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Ecological Restoration Strategies for Cattle Ranching Landscapes of the Azuero


The tropical dry forest, the most endangered ecosystem in the tropics, is extremely threatened by the dominance of extensive conventional cattle ranching. The consequences of conventional ranching systems in Panama are particularly severe in the dry forest ecosystem of the Azuero Peninsula. The destruction of forests has degraded ecosystem services such as water, soil fertility, and biodiversity, which are necessary to support livelihoods. With erratic annual rainfall and a dry season lasting from five to six months, the region’s extreme climate variations compound the stresses of unsustainable land use practices and make the efforts of restoring this ecosystem particularly challenging. While advances in forest restoration and sustainable ranching have been shown to enhance production and ecosystem services in cattle ranching landscapes, they are virtually absent from the Panamanian landscape, mostly due to the lack of information and incentive available to cattle ranchers. To address this challenge, ELTI developed a field course for cattle ranchers interested in learning about and implementing strategies to restore forest cover on their farms as a means to improve ecosystem services and increase farm productivity.

Over a period of five days, this course provides the practical basis to understand the importance of ecosystem services that originate from forests and how to implement forest restoration strategies in cattle ranching landscapes via silvopastoral system practices. This field course takes place in ELTI’s training landscapes in Azuero, which convey ecological principles through their interpretative trail network and demonstration sites. In addition, participants observe the range of socio-economic contexts and associated restoration strategies through visits to model farms and discussions with their respective owners. This course is an offering to extension agents and local landowners, who will be conducting forest restoration in their communities. Participation is by invitation only.


The course content is divided into six thematic modules, which include an introductory lecture with corresponding observations, exercises and analysis in the field.

Module 1: Forest ecology and the provision of ecosystem services

  • Introduction to the ecosystem goods and services from forests
  • Function of tropical dry forests
  • Forest dynamics, succession and natural regeneration of tropical forests

Module 2: Limitations for the restoration and provision of ecosystem services

  • Regional drivers of degradation in Azuero
  • Degradation of ecosystem services
  • Socio-economic consequences of forest degradation

Module 3: Strategies for restoring ecosystem services in cattle ranching landscapes

  • Clarify restoration goals and appropriate restoration models
  • Introduce the conceptual model for restoration
  • Forest restoration methods (range of restoration options: passive - active)

Module 4: Sustainable cattle ranching: Environmental and productive contributions

  • The importance of biodiversity in agro-landscapes
  • Introduction to silvopastoral systems (SPS)
  • The establishment and management of SPS

Module 5: The role of community organizations with forest restoration

  • The need, development and dynamics of community-based associations
  • Best practices to implement and manage projects
  • Strategies to disseminate projects to other stakeholders

Module 6: Final exercise: Developing a plan for forest restoration

  • Defining restoration objectives
  • Identifying biophysical and social variables
  • Selecting adequate restoration strategies