About integrated land use systems

By: Alessandra Salvalaggio for Proyecto Cocuyo

“The benefits that these systems bring are a high level of ecosystem goods and services, such as biodiversity, water and soil protection, lower vulnerability to the risk of global changes and markets thank to the broader product range, adaptability and compatibility to local population needs and capacity.”

Recently, I attended a three weeks course in ILUS (integrated land use systems) with internal students and external participants from different parts of the world. Integrated land use systems are a combination of different types of land uses that integrate several management goals in the same patch or landscape mosaic. They can be attractive and stable land-use options for millions of small-scale farmers, they support efforts for restoration of degraded land and, in general, they serve as a meaningful response to agro-industrial uses and their eventual negative social and environmental consequences. Examples of integrative land use systems are agro-forestry systems, intercropping systems, bio-reserves, shelter belts\windbreaks, etc. The benefits that these systems bring are a high level of ecosystem goods and services, such as biodiversity, water and soil protection, lower vulnerability to the risk of global changes and markets thank to the broader product range, adaptability and compatibility to local population needs and capacity.

The course has foreseen a group work, in which we had to develop and discuss different topics, starting from a research question. My group work question was: “whether and to what extent is it possible and does it make sense to combine the production of commodities for international markets with products for the local market and self-consumption?”. This is a very interesting and challenging topic that, nowadays, could not have been more relevant.

Given the fact that food security is a more important topic in developing countries and agroforestry systems make more sense for the setting of smallholder farmers than for large-scale agriculture, with my group, we focused on smallholder farmers in the global south, where the question of a balance between cash and food crops is of special significance. Efforts to improve small scale farmer’s livelihoods and raise their income often include attempts to link them to the international market of agricultural produce, as it is often possible to get a higher price for cash crops than food crops. While this development has certainly had some positive effects, this strategy on the other hand includes a variety of risks for the farmer, like highly volatile prices, a dependency on inputs like seeds, fertilizer and pesticides, and often also on a specific value chain, making it difficult to react flexible to changes, like, for example, decreasing market prices. In some cases, the large scale production of cash crops has led to the disappearance of traditional agroforestry home gardens, a decrease in local food production and therefore in food security. In addition, the trend of cash crop production favors only bigger farmers, it has some negative effects on intra-household dynamics and, from an ecological point of view, it has a detrimental effect on biodiversity and ecosystem services.

Therefore, it is undisputed that a shift towards a different kind of agriculture seems necessary. The combined production for both international and local markets and/or self-consumption by small scale farmers offers various benefits: while the cash crops satisfy the demand for cash, food crops or animal husbandry offer a safety net for food security, especially when local markets are disintegrated. Especially crops that can be combined with agroforestry or other types of integrated land-use systems offer the perspective of long-term economic, social and ecological sustainability.

But another question arises about the possibility to enter and develop the local market: is it so easy? The answers is definitely negative. The difficulties in creating a local market include the high complexity of the management system for small farmers, mainly if they are already producing for the international market, the lack or rural goods, the absence of certain policy incentives, extension services and regulations, the production around only one value chain, the culture and tradition of local population and producers that may not be conscious about the high value of the products.

Doing my research, I immediately thought about Proyecto Cocuyo, an agro-forestry coffee project that I have been following for some years through social networks. Since it definitely fits this subject, I contacted them to discuss about their project and to have an interview with some basic questions regarding the topic. I was mainly interested in knowing if they manage to combine the production of coffee for both the international and the local market, which are the challenges of selling in the local market and how is the agro-forestry system implementing their production in terms of quality and quantity.

The output turned out great and their help was really useful for my group work!

They are a successful example of small-scale agro-forestry coffee farm that ensures its ecological, economical and social sustainability. They started to roast their best coffee and sell it in a small coffee shop three years ago (later created their own roasted coffee brand). It has not been easy to start a local market too, because before roasting and selling their own coffee was not allowed by law and because local people were not used to drink this high-value product, but just the scarps of the remaining production. Now the situation is improving, the local market is changing and some people and companies have started to roast, drink and commercialize even high quality beans. The direct trade or fair trade in the local market of roasted Colombian coffee is beneficial for them, avoiding in part taxes and shipment costs that are instead needed to reach the international market. Last but not least, the fact that the producers taste and become conscious about the value of their own products, confers power to small scale coffee farmer and appreciation from local people increases.

Thank you again Carlos and Ana for your availability. Keep it up!!

About the Author:   “I am Alessandra Salvalaggio, I come from northern Italy, I studied Agriculture and Agro-Environmental Sciences in Bozen (South Tyrol) and now i am doing my master course in Forest Science in Freiburg, Germany.”


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