B2 Pasture rehabilitation on, and management of degraded areas in the Andes of South Ecuador. [funded by dfg]

Project staff:


Prof. Dr. Dr. h.c. Erwin Beck

Abstract:

This knowledge transfer project will be centered in the San Francisco valley in the South Ecuadorian Andes. However, the problem of abandoning pastures because of heavy infestation by weeds, in particular by bracken fern (Pteridium spec.), is a general issue in the tropical Andes. Pastures which have been abandoned for that reason amount meanwhile to 11% of the area of the San Francisco valley. Infestation by bracken fern and shrubs is a consequence of the traditional use of fire for clearing of the natural forest and pasture management. Growth of both, bracken and woody weeds, is fostered by recurrent burning. In a 2-phase experiment on a heavily bracken-infested slope at c. 2000 m altitude, substantial control of the weed and subsequent pasture rehabilitation could be achieved. In the planned project, this procedure shall be scaled-up to farm level and the altitudinal range of repasturisation shall be extended from 1000 m to 2400 m altitude. To that end local farmers will put respective parts of their land to the project’s disposal and public authorities will provide man-power. There are several challenges to be met: (i) Long-term bracken infestation has depleted the soils from nutrients, in particular P and N. Therefore targeted fertilization is needed for profitable grass productivity. (ii) Since bracken can never be completely eradicated, its regrowth must be suppressed by trampling, i.e. frequent grazing. A sustainable grazing management has to be developed which corresponds to soil fertility. (iii) The dominating pasture grass is the C4-type grass Setaria sphacelata. It is growing well in a warm climate but its competitive strength in the harsher climate above 2000 m is low. Bracken as a C3-type plant is less dependent on the temperature. To this adds that it occurs in 2 species in the area, one of which is an upland type. Thus the climate gradient over the elevational transect will influence the competitive strength of both competitors. Therefore the suitability of the traditional monoculture of this grass species for pasture rehabilitation shall be tested in the context of a comprehensive pasture management experiment which the farmers will be involved. (iv) A special problem is the high oxalate concentration in the growing parts of the Setaria leaves which can cause calcaemia in cattle. In a pot experiment which will be run in collaboration with a research team of the UTPL, feeding quality and toxicity of a monotonous diet of Setaria will be tested. Beside the experimental areas, demonstration sites will be installed where regular training workshops will be organized to encourage the farmers to apply the developed rehabilitation and management strategy to their own farms.

Description:

This knowledge transfer project will be centered in the San Francisco valley in the South Ecuadorian Andes. However, the problem of abandoning pastures because of heavy infestation by weeds, in particular by bracken fern (Pteridium spec.), is a general issue in the tropical Andes. Pastures which have been abandoned for that reason amount meanwhile to 11% of the area of the San Francisco valley. Infestation by bracken fern and shrubs is a consequence of the traditional use of fire for clearing of the natural forest and pasture management. Growth of both, bracken and woody weeds, is fostered by recurrent burning. In a 2-phase experiment on a heavily bracken-infested slope at c. 2000 m altitude, substantial control of the weed and subsequent pasture rehabilitation could be achieved. In the planned project, this procedure shall be scaled-up to farm level and the altitudinal range of repasturisation shall be extended from 1000 m to 2400 m altitude. To that end local farmers will put respective parts of their land to the project’s disposal and public authorities will provide man-power. There are several challenges to be met: (i) Long-term bracken infestation has depleted the soils from nutrients, in particular P and N. Therefore targeted fertilization is needed for profitable grass productivity. (ii) Since bracken can never be completely eradicated, its regrowth must be suppressed by trampling, i.e. frequent grazing. A sustainable grazing management has to be developed which corresponds to soil fertility. (iii) The dominating pasture grass is the C4-type grass Setaria sphacelata. It is growing well in a warm climate but its competitive strength in the harsher climate above 2000 m is low. Bracken as a C3-type plant is less dependent on the temperature. To this adds that it occurs in 2 species in the area, one of which is an upland type. Thus the climate gradient over the elevational transect will influence the competitive strength of both competitors. Therefore the suitability of the traditional monoculture of this grass species for pasture rehabilitation shall be tested in the context of a comprehensive pasture management experiment which the farmers will be involved. (iv) A special problem is the high oxalate concentration in the growing parts of the Setaria leaves which can cause calcaemia in cattle. In a pot experiment which will be run in collaboration with a research team of the UTPL, feeding quality and toxicity of a monotonous diet of Setaria will be tested. Beside the experimental areas, demonstration sites will be installed where regular training workshops will be organized to encourage the farmers to apply the developed rehabilitation and management strategy to their own farms.




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