day intervals during the wet season and 78 days in the dry season showed 10.4 and 7.2 percent crude protein, and 55 and 52.8 percent IVDMD respectively.

Milk yields were recorded in a sub sample of two farms that had dual-purpose systems. As is typical of these systems elsewhere, milk yields averaged 3 kg/milking year-round using stocking rates of 1.5-1.8 cows/ha. The authors consider that stocking rates could be significantly increased if provision for summer feeding was available, as farmers stock their pastures based on the predicted carrying capacity during the dry season. Weight gains in beef production systems of seven farms averaged 0.35 kg/, also highly typical values for tropical systems in the lowlands of Latin America. Similar comments regarding efficiency of utilization of pastures apply as for dual purpose systems.

The potential of these pastures under optimal conditions has been determined in controlled, experiment station-run, grazing experiments. Ramírez et al. (1996) report that carrying capacities on Panicum maximum alone, or with a mixture of legumes (most notably, Centrosema pubescens, contributing 40 percent of the botanical composition) were 4 and 2.5 steers/ha for the rainy season and 3.5 and 2 head/ha for the rainy season respectively.

Andean pastures

Andean pastures are complex, their composition depending upon the altitude and climate of the site considered, and they have been modified by human interventions. A recent classification of these pastures recognizes two main types of ecozones, the temperate and the cold temperate zones, respectively (León-Velarde and Izquierdo, 1993), each of which includes a number of subtypes described below.

The Andean temperate ecozone
The first subtype corresponds to native and naturalized grasslands and shrublands located in dry interandean plateaus and valleys, estimated to cover 0.45 percent of Ecuador’s surface area. They are between 2,000 and 3,000 metres, with mean temperatures of 12-18 0C and 250-500 mm annual rainfall, including a dry period of 3-5 months, extending from May to September. If irrigation is available, these areas can grow cereals, fruits and vegetables, as well as lucerne, forage oats and Kikuyu grass. The steeper slopes are used for grazing goats and forestry.

At similar altitudes, but with rainfall ranging from 500 to 1,000 mm, the region includes a large number of valleys that, although representing only 3 percent of the country’s area, are extremely important from the point of view of population density, and agricultural and livestock activities. Here the main forage resource is lucerne wherever irrigation is available, followed by Kikuyu grass and lupins (Lupinus spp.) in a variable land use mosaic that includes wheat, barley, beans, green beans, and various other vegetables.

In numerous other valleys of similar altitudes but with rainfall of over 1,000 mm, milk production is based on Kikuyu grass, ryegrass, Melinis minutiflora and Panicum coloratum, frequently located in mixed production systems that include potatoes, maize, and wheat.

Ramírez et al. (1996) described farm surveys carried out in an area corresponding to the drier part of the temperate ecozone, with 6-8 month dry season. The study area covered 87,000 hectares at latitudes 3 59’ to 4 26’S, and between longitudes 79 18’ to 79 37’W. Farms averaged 53 hectares each, with 31 percent of this area under pastures and 50 percent in fallows used for grazing and dominated by Paspalum humboldteanum and Kikuyu grass under a sparse cover of Acacia sp. and Mimosa sp. trees. Further detailed characterization of 13 farms located at 1,600 to 2,400 metres within this area, and with slopes ranging between 10 and 65 percent was carried out. Five of the 13 farms had irrigation available. Native or naturalized pastures were composed of grasses (88 percent, either P. humboldteanum and/or Kikuyu), legumes (6 percent) and broadleaf weeds (6 percent). Pastures were used to graze dual purpose cattle. Unirrigated pastures yielded on average 2,548 kg DM/ha.year (range 500-7,000), and yields were inversely related to slope (r=-0.62, P<0.05). Trampling by cattle in the wet season left patches of bare soil, the size of which was positively related to slope (r=0.65, P<0.05). Irrigated king grass (Pennisetum purpureum x P. typhoides) used to provide cut-and-carry forage yielded 15-18 ton DM/ha.yr, whereas if unirrigated yields fell to 6-8 tons.

