Restore Andean Montane Forests: Silvopastoral Initiative
When crops and pastures replace native forests or páramos, the original wild habitat is not only reduced in size; it also becomes fragmented and isolated. And when species can no longer move—occupy new land, respond to environmental changes, secure nutrients, exchange genes—they perish.
Agricultural frontiers divide domestic, managed landscapes from original and natural wild vegetation. In the mountainous regions where FCT works, these frontiers typically expand upslope, progressively converting forests to cropland and pastures. Privately held properties thus encompass agricultural land at lower elevations and forests and páramo grasslands above. Property owners view native vegetation as agricultural land in waiting.
A fundamental goal of FCT is to halt the advance of these agricultural frontiers, which in turn allows the survival of the native habitat. An incentive-based tool kit is used by FCT to motivate property owners to conserve their pristine holdings. These tools include payments or in-kind compensation for the conservation of environmental services, help in accessing municipal tax reductions, protection from agricultural redistribution schemes, environmental education, ecotourism, and techniques for improving production in existing agricultural areas.
Also in the toolkit are silvopastures, where edible trees are established on grazing land and along pasture divisions. In 2014, FCT initiated a project in the buffer zone of Sangay National Park to introduce silvopastoral systems. In addition to donated seedlings of native trees and the labor to plant them, property owners receive fencing to protect the young saplings. In exchange for these inputs, landowners sign a “conservation agreement” in which they pledge to leave their forested holdings at higher elevation undisturbed. Although these pledges are voluntary, they have been honored.
Because FCT has experienced greater conservation benefits with riverine silvopastoral initiatives, our more recent projects have focused on forestation projects along riverbanks. For farmers, the forested corridors are a sustainable source of firewood while also stabilizing stream banks, preventing soil loss during river surges. The edible leaves of pasture-facing trees provide higher protein content to cows and thus improve milk production. In addition, forage productivity is sustained during dry periods, when pasture grass growth is limited. An important ecological benefit is the restoration of the riverine habitat, as shade, leaf fall, and submerged trunks diversify the aquatic environment. Finally, the reforested lands serve as corridors for the movement of species and the restoration of biodiversity in the agricultural zone.
A landowner in the buffer zone of Sangay National Park explains his commitment to
reforestation and silvopastures.
In the five years that FCT has carried forward its silvopastoral initiative, over 48,800 trees have been planted. In addition, 38 property owners have participated in the various phases of planting, with many more expressing the desire to be involved in future phases. The success of the silvopastoral initiative and its underlying conservation logic have not only been noted by various governmental organizations but also replicated.
In early 2017, CELEC-Hidropaute, one of Ecuador’s largest hydroelectric corporations, funded a large reforestation project very similar to the FCT initiative, with a goal of planting 100,000 trees over three years. FCT has collaborated enthusiastically with this scaled-up replication.