Adapting to a Changing Environment

The Salto de Agua Farming Group with the support of CONANP, the National Commission of Natural Protected Areas

Entry Overview

General Info
Benjamin Morales and
Norma Gómez García
Email :;;
Organization Address: 
2 a. Avenida norte s/n segunda calle oriente
Acapetahua, 30580
Population Impacted: 
Community of Salto de Agua, Pijijiapan – 385 people; Coapa River watershed - 8,510 people
Ecological Costs: 
A potential cost could be that due to the success of the silvopastoral practices increasing farming profits farmers would have the resources to expand their properties and grazing lands. This has not happened because of the farmers work with CONANP
Ecological Benefit: 
Soil: Organic fertilizer and alternative weed treatment helps maintain soil quality and productivity of the land versus using chemical products.
Economic Indicators used to measure benefit: 

Net Present Value of an average Silvopastoral property over 10 years. Net Present Value of an average conventional property over 10 years.  # of years (lag time) for profits to cover the implementation costs of silvopastoral practices. Sources of income. Costs of silvopastoral practices. Revenue generated (from milk, fruit sales) from implementing  silvopastoral pracites  (results related to profitability of silvopastoral systems compared to a conventional systems are from a discounted cash flow analysis of these scenarios over a 10 year time frame using a 12% real discount rate) 

Community/Social Cost: 
Increased amount of time spent in meetings, and workshops can take away from other social activities
Community/Social Benefit: 
Benefits within the Salto de Agua Farmers Group: Increased environmental awareness. Increased knowledge of climate change -Improved local governance of land management. Reduction of exposure to chemicals. Increased organization and socio-political capital. Increased public speaking skills and confidence. Increased knowledge of a variety of land management practices that farmers can use to adapt to changing climate and fostered a love of experimentation. Increased pride in their work -Strengthened networks with between farmers. The Salto de Agua Farming Group recently opened their own cheese factory so they can sell cheese directly to buyers instead of depending on intermediaries to purchase milk from them. Benefits to Community: -Farmers in the Farming Group share information, equipment and seeds with conventional farmers outside of the group. The new cheese factory will likely create jobs for some community members. Cleaner water from reduced chemical use. Built networks with environmental organizations and universities. Increased participation of farmers in the Farming Group’s meetings.
Community/Social Indicators used to measure benefit: 
Perceived benefits to human capital from adopting silvopastoral systems reported by farmers. Perceived costs to human capital from adopting silvopastoral systems reported by farmers. Perceived benefits to socio-political capital from adopting silvopastoral systems reported by farmers. Perceived costs to socio-political capital from adopting silvopastoral systems reported by farmers.
Economic Cost: 

Upfront costs of silvopastoral practices:  -There is a lag time of 1 year where profits from silvopoastoral practices are not greater than the costs for silvopastoral farmers who are part of the Salto de Agua Farming Group and receive support from fellow group members and CONANP. -If farmers in Salto de Agua wanted to implement silvopastoral practices without being part of the Farming Group and without the support of CONANP they would experience a lag time of 5 years before their total profits make up for their investments.   For example: Silage made from 2 ha of crops (1 ha sorghum and 1 ha native corn) has median annual costs of $7420 to plant, maintain, harvest, and build.  Orchard costs estimated to be $1,168 to purchase the extra electric fencing wire and hire the manual labor to plant and fence 30 fruit trees in 1 ha.  Electric fence systems (used in rotational grazing, protecting forested areas and newly planted trees, managing protein banks) have a one-time cost of about $6000 with some repair needed over time.   