Fifteen farms averaging 26 hectares each, located at altitudes of 3,000 to 3,500 metres, and with slopes ranging from 0 to 55 percent, had 71 percent of their area under pastures. One half of the pasture area was under naturalized and sown Dactylis glomerata- Lolium multiflorum-Trifolium repens associations, and 37 percent under Kikuyu, Holcus lanatus, and Paspalum pigmaeum native populations. In this case, aboveground yields ranged from 4 ton DM/ha.yr in Paspalum pigmaeum pastures to 15 tons in well managed lucerne stands. These results coincide well with a study conducted across 17 sites by Paladines and Jácome (1999) who measured dry matter production under exclosures placed in a variety of pastures in the extreme North of the Andes (Carchi). Pasture components included all of the above named species in various proportions. The authors found that 93 percent of the variation in yield (ranging between 3 and 18 ton DM/ha) was explained by just two variables: hours of irrigation applied per month, and soil apparent density which had a negative effect on yields.

The Andean cold temperate ecozone
The ecozone is located at 3,000 to 4,000 metres, and has mean temperatures of 6 to 120 C. Three subtypes can also be identified based on rainfall availability, although grassland species are fairly common to all. Common species include (Hervas, 1985; León-Velarde and Izquierdo, 1993): Agrostis perennans, Agrostis tolucensis, Agrostis alba, Calamagrostis vicunarum, Poa pratensis, Holcus lanatus, Bromus catharticus, Stipa ichu, Stipa obtusa, Muhlenbergia emesrleyi, Lupinus alopecuroides, and numerous others. Naturalized Kikuyu grass (introduced from Colombia in 1947), frequently associated with white clover is common in the better soils below 3,200 metres.

The first of the subtypes is dry steppes, with < 500 mm rainfall distributed over 10 months. The dry months are July and August. The area has been estimated to cover 0.4 percent of Ecuador. Extensive sheep production systems make use of these grasslands, that are based on a variety of species of Festuca, Agrostis, Poa, Bromus, Calamagrostis, Stipa, (most notably Stipa ichu) and Lupinus.

The second, humid, subtype receives 500-1,000 mm rainfall and constitutes close to 4 percent of Ecuador’s surface area. Rainfall is distributed year-round, and evapotranspiration at these altitudes is very low. Grasslands here are dominated by species of Stipa, Calamagrostis and Festuca, and constitute the main land use. Cattle, both beef and dairy, are the mainstay of the economy of these regions.

Ramírez et al (1996) reported studies aimed at characterizing native grasslands above 3,500 metres, receiving 500-1000 mm rainfall and on slopes > 12 percent where mean temperatures ranged between 3 and 120 C. Calamagrostis sp. dominated pastures (> 35 percent of the botanical composition) located at higher altitudes within the region, whereas lower lying areas were characterized by mixtures of Bromus sp., Holcus lanatus, Poa sp., Stipa ichu, Festuca pratensis and others.

Areas with rainfall in excess of 1,000 mm (over 4 percent of Ecuador) are extremely humid, and wetlands abound. The better drained areas, as well as the slopes are dominated by the same species listed in the previous case, but the livestock industry here is marginal.

Introduced pastures in the Andes
Artificial pastures in the well watered high Andes of Ecuador vary between the naturalized Kikuyu stands, and sown pastures of species such as lucerne, Dactylis glomerata, and Lolium spp., frequently associated with naturalized Trifolium repens. Lolium multiflorum stands are very common. The potential of these pastures in the best parts of the Ecuadorian Andes is extremely high if well managed. Experimental yields of 20-30 ton DM/ha have been obtained, which could potentially yield 10,000 l milk/ha.year (Estrada, Paladines, and Quiroz, 1997).

Pastures of the eastern region
The Amazon basin of Ecuador, to the East of the Andes chains includes the piedmont region, and the less populated lowlands. The latter are also of much less importance from the point of view of ruminant production than the piedmont. More limited studies have been carried out in this ecozone than in the previous two. Ramírez et al. (1996) summarized the results of farm surveys carried out over 213,000 hectares of piedmont, with rainfall in excess of 3,700 mm. The average area of 185 farms surveyed in the region was 122 hectares (range 50-186 ha), and 75 percent of this area had been cleared of forest, with 90 percent of it converted to pastures. Axonopus scoparius was the main (83 percent of the cases) species, followed by small percentages under Brachiaria decumbens, Echinochloa polystachia and others. Legumes contributed no more than 1 percent of the botanical composition. Average yields of these pastures were 13 ton DM/ha.yr.

