Sustainability Pathways

Silvopastoral systems as a buffer zone to a protected Biosphere Reserve

Grassland type Cultivated
Name of practice Silvopastoral systems as a buffer zone to a protected Biosphere Reserve
Name of main actor Ejidos of the upper Tablón river basin (Sierra Madre de Chiapas, Mexico), ECOSUR
Type of actor(s) Farmers, Pastoralists, NGOs, Communities, Government
Location Mexico
Agro-ecological region Tropical
Sustainability dimension involved Governance, Environmental, Economic, Social
Sustainability sub-themes Participation, Atmosphere, Water, Land, Biodiversity, Investment, Vulnerability, Decent Livelihood, Equity
Year of implementation 2007
Description of best practice Following the signing of NAFTA, a cattle dominated landscape has emerged in the buffer zone surrounding a biosphere reserve in Chiapas, Mexico. However, extensive livestock farming in the mountainous region is vulnerable to social and environmental degradation. Soil erosion is a significant risk. On steep slopes, deforested soils are likely to degrade under strong rainfall during the wet season and compact under grazing. Soil degradation causes a loss of ecosystem services and productivity, contributing to further deforestation to clear new grazing areas. Silvopastoral systems (SPS) combining trees, forage plants and livestock represent a promising management option to prevent soil erosion and restore lost productivity. SPS provide a cost-effective method to restore degraded pastures, improve livelihoods and contribute to rural development, while enhancing environmental, economic and social sustainability. Since 2007, a regional research institution, El Colegio de la Frontera Sur (ECOSUR), has implemented a pilot voluntary and participatory program to encourage cattle-farmers from 12 ejidos (local communties) in the buffer zone of La Sepultura Biosphere Reserve (REBISE) to plant native fodder trees in small pasture plots to establish SPS. The project has evolved during 2007-2012 into a ten-fold strategy which seeks to strengthen the capacity of local and regional social actors to engage in participatory territorial governance, and address land use and livelihood issues in a socially just and ecologically sound manner. We summarize this strategy in the following set of parallel/synergistic actions: (1) Build a collaborative network among the rural population, NGOs, government officers, and regional, national and international education/research centres. (2) Understand the process and social drivers of rapid land use change, and its consequences on local land cover and soil status. (3) Reveal to all parties the true level of consensus within and among local and external actors regarding social and environmental resources, issues and priorities. (4) Build through local workshops common ground about “best land management practices” for the area, resulting from local and academic knowledge. Publish it in a form that is readable and useful for all parties. (5) Invite local people to establish small and medium-scale experimental silvopastoral plots (under different incentive schemes) in order to address a specific production/conservation issue identified by all parties. (6) Analyze thoroughly with all actors the social and environmental challenges for such innovation, as revealed by local people's interest and actual commitment to silvopastoral experiments. (7) Experimentally develop and test in farmer's plots ad-hoc agroecological techniques that can reduce to a certain extent such obstacles. (8) Develop with local and external social actors a set of role-playing games and socio-environmental scenario simulators. Engage “players” in understanding how coordination and cooperation dilemmas emerge from their individual and territorial decisions, and how these dilemmas can best be approached for the common good. (9) Coordinate the efforts and resources of NGOs, government and academics who are currently promoting more trees in the landscape, so that local farmers can bring them together in a more integrated and co-responsible manner. (10) Develop workshops that expose local kids to the beauty and dignity of the local flora and fauna, and to its relevance for rural livelihoods and societies at large. Promote in this next generation of landowners a wiser and more compassionate attitude towards their natural patrimony and a greater capacity to negotiate just retribution from other social groups.
Outcomes and impacts Farmers have gradually become more interested in silvopastoral options and committed to test them carefully in their plots and herds. They are more open to coordination among silvopastoral innovators including the involvement of diverse social actors. The conservation governmental authority has adopted promotion of SPS as part of its best practice programs for the entire reserve buffer zone. Young people are starting to be more aware of the beauty, meaning and value of the natural patrimony they will inherit from their parents. Academics and NGOs working in the area are more aware of the livelihood strategies, needs, interests and decision processes of local people.
Contacts Luis García-Barrios ; Juana Cruz-Morales ; Aiora Zabala-Aizpuru