Economic Benefit: 

Additional income generated:  -Managing an average farm (20 ha, 43 head of cattle, 15 milking cows) under silvopastoral practices as a member of the Salto de Agua Farmers Group, with the support of CONANP, for 10 years is 32.5% more profitable than a conventional property. The net present value of the silvopastoral farm modeled over 10 years is $775,601, compared to a conventional farm scenario at $585,417.  -Managing a Silvopastoral property without being part of the Farming Group and without CONANP’s support would still be 20.1% more profitable over ten years than a conventional property, with a net present value of $703,039 over ten years.  Milk production increased: -Silage and rotational grazing increased milk production (liters/day/cow) on average 51% in the dry season and 19% in the middle season (between dry and rainy) over conventional farming. Farmers are able to maintain milk production during the dry season (3.9 liters/day/cow) at just about the same level as the rainy season (4.0 liters/day/cow). - Protein banks resulted in a median increase of 23% in milk production (liters / day/ cow) year round – dry, middle and rainy seasons. -Improving herd genetics on-top of the practice of silage, rotational grazing and protein bank increased milk production on average 176% in the dry season, 72% in the middle season and 65% in the rainy season over conventional farming. Alternative source of income: - Farmers with a mango orchard profited $3000 per 1 ha per year. -Organic fertilizer sales (the byproduct from the biodigestor) are in process and can provide another income source Decreases Operation Costs: - Manual labor costs for fencing maintenance (replacing posts etc.) are eliminated, saving farmers $68 per ha of property per year. Total savings for an average 20 ha property is estimated to be $4078 per year. - Farmers saved about $3800 per ha using the organic fertilizer from the biodigestor or from the homemade mixture instead of chemical fertilizer on cropland. - Silvopastoral farmers had a  median annual costs of herbicide of $48 per ha while conventional farmers had median costs of $295 per ha. Some farmers in the group have stopped purchasing herbicides all together. 

Ecological Indicators used to measure benefit: 

Perceived benefits of silvopastoral systems reported by farmers. Total forest cover (ha) on properties owned by farmers in the Farming Group. Visual connectivity of forests on aerial photos of watershed. Perceived prevalence of wildlife on farms reported by farmers 

What were/are the challenges your community faced in implementing this solution?: 

When first presented with the idea of planting trees in pastures, farmers were unreceptive, believing that the trees would kill the pasture grasses. After gaining trust with local organizations promoting the practices and visualizing the beneficial effect of trees planted correctly, many farmers decided to try it. Instead of pressuring farmers into planting trees, CONANP took a step back to conduct a diagnostic of what the community most needed and wanted and took the time to explain the science behind planting trees. They also took farmers to other areas where they could see examples of a working system.   Another challenge to this system is that the start-up process can be costly to farmers both financially and in time. Reaping the benefits of this costly start also involves a lag-time, potentially deterring additional adopters. Many farmers in the area described how the initial support from CONANP and TNC in the forms of environmental education, equipment, and technical and financial assistance made the initial adoption possible.   After starting the process, some farmers have described difficulties in establishing seeds and samplings in fields that are vulnerable to the trampling of cattle. Protecting new trees requires additional time and equipment, but can be done with fencing around individuals or sections of seeds and saplings.   Although seemingly undeterred by the several failed protein bank attempts, many farmers have experimented with new species they have seen thrive elsewhere only to discover that they do not do well in their local conditions. However, with the mind frame of the farmers who saw these failed attempts as learning opportunities, this did not appear to be a barrier.  Additionally, whereas using silvopastoral practices is becoming more widely accepted culturally, there are still some who hold traditional ranching norms and view leaving trees in pastures as “lazy”, whereas a treeless pasture is still a sign of a hard working farmer.  As the adoption of these systems spread and friends and family members tried them out, perceptions began to change.     Continued success will require additional considerations. Farmers have already described their ownership of the project and successes. However, as external sources of help move to new areas, farmers will need to further increase their ownership and responsibility. They will need to enhance their ability to solicit their own resources in the same way the external sources are helping them now.   Maintaining and repairing the equipment often used to implement these systems, such as electric fences, will take additional financial aid and understanding of how they work. Farmers will have to know how their equipment works and how to fix it or get replacements if it breaks.   Farmers in Salto de Agua are experimenting with several new techniques and planting new species. Implementing a tracking system to better evaluate the effectiveness of these experiments as well as track progress could save resources, better enable communication of their successes to potential aid sources, and increase motivation.    In order to be truly successful and reap all potential benefits silvopastoral systems may provide, silvopastoral systems must be adopted on a landscape scale. Perhaps the largest risk to continued success is that this practice does not move beyond the community level.     