Pastures in the lowlands are far less common. Estrada et al. (1988) surveyed farms located in the area at 450 metres, averaging in excess of 3000 mm rainfall, and with the driest month averaging 140 mm. Farms had a mean of 46 hectares each, including 4-11 hectares under pastures. Elephant grass and Brachiaria decumbens were the two main species, although Brachiaria humidicola was expanding at the expense of the latter. Scarcity of cattle probably explained why average stocking rates were 0.93 head/ha, while experimental results suggest that Brachiaria humidicola should be able to support 2 head/ha.


Undoubtedly, the most difficult constraints are faced by pastures in the high Andes, particularly in the drier parts of the mountain chain. In Ecuador indigenous communal coordination is considerable. Thus, rural development initiatives can be effectively supported by these organizations, but a major difficulty faced by them is the limited economic options available at these altitudes, an issue discussed at length by Bebbington (1996) from the institutional point of view. As indicated above, the major limitation is one of forage availability, closely followed by forage quality, in an environment where growth is severely limited by low temperatures and rainfall, thus making the process of pasture restoration very slow. Wherever strategic irrigation is available, these constraints can be overcome by resorting to strategic supplementation of animals with sown pastures. Yields of lucerne and ryegrass-lucerne, as well as white clover-based pastures can be reasonably high and responses to N and P fertilization are also high. Nevertheless, a higher level constraint in applying these solutions is the lack of enabling policies and credit, and limited advisory services, as well as inaccessibility of many parts of the high Andes.

It should be noted that native Andean grasslands, particularly in the Paramo, have been overgrazed and overexploited for decades if not centuries. Given the severe climatic conditions alluded to above, reversal of this situation, if feasible, is only possible over the long term and if adequate policies are available. Policies must take into account valuing their biodiversity and the ecological services that they offer. It should be noted that nine of 34 Latin American ecoregions rated as globally outstanding for biological distinctiveness are grasslands (White et al., 2000), and that one of these is the North Andean Paramo of Ecuador (shared with Colombia), as well as the Central Andean Paramo (shared with Peru). These are challenges that remain to be faced by government bodies, a difficult proposition in view of the more immediate preoccupation with the promotion of high value export crops and other commodities mostly produced in the lowlands. It would appear that trade-offs between immediate returns and long term benefits would have to be examined via simulation of alternative development scenarios, since longer term field research will only offer solutions over a much more extended period of time.

In the temperate areas of the Andes, where traditional temperate grasses and legumes (Lolium sp., lucerne, white clover, etc.) have been used for decades, continued introduction and testing of varieties and species should provide a steady stream of improved materials. Better management practices, including those referred to forage conservation, are probably required, but this is a process that is already under way to some extent and it probably explains the relatively rapid increase in dairy production of the country.

Opportunities for improvement of pasture resources are, however, much more abundant and feasible along the Coastal area. Since this is the region that produces a substantial share of commodities for export (e.g., banana, plantains, cocoa) as well as for local consumption (e.g., milk, beef), management expertise and attitudes are already in place which should make improved pasture and animal management feasible and relatively easy. To a large extent this is already happening as witnessed by the rapid expansion of the dairy sector here as well as in intermediate altitudes and valleys of the Andean region. A relatively large number of technical alternatives is available, both locally generated as well as coming from comparable regions elsewhere in tropical Latin America. These include the introduction of persistent legumes, such as Arachis pintoi, and a more varied portfolio of grass species and varieties. Adoption of tropical forage legumes is admittedly very slow, but in contrast, the more rapid adoption of some of these same legumes as cover crops under cocoa, coffee and plantains may eventually spill over into pastures.


The national research institute of Ecuador is the Instituto Nacional Autónomo de Investigaciones Agropecuarias, INIAP. The institute operates seven research stations, in the three main ecozones, namely the Costa, Sierra and Oriente. In addition the institute includes the national Department of Plant Genetic Resources and Biotechnology (DENAREF, Departamento Nacional de Recursos Fitogenéticos y Biotecnología). It operates under the aegis of INIAP (the Autonomous National Institute for Agricultural Research) undertaking germplasm collection, ex situ conservation, research, training, promotion and the provision of scientific and technical advice and information.

