A famous Chinese proverb, often used in psychological advice literature to reassure people that it is never too late to start anything in life, goes like this:
“The best time to plant a tree was 20 years ago, the second best time is now.”
I think that the proverb is most valid in its literal meaning however, and not just in your backyard but on your farm as well. If you or your forefathers haven’t thought about investing in trees so far, you might want to consider it now. Trees take considerable time to grow, therefore their benefits manifest on different time horizons as compared to crop or livestock cycles.
Many agricultural systems, and particularly the type of extensive cattle grazing that is traditionally practiced