Describe the community-based process used to develop the solution including tools and processes used: 

Local stakeholders as well as many partners and organizations were involved in the community-based process to develop a solution. As part of their Climate Change Strategy for Protected Areas, the National Commission of Natural Protected Areas (CONANP), in conjunction with the Mexican Fund for the Conservation of Nature (FMCN) and The Nature Conservancy, developed pilot programs for climate change adaptation in southeastern Mexico. Recognizing the interaction and interdependence between human populations that live around the protected areas and conservation goals, these programs are designed to also address issues of the surrounding landscape, including livelihood needs of local communities (Echeverría et al., 2011). Through these programs, CONANP intends to conserve natural capital through maintaining the natural resources and ecosystem services on which local human populations depend.   As a part of this process, CONANP began an assessment of the community of Salto de Agua in 2000, located in the Coastal Plain of the Coapa River watershed. Based on the results of this study, CONANP created a Community Development Plan. Given that 89% of land use in the community was dedicated to livestock production, that this activity is the primary livelihood activity identified for the region, and was responsible for significant resource degradation, the plan focuses on this activity (Gómez Garcia, Castro Suriano, & Flores Moreno, 2004). Recognizing the importance of livestock production and that the activity could not be eliminated to improve resource conservation, CONANP began to work with local livestock producers to make local ranching practices more conducive to conservation and climate change goals while also addressing community development and production needs.  Through informal interviews and workshops with local producers, CONANP found that the three main problems identified by the farmers were lack of pasture during times of drought, problems with pests and diseases in the grasses, and problems with commercialization. It was determined that these issues could be largely addressed through change in pasture management practices that also met conservation goals. Further analysis revealed that many of these issues were interrelated with each exacerbating the next.  For example, prolonged drought, made more intense by deforestation in the middle and upper watershed, led to overgrazing of already scarce pasture, which in turn caused soil erosion and decreased pasture fertility. This in turn slowed recuperation for grasses and increased susceptibility to pests and diseases, compounding already existing challenges of pasture productivity. CONANP determined that these problems could be addressed by improving organization among producers, providing technical assistance, and increasing outreach efforts.    They partnered with The Nature Conservancy, the “La Encrucijada” Biosphere Reserve, and the Institute of Natural History and Ecology (Instituto de Historia Natural y Ecología) and in 2004 developed a plan to improve and diversify the cattle ranching industry in Salto de Agua. They organized local livestock producers and promoted silvopastoral management practices (SPS) in the region (Gómez Garcia, Castro Suriano, & Flores Moreno, 2004). The local livestock producers who participated in the program formed their own group, which governed itself as well as collaborated with the community’s existing governance structure. The knowledge and experience of the farmers was taken into account at every step along the process.  Not only were farmers, the most vulnerable stakeholder group, included in the process of developing the solution, but the solution was created to solve problems they had prioritized and was designed to reduce their vulnerability. It does this by enhancing their adaptive capacity and resilience (including natural, physical, social, human, and financial capitals). Sustainability, both for the land and the people, has been an overarching theme of the program. The solution is ongoing, as CONANP, TNC, and the local farmers continue to monitor and adaptively manage the silvopastoral systems and ensure that they help meet objectives laid out in the 2006 Coapa River watershed management plan put together by TNC and the Interinstitutional Group of Coastal Chiapas Watersheds (Grupo Interinstitucional Cuencas Costeras de Chiapas). In addition, assessments related to climate change impacts and adaptation have been performed by graduate students from Colorado State University, El Colegio de la Frontera Sur (ECOSUR), and Centro Agronómico Tropical De Investigacion y Ensenanza (CATIE).  Their assessments included community interviews, land parcel tours, and workshops with community members and placed a special emphasis on human wellbeing and livelihoods in the face of climate change.  The program has proven so successful that it has been replicated in other nearby communities and stakeholder groups meet often to reflect on the program, adapt it, and better support it.  

