A renowned professor of Tropical Forestry and expert on agroforestry systems at Yale University, Dr. Florencia Montagnini is teaming up with Runa Foundation to lead our new research on how growing guayusa in agroforestry systems helps to sustain biodiversity.
In Agroforestry and Biodiversity Conservation in Tropical Landscapes, Agroforestry is defined as “a dynamic, ecologically based natural resource management practice that, through the integration of trees and other tall woody plants on farms and in the agricultural landscape, diversifies production for increased social, economic and environmental benefits.”
It is inarguable that agroforestry in fact supports biodiversity conservation, especially in the tropics, where agricultural land use largely takes place at the expense of natural ecosystems. Agroforestry systems provide a pro-poor, climate resilient alternative to estate crops such as palm oil and sugar cane.
As the western world is showing increasing interest in different forms of agroforestry systems, indigenous farmers in Ecuadorian Amazon have used the method for centuries in their forest farms, Chakras. These systems integrate a variety of products that contribute both to rural livelihoods and biodiversity conservation including medicinal plants, fruit trees, staple crops and timber species. By growing these species in close association with one another, farmers have developed a system that makes use of natural stand dynamics that minimize labor costs and ensure agricultural production. The same land tile requires minimum input from the farmer, while providing the family all the products needed.
The problem is, however, that these forest farms are traditionally designed for family subsistence, and not deisgned to grow cash crops. As a result, Chakras are increasingly unable to compete with monoculture cash crop farming or cattle.
This is where guayusa steps in: creating markets for traditional plants found in chakras works as an economical incentive for farmers to maintain the agroforestry system. “By being able to earn income from low-input guayusa trees, using an agroforestry system is definitely the most suitable way of farming for small-scale farmers in the area”, explains Ian Cummins, landscapes director of Runa Foundation, who is working closely with Dr. Montagnini in the upcoming research.
The aim of the research is to show how farming guayusa supports the ecosystem and biodiversity conservation in the Ecuadorian Amazon. Dr. Montagnini, who has spent more than 30-years studying mixed agroforestry systems, already supported Runa in 2012 to create The Best Practices Manual for Guayusa Farming, which has led to over 2,800 farmers being able to integrate guayusa efficiently in their chakras, thereby increasing agricultural incomes without compromising the system’s biodiversity.
“In order to measure the contribution of guayusa farmers’ agroforestry systems to biodiversity and landscape conservation, we will compare mammal, bird, insect and tree diversity within guayusa agroforestry systems to other land uses,” says Cummins. “By measuring the the presence of seed trees and natural regeneration, we can also predict whether these systems can serve as focal points for accelerating forest restoration on abandoned land.”
During her visit in Ecuador, Dr. Montagnini also gave a presentation on biodiversity benefits associated with agroforestry and presented Runa Foundation’s current restoration work in University of Puyo. The presentation was part of the 3rd Annual Iberoamerican Symposium on Conservation and the Environment, which brought researchers from all over the world to discuss environmental issues.
Specifically, the talk described how the current network of agroforestry systems provides habitat connectivity between Ecuador’s protected areas. It also presented Runa’s plans to restore forests and enhance biodiversity on abandoned land by by planting ecologically and environmentally valuable tree species.
Runa Foundation is hoping to collaborate also with the university during the upcoming research: with the resources and support of University of Puyo, the foundation would be able to establish long term monitoring plots for areas under restoration.
Dr. Florencia Montagnini visited Napo Province in early June. Her presentation and other publications can be found here: drflorenciamontagnini.wordpress.com/
The University of Puyo: https://www.uea.edu.ec/
The best practices of growing guayusa:
Agroforestry and Biodiversity Conservation in Tropical Landscapes: