Promoting Silvo-Pastoral Systems with the Global Agenda

More complex to understand but with key advantages

In this in-depths interview with the secretariat, Julian Chará speaks about the advantages that the introduction of silvo-pastoral systems has compared to conventional monocultures. 

Chará, a researcher at the Centre for Research on Sustainable Agricultural Production Systems (CIPAV) in Colombia, highlights that combined production of grass, shrubs and trees can provide higher amounts of biomass per unit of land than conventional ways. The amounts of meat produced per unit of land were higher as well. But not only that. Silvo-pastoral systems were capable of lowering the dependence on external inputs because they promoted the biological activity through the recycling of nutrients, more photosynthesis and better fixation of nitrogen. The environment was better for the animals and for the workers, resulting in higher quality products.

More difficult was on the other hand that the systems needed higher initial investment and an overall enhanced informational situation for farmers, something he is trying to promote through the engagement on the Global Agenda.

About the new video interviews

This is the first one of a series of interviews in which Global Agenda members get the opportunity to speak about their experiences and expectations of the partnership. Stakeholders from the adjacent development cooperation arenas will be requested for interviews as well. The aim is to highlight the importance of the Global Agenda’s political perspectives.

Please feel free to suggest prospective interview partners to the secretariat, including ideas on the subject and possible critical angles for the questions.

Interview Transcript

Follows the transcript of the entire interview. The video version is a shortened version.

Pascal Corbé, communications consultant: Julian, what is the key advantage of silvopastoral systems?

Julian Chará, researcher at CIPAV: The world needs to increase the production of protein - animal protein - which is in higher demand right now. But it also needs to find ways to do that in a sustainable way. Silvopastoral systems give the opportunity to increase the productivity per [hectare of] land in a sustainable way that is respectful to nature, and creates biodiversity that protects soil. It can also allow for high-productivity in an area, where the techniques are easy for farmers to learn.

PC:  What is it all about? Is it a better system? Is it more balanced?

JC: The key advantage of the system is that it combines the production of grass with shrubs and trees. It can provide higher amounts of biomass per unit of area than before. The amount of meat and beef produced per unit of area is higher. But it can also produce with less dependence on external inputs because the system promotes the biological activity in the recycling of nutrients, the photosynthesis, the fixation of nitrogen. Increased productivity can be done without the need of certain inputs, and also in an environment that is better for the animals, for the workers. It will produce higher quality products.

PC: I assume there are probably some economic interests that are not going in line with this so well, because this system is probably not so easily exploitable.

JC: Silvo is a more complex system, it also has mid-level administration of the land and more management of the land. And there is a higher investment cost at the beginning of the  implementation. The technical and financial constraints may prevent some farmers getting involved with silvopastoral systems. Cattle ranching is usually seen as a low investment activity - so when you need a farmer to move to a system that needs more management and more care to work profitably, they will need more information.

PC: Would you say it’s a problem with investors to get them for the silvopastoral system? Do they prefer the monocultures?

JC: I would say it’s a matter of having more information for farmers, and more technical advice for farmers so that they can manage system in a perfect way. It is not something that cannot be done; it is something many farmers are doing right now. They need an advisor, not to tell them to cut down all the trees in the system, but to combine the production of cattle with trees. Also, to factor the biodiversity and environmental services into their production.

PC: When you say it’s all about information, would you say the reason why the silvopastoral system is not used more often is because people don’t know about it? Is that one of the main reasons?

JC: That’s one of the main reasons: There are several silvopastoral initiatives in the world. The Global Network tries to put all of them together. Although they are not isolated anymore, there are still a wide-range of production systems that don’t consider trees to be in the system. There is a need to exchange more information on them, so those experiences that are working successfully in several countries of the world can be spread and used more in a mainstream way by governments.

It is important to note that it is not something minute; there are many farmers in many parts of the world that use the trees and the fences, and the arrangements in the system that are working okay. But it is not widespread. And when they receive technical assistance, sometimes they are advised to work only with grass, not even incorporating the other ones.  It is a matter of exchanging more information and seeing that that information gets to the policymakers to promote the systems.

PC: One could get the impression that people forget a lot and it’s all about going back to the old way of farming at the edge of the forest. Is there something modern about this? It sounds a bit like silvopastoral means going back to the old way of doing it.

JC: The old way of doing it - at least in the tropics - is getting rid of the trees. Trees have been considered an “enemy” for grass production for many reasons. The idea of this is to include the trees because they can help the production and the environmental impact of sun and wind, including nutrient recycling. You have to do it in a way that you take advantage of all of the benefits that trees bring to the system. Plant trees in a way that you can use either timber, fruits and the many products of trees.
And also you have to use the system with a rotational management, so that you can take advantage of the best moment to harvest the system. In that sense, it is new. Usually what happens is that it that technicians advise to have only monocultures, but in this case it is a mixed-system. And you can have more production from that system without the need of external input into the system like monocultures require and without the need of renewing the system very often as happens when the pastures are degraded.

PC: Is there new research that supports the certain way of doing this perfectly integrated silvopastoral system?

JC: Yes, there is a lot of research going on now in several parts of the world, trying to measure what the benefits of the system are; both in productivity of forests, or biomass in general, and for the reduction in emission of greenhouse gases. Also on the impact on biodiversity and the quality of milk and beef produced in the systems.

PC: Why is your organisation part of the Global Agenda?

JC:  Our Research Centre has been working in Colombia for the last 30 years. It has been working the development of sustainable systems for agriculture production, mainly on cattle that is the main user of land on this side of the world. But we have been working a lot with Latin American countries and in cooperation with European countries to develop these systems. The Global Agenda has similar objectives - that we have to produce in a better way, in a sustainable way and to increase the productivity of the land - and at the same time, reducing the impact of production on the environment.

PC: What do you expect from the Global Agenda and what do you put into it?

JC: The interaction with the Global Agenda has been very productive and useful for us. There has been first of all a possibility to show what we have been doing. The Fifth Meeting of the Global Agenda was in Colombia in 2014 and in that moment they were able to go on visits to systems with sustainable cattle production for more than 25 years. That helped us to show what we were doing and allowed them to see a real system in which livestock production was occurring in a sustainable way.

On the other hand, we have been able to meet a lot of people who are doing similar things in other parts of the world, from academia, the private sector and from similar institutions that are trying to promote this type of system.

PC: Can you give me an example of how this helped promote your cause?

JC: Thanks to the Global Agenda, we have been able to get in touch with people like the Executive Director of the Meat Secretariat, who was also looking for systems with the possibility of producing more without causing more environmental damage. And to intensify production, but to intensify in a sustainable way. Meeting him has given us the opportunity to show that there are systems in which they can rely upon to produce more with, without having problems that are normal with intensification that means more pollutants.

On the other hand, we are able to meet people who are doing research on certain issues related to sustainability, like water footprint analysis and the animal welfare are very important. We are exchanging information on what we are doing and we are even doing some studies here. They are looking at silvopastoral system here and also in Mexico and Colombia.

PC: How do you foresee your future with the Global Agenda? Do you see something that would need to be done in a certain way to promote your causes?

JC: In the future, the Global Agency and the silvopastoral system will like to find a way to scale-up the silvopastoral systems in places where it is suitable and feasible. So, find a way to scale up silvopastoral systems that suitable and feasible, both from government, the private sector and the intergovernmental agencies, would be something I would like to pursue with the Global Agenda.

PC:  Thank you very much.

JC: Your welcome.