Climate hazard of concern: 
Changing temperatures and weather patterns
How does your solution reduce the exposure of and buffer/protect the ecosystem affected?: 

Increasing vegetation on steep slopes stabilizes the soil, reducing the probability of landslides that may occur during the extreme weather events that are predicted. This can reduce the exposure of the tropical forest ecosystem to these impacts as well as buffering the mangrove ecosystem of the neighboring Biosphere Reserve in the lower watershed. 

How does your solution reduce the sensitivity of the ecosystem affected?: 

The silvopastoral systems implemented by the Salto de Agua Farming Group can reduce the sensitivity of the tropical forest ecosystem to changing weather patterns that create extreme rain and storm events by protecting riparian zones and increasing vegetation along rivers and streams, particularly planting species that are more resistant to flood conditions. The changing weather patterns have already resulted in extreme rain and storm events causing severe flooding carrying sediment from upstream and often taking down trees. 

How has your solution increased the capacity of the ecosystem to adapt to potential climate changes?: 

The silvopasotral systems are maintaining primary forest patches, increasing secondary forest cover, and reducing deforestation. Farmers in the Salto de Agua Farming Group are committed to not creating more pasturelands but instead finding innovative fodder techniques. This increases the tropical forest ecosystem’s adaptive capacity by improving landscape connectivity.

How does your solution reduce the exposure of and buffer/protect the communities affected?: 

The silvopastoral systems in Salto de Agua can reduce the exposure of pasturelands and the community to extreme rain events and flooding resulting from changing weather patterns. Increasing trees throughout farming properties can help slow the movement of water in these extreme events, increase infiltration, and reduce damage to the community. The increased vegetation also provides shade, improving microclimates and protecting the community from the rising temperatures. Some silvopastoral properties are along central streets in the Salto de Agua, adding to their ability to buffer the community from climate hazards more than just their farm alone. 

How does your solution reduce the sensitivity of the communities affected?: 

The silvopastoral systems greatly reduce the sensitivity of Salto de Agua to the changing temperatures and weather patterns that put their livelihood at risk. The community of Salto de Agua is highly dependent on milk production as the main source of income to provide for their families. Growing crops for food is difficult due to the natural annual variation in precipitation with a long dry and rainy season. Silvopastoral systems improve milk production year-round, providing enough feed for cows to produce almost equal amounts in the dry and rainy season and in some cases even greater production in the dry season. A farmer using conventional farming practices will experience that their milking cows produce on average about 2.6 liters per day per cow during the dry season, 3.1 during the middle season and 4 during the rainy season. A farmer who has adopted the silvopastoral practices of rotational grazing, silage, protein bank, and improving the herd’s genetics will experience that their milking cows can produce on average 7.2 liters per day per cow during the dry season, 5.3 during the middle season, and 6.5 during the rainy season. Farmers adopting only one or two of those silvopastoral practices also experience an increase in milk production across all season at varying levels. This income stability across seasonal variations greatly reduces the community’s sensitivity to the changing temperatures and weather patterns that are already creating longer droughts and more intense rains. 