INIAP, as well as many other national research institutes in the region, has had a declining budget since the mid nineteen-eighties, and funding is increasingly channelled through a foundation, FUNDAGRO, (Fundación para el Desarrollo Agropecuario) that receives both public and private funds. In 1992 INIAP became a decentralized, autonomous institute and it has its own foundation to secure funds.

FUNDACYT (Fondo de Desarrollo de la Ciencia y Tecnologia) is a government financed fund to support some aspects of research, in particular, development of human resources.

The coordination of the Andean grasslands network, Red de Pastizales Andinos, is based in Quito. It has done a considerable amount of work with financial support from various sources, and presently functions under the umbrella of the Consortium for Sustainable Development of the Andean Ecoregion, CONDESAN, which in turn is hosted by the International Potato Center, CIP in Lima, Perú.

In addition to the above institutions, a large number of international institutes and universities have had occasional projects in Ecuador, particularly in the Sierra, in cooperation with national and regional universities and NGOs. Many of these projects have coincided in the Carchi Province (North of Quito), where a large amount of information has, and is being generated for the area of the humid high Andes.


Arce, B. and O. Paladines (1997) Análisis y opciones de desarrollo sostenible del ecosistema húmedo altoandino de la Provincia del Carchi, Ecuador.

Bebbington, A. (1996) Organizations and intensifications: campesino federations, rural livelihoods and agricultural technology in the Andes and Amazonia. World Development 24: 1161-1177

Candill, D., J. Bremner and E. Vohman (2001) Exploring Capacity for Integration. The University of Michigan Population-Environment Fellows Program. Impact Assessment Project: Phase 2. Ann Arbor: University of Michigan

CEPAL (2001) Anuario estadistico de America Latina y el Caribe. Santiago: CEPAL.

CONDESAN (2000) Mejoramiento de la productividad y sostenibilidad de los sistemas de producción mixtos: cultivos-ganadería, en la ecoregión andina del Ecuador (Proyecto PROMSA). Ecu005/2000.

de Noni, G., M Viennot and G. Trujillo (1989-90) Measures de l’érosion dans les Andes de l’Equator. Cah. ORSTOM, ser. Pedol.,25: 183-196

Ecuador (2001) Comunicación Nacional. República del Ecuador. Convención Marco de las Naciones Unidas. Cambio Climático. Quito: Comité Nacional sobre el Clima, Ministerio del Ambiente.

Estrada, R. D., C. Seré and H. Luzuriaga (1988) Sistemas de producción agrosilvopastoriles en al selva baja de la provincia del Napo, Ecuador. Cali: CIAT. 108 p.

Estrada, R.D., O. Paladines and R. Quiros (1997) Pobreza y degradación de suelos en los Andes altos. La experiencia de CONDESAN. VII Encuentro CONDESAN

FAO (2001) Lecture Notes on the Major Soils of the World. World Soil Resources Report No. 94. Rome: FAO

FAO-CSIC (2002) FAO-CSIC Multilingual Soil Profile Database (SDBmPlus). Rome: FAO Land and Water Development Division, (under Documentation)
and Sevilla: Consejo Superior de Investigaciones Cientificas, Instituto de Recursos Naturales y Agrobiologia de Sevilla,

FAO Databases 2006 (website

Hervas, T. (1985) Praderas del Ecuador. Unpublished mimeo. 21 p.

Hicks, J. F., H. E. Daly, S. H. Davis and M. de L. de Freitas (1990) Ecuador’s Amazon Region. Development issues and options. World Bank Discussion Paper 75. Washington D.C.: The World Bank. 41 p.

Huber, O. and R. Riina, eds.(1997) Glosario Fitoecológico de las Américas. Vol. I América del Sur: países hispanoparlantes. Caracas: UNESCO. 500 p.

León-Velarde, C. and F. Izquierdo (1993) Producción y Utilización de los Pastizales de la Zona Altoandina. Compendio. Quito: Red de Pastizales Andinos-REPAAN. 228p.

