Climate Smart Agriculture Sourcebook

Integrated production systems

Production and Resources

Ancestral agroforestry systems to increase resilience and adaptation to climate change in the Dry Corridor of Central America (Guatemala and Honduras)

The Dry Corridor of Central America has a distinct and prolonged dry season. Recurrent droughts are a potential risk in the area. However, during the rainy seasons, storms, hurricanes and excessive rainfall can occur, causing land erosion, floods and landslides. Drought and excessive rainfall are cyclical and closely related to the El Niño, the warm phase of the El Niño Southern Oscillation. FAO, in collaboration with its partners and counterparts, has supported a participatory process to identify and to promote the best agricultural practices to reduce and mitigate climate risks for the basic grains producers in the Dry Corridor of Central America. 

Two similar farming systems based on traditional knowledge were identified in Guatemala and Honduras: the Kuxur Rum system (which means means 'my humid land') and the Quesungual system (the name of the community where first the system was identified by FAO). In both systems, staple grains, mainly corn, bean and sorghum, are grown in association with native multipurpose and usually nitrogen-fixing trees, planted along contour lines. The Kuxur Rum system uses only Gliricidia Sepium because it can fix nitrogen and reproduce easily. In the Quesungual system Gliricidia sepium is used in conjuction with others native species: Cordia alliodora, Psidium guajava, Cedrela odorata, Gysonima crassifolia, Diphisa robinoides, Switena sp., Simaruba gluaca, Musa sp., Cassia grandis, Anacardium oxidentalis, Persea Americana, Bahuinea sp., Anadira inermis, Luhea seeamoini, Carica papaya, Cecropia peltata, Lonchocarpus oficinales, citrus sp. The choice of the trees in the Quesungual system depends on the availability of planting material and the relative importance of different tree products in the local context. 

In each farming system, the trees provide key services: shading, which reduces evapotranspiration; soil retention through their root systems, which reduces erosion and landslides;, soil fertilization through fallen leaves, especially if nitrogen-fixing species are used; diversification of households’ production (e.g. wood, fruits and leaves); and the protection of crops and soil from rains and winds. 

These agroforestry systems, which were promoted and validated in eastern Guatemala and in the Lempira region of Honduras, and have proven to be climate-smart. They improve soil and water conservation, which increases productivity and resilience to agro-climatic risks and reduce greenhouse gas emissions. These agroforestry systems constitute a transition from the traditional slash-and-burn  method to an integrated production system that applies conservation agriculture principles to grow grains interspersed with native trees. This can help achieve sustainable food security, control soil erosion, and ensure the delivery of other ecosystem services in drought prone hillsides coping with the impacts of land degradation and climate change.

Both systems are characterized by a set of techniques for the sustainable management of vegetation, soil, water and nutrients in drought-prone areas of the sub-humid tropics. The basic principles behind the success of these systems are illustrated in Table B5.6.

Figure B5.6. Principles behind the success of Kuxur Rum and Quesungual farming systems

1 No Slash & burn

2 Permanent soil cover

3 Minimal soil disturbance

4 Efficient fertilizer user

Management (partial, selective and progressive slash-and-prune) of natural vegetation.

Continual deposition of biomass from trees, shrubs, weeds, and crop residues.

No tillage, direct seeding and reduced soil disturbance during agronomic practices.

Appropriate application (timing, type, amount and placement) of fertilizers.

The implementation of Kuxur Rum and Quesungual farming systems increased the yields of maize, beans, sorghum and coffee. The maintenance of these systems requires less labour, especially after the third year of implementation. They also provide a range of additional benefits to households, such as wood for construction and fuel, fruits, and organic fertilizer. The soil moisture retention capabilities are enhanced by increasing the organic matter content of the soil, which also enables crops to better resist periodic droughts and minimizes the risk of erosion and landslides. The soil organic matter content and water retention capacities increase with time. Both systems are more resilient to extreme climate events than traditional cropping systems. They contribute to climate change mitigation by supporting the accumulation of carbon in biomass and the soil and reducing the burning of organic matter.