How has your solution increased the capacity of local communities to adapt to potential climate changes?: 

According to the International Institute for Sustainable Development (2003) increasing the adaptive capacity and the resilience of a system is central to reducing vulnerability to climate change and protecting local livelihoods. The resilience of a system depends on the existence and viability of five capitals: natural, social-political, human, physical, and financial (Task Force on Climate Change, Vulnerable Communities and Adaptation, 2003). The silvopastoral systems implemented by the Salto de Agua Farming Group with the support of CONANP build adaptive capacity by enhancing these five capitals. 1. Natural capital. As a livelihood activity, the small-scale livestock production systems in the are characterized by a direct dependence on natural capital: cattle, healthy pasture and forage, healthy soil, trees, and water resources. Silvopastoral systems protect these components of this natural resource base, resulting in more sustainable livelihoods while building natural capital and increasing the adaptive capacity of farmers and the community.  2. Social-political capital. The organizational structure of the Farming Group has directly increased the social-political capital of its member, their families and the community of Salto de Agua. They now have a broader, formal, more accessible network of information and experience on which to draw in pursuit of their livelihoods and climate change adaptation strategies. This structure also increases their access to external support, markets, and government services. 3. Human capital. From environmental education to best management and business practices, trainings are a main component of the silvopasotral program. These trainings aim to enhance the skills and knowledge of community members thereby increasing their human capital. Good health, another component of human capital is also increased due to the reduction in exposure to toxic agrochemicals experienced by farmers, a consequence of the more organic, environmentally friendly practices promoted through the Farming Group. 4. Physical capital. Physical capital has been increased by the materials that conservation organizations have supplied to the Farming Group, and the equipment purchased by the Farming Group through membership fees and contributions. These include electric fencing that runs on solar power, planting tools, seeds and plants, a harvester combine and trailer, a biodigestor, and cheese factory machinery. By facilitating the implementation of silvopastoral practices, this physical capital (equipments, materials, etc.) has supported all of the additional capitals, becoming a pivotal component for enhancing livelihoods and building adaptive capacity. 5. Financial capital. Over a 10-year time frame, the silvopasotral systems created by producers in Salto de Agua are estimated to be 32.5% more profitable than conventional systems, resulting mainly from increasing milk production and providing a supplemental income source (fruit sales from orchards). The silvopastoral systems implemented by the Salto de Agua Farming Group build adaptive capacity and enhance livelihoods by supporting and increasing these five interdependent capitals.   Additionally, the diversity of tree and plant species used in silvopastoral systems increase the production of fruit and hard wood, products that can be used for subsistence, or sold, in the event that traditional crops fail or cattle are starving. Farmers’ knowledge of a multitude of techniques to provide fodder for their cattle and the equipment to carry out these practices allow them to choose the best options under different climate scenarios.  In addition, the many species that are used in a silvopastoral system increase overall biodiversity, creating a living seed bank for a variety of potential futures. The main area of strength for adaptive capacity lies within the close network between community members and the community’s connection to CONANP and other organizations, including The Nature Conservancy, who act as a support system providing access to labor, equipment, and technical and financial assistance. The farmers’ own philosophy of viewing failure as a learning opportunity towards success has further enabled their desire to experiment, enhancing their ability to adapt to new scenarios, providing another way to cope with climate related changes. The Salto de Agua Farming Group has a strong internal network where farmers have established work share agreements and have diversified their income sources on their own; incorporating the sale of fruit from orchards, organic fertilizer from the group-managed biodigestor and opening their own cheese factory, the Quesería Pichichi, so they no longer rely only on intermediaries to purchase their milk but can make and market their own dairy products. They are in the process of having the cheese and other dairy products certified as organic. The Farming Group’s skills and knowledge have expanded beyond raising cattle; they have taken courses on small business planning and put those skills to use in the operation of their own farm and of the Group’s shared endeavors – organic fertilizer and cheese. The Farming Group has developed into its own entity led by a rotating panel of farmers with high participation from all members. Their organizational structure ensures shared responsibilities, investments in farming equipment, and benefits of their work. The group manages their own funds to expand silvopastoral practices and solicits support from experts, politicians and other organizations. Their strong relationship with CONANP led to these results that increase their adaptive capacity to continually improve their livelihoods and confront challenges, and they maintain that relationship today. 

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