Medina, G. and V. P. Mena (2001) Los páramos de Ecuador. In Mena, V.P., G. Medina and R. Hofstede, eds. Los Páramos del Ecuador. Particularideades, Problemas y Perspectivas. Proyecto Páramo. Quito.
Fundación Ecuatoriana de Estudios Ecológicos

Paladines, O. and C. Jácome (1999) Factores que determinan la producción primaria de los pastizales en el ecosistema húmedo altoandino de la Sierra, en especial de la Provincia del Carchi-Ecuador. Informe 1999. ECU299.

Proaño, M. and O. Paladines (1998) Análisis de los sistemas agropecuarios de los pequeños y medianos productores de la cuenta del Río El Angel.

Quantin, P. (1986) Taxonomy of some chilean and ecuadorian volcanic ash soils. Cah. ORSTORM, sér. Pédol. 22: 109-111.

Ramírez, P., F. Izquierdo and O. Paladines (1996) Producción y Utilización de Pastizales en Cinco Zonas Agroecológicas del Ecuador. Quito: MAG-GTZ-REPAAN. 235 p.

Recharte, J. and J. Gearheard (2001) Los páramos altamente diversos del Ecuador: ecología política de una ecoregión. In Mena, V.P., G. Medina and R. Hofstede, eds., Los Páramos del Ecuador. Particularidades, Problemas y Perspectivas. Proyecto Páramo. Quito.

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Thornton, P. K. et al (2002) Mapping Poverty and Livestock in the Developing World. Nairobi: ILRI.

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Walker, T., C. Crissman, R. D. Estrada, H. Fano, O. Ortiz, C. León-Velarde and R. Quiroz (1994) Prospects for agricultural intensification in the Andean ecoregion. Ecoregional/2020 Vision Workshop. Warrenton: IFPRI.

White, R., S. Murray and M. Rohweder (2000) Pilot Analysis of Global Ecosystems.

Grassland Ecosystems. Washington D.C.: World Resources Institute. 69 p.

White, S. (2001) Los camélidos sudamericanos en los Páramos Ecuatorianos: presente, historia y futuro. In Mena, V.P., G. Medina and R. Hofstede, eds., Los Páramos del Ecuador. Particularidades, Problemas y Perspectivas. Proyecto Páramo. Quito.


INIAP, Instituto Nacional Autónomo de Investigaciones Agropecuarias (=Autonomous National Institute for Agricultural Research)

Casillas Postal 1717
1362 Quito

Forages specialist:

Victor Hugo Barrera Mosquera
Instituto Nacional Autónomo de Investigaciones Agropecuarias (INIAP)
Estación Experimental Santa Catalina.
Panamericana Sur Km 14.
Casilla Postal 17-012600.

Germplasm collection and conservation:
Agr. Raúl Castillo, PhD
INIAP, Instituto Nacional Autónomo de Investigaciones Agropecuarias
P.O. Box 17-01-340
Quito - Ecuador, South America
Telephone: 593 (2) 690 691
Fax: 593 (2) 690 691 or 593 (2) 504 240

Coordinator of the Andean Network of Forage Evaluation:
Dr. Osvaldo Paladines
Red Pastizales Andinos (REPAAN)
Casilla 17-16-219
Tel: 220533/34; 277816
Fax: 507422

Moreno Bellido No. E6-168 & Av. Amazonas
Quito - Ecuador
Phone: (593) 250 7361 & 222 0533
Fax: (593) 250 7422
P.O. Box: 16-17-219 CEQ, Quito, Ecuador

FUNDACYT (Fondo de Desarrollo de la Ciencia y Tecnologia)


The author of this profile, Dr. Raúl R. Vera, spent 16 years in Colombia as Senior Scientist, and later Leader of the former Tropical Pastures Programme, and Tropical Lowlands Programme of CIAT, the International Centre for Tropical Agriculture located in Cali. He can be contacted at:

Raúl R. Vera
2 Norte 443 dpto. 52
Viña del Mar, CHILE 2534194
Fax (Chile) 56-2-552 9435

[The profile was prepared in December 2002/January 2003 and was edited by J.M. Suttie and S.G. Reynolds in January, 2003 and modified by S.G. Reynolds in May 2006]