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Sustainable Cattle Ranching in the Santa Maria River Watershed as a Measure for Adaptation to Climate Change


According to the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (FAO 2014), 27% of Panama's lands are considered “dry and degraded," caused mainly by unsustainable conventional cattle ranching. Panama's Santa María River Watershed, which consists of over 200,000 hectares shared by three central provinces and one indigenous reservation (Veraguas, Herrera, Coclé and Ngöbe Buglé, respectively), has over 50% of its land use focused on conventional ranching (INEC 2010). Much of the watershed has been deforested and degraded, resulting in the loss of ecosystem services, especially for potable water and agricultural irrigation, thus negatively affecting public health and rural livelihoods.

Silvopastoral systems (SPS) are a sustainable alternative to conventional cattle ranching because they incorporate diverse trees and intensifies natural processes to conserve biodiversity but also increase on-farm yields. In order to facilitate a change in sustainable land-use, farmers need to have a better understanding of the principles of ecological restoration and how silvopastoral practices can be integrated on-farm. To build this capacity, ELTI will offer a hands-on field course that will teach the fundamentals of forest restoration and strategies for landowners to restore forest cover in cattle ranching landscapes. This field course will be held at the ELTI’s training landscape, located in the Azuero Peninsula, which teaches restoration principles through its network of model farms and demonstration sites.

Participants of the course will be selected from farmers who will be implementing silvopastoral systems via their participation in the project: Sustainable Livestock in the Middle and Lower Watersheds of the Santa María River as a Measure of Adaptation to Climate Change. The project, financed by the Adaptation Fund “seeks to support and strengthen the capacities and skills of small livestock producers, located in the middle and lower watersheds of the Santa María River, so that they can implement climate change adaptation measures and with them achieve climate resilience and environmental quality in its productive systems through the establishment of silvopastoral systems, increased productivity, and restoration of the connectivity of livestock landscapes.”


Module 1: Forest ecology and provision of ecosystem services

  • Introduction to ecosystem goods and services
  • Tropical dry forest ecology and function
  • Forest dynamics, succession and natural regeneration of tropical forests

Module 2: Forest degradation and limitations for restoration

  • Regional factors that drive degradation in cattle ranching landscapes
  • Forest and soil degradation
  • Socio-economic consequences of forest degradation

Module 3: Strategies for the restoration of ecosystem services in ranching landscapes

  • Clarification of restoration goals and models
  • Introduction to the conceptual framework of restoration
  • Methods for forest restoration (range of restoration options: Passive - Active)

Module 4: Sustainable livestock: Environmental and productive contributions

  • The importance of biodiversity in ranching landscapes
  • Introduction to silvopastoral systems (SPS)
  • Establishment and management of a SPS

Module 5: The role of community organizations in ecological restoration

  • The need, development and dynamics of a community association
  • Best practices to implement and manage projects
  • Strategies for the dissemination of information to the community

Module 6: Final exercise: Development of a farm plan

  • Define restoration objectives
  • Diagnosis of the current state of the farm
  • Selection of appropriate restoration strategies, activities, resources and costs