Trees in pastures provide benefits for cattle
An interview with Laura Lojano of Fundación Cordillera Tropical
Cuenca, Ecuador (5 February 2015) - Laura Lojano, Fundación Cordillera Tropical’s Project Coordinator, recently visited the Research Center for Sustainable Systems for Agricultural and Ranching Production in Colombia. Here she shares her experience of visiting farms with working silvopastoral models.
What is a silvopastoral system?
Laura: A silvopastoral system is a mix of trees or shrubs in combination with well-managed pasture. The trees and shrubs supplement the cattle’s diet and are also environmentally friendly.
What silvopastoral techniques are being used currently?
Laura: The most frequently used silvopastoral techniques are living fences. Living fences replace ¨dead¨ fence posts and lower the long-term management costs for ranchers. Other techniques include the planting of hedges, essentially a line of edible trees inside a pasture.
The necessities of the landowner drive the design. However, currently in Ecuador there are very few projects that combine trees and cattle.
The species [consumed by cattle] that are planted include the native coral tree (Erythrina poeppigiana), which provides the soil with nitrogen, and elderberry (Sambucus peruviana), a species found commonly throughout the Cañar Province with a high protein content.
What nutritional value do the trees provide to the cattle?
Laura: The trees are a nutritional supplement and in combination with access to high quality pasture, they can help cows produce a better quality and higher quantity of milk. For example, elderberry can help raise fat levels in milk due to its high protein content.
During your recent visit to Colombia, what did you observe them doing in Colombia and how could we apply it in this region?
Laura: We observed that the success derives from the management system. There, we observed trees incorporated into pastures that improved the pastures by providing humidity, shade, and fixing nitrogen. Additionally, in Colombia they frequently renew their pastures, and this practice helps to save seed and reduce the overall volume of fertilizer that is required. These steps favor the rancher’s bottom line. [In contrast,] here rancher’s permit cattle to overgraze and trample pastures and they do not periodically renew them.
What are the environmental benefits of implementing this system that you observed in Colombia?
Laura: The incorporation of a silvopastoral system in pastures has many benefits: soils are protected from erosion; there is better protection of the grass, and better nutrition for the cattle. Ultimately [these techniques] provide the ranchers’ with greater income.
The goal is to not only think about managing cattle ranching, but to create a new perception in cattle ranchers.
What are the dangers and threats that the current system poses if it is not changed?
Laura: In the region where we work, the forest is the most threatened ecosystem. The rancher who observes that his/her pastures are unproductive will fell the forest to extend them. The rancher knows that pastures are more productive in areas that have been recently deforested. However without proper management, little by little, the soil loses its nutrients.
[Overgrazing and the loss of soil fertility] are a highly visible problem in our region. We believe that improved pasture management and the removal of grazing on steep slopes, can achieve important changes in the management of productive areas and protect nearby forests.
Why do you think that a property owner should adopt this system?
Laura: When one works with ranchers, one should prioritize their income by helping them achieve an optimal management. After this, you can calculate the environmental benefits: an increase in sequestered carbon, stream protection and water quality improvements, and the protection of valuable soil.
What are you doing currently?
Laura: Beginning in early 2014, we worked to create four demonstration parcels with native coral and elderberry trees where we are monitoring tree growth. With these results, we will understand the expected growth rate [of native trees in the Ecuadorian Andes].
What are Fundación Cordillera Tropical’s plans for 2015?
Laura: To install 20 silvopastoral plots and plant at least 30,000 trees. In this new phase of the project, we hope to work with hydroelectric companies and provincial governments, because we believe that these projects are the responsibility of everyone.
With regards to the silvopastoral project, what is the perception of local landowners?
Laura: Currently ranchers are confronted with a lack of forage for their cattle, and the cattle in turn are yielding less milk and lower quality milk. They view this project as a way to improve the forage available for their cattle, and in this measure, improve the quality and quantity of milk produced. Local ranchers are open and interested in participating, given that they too feel that it will be a good alternative that will improve their income. They are also environmentally conscience and interested in conservation.
Laura: You’re welcome.
Written by Paola Andrea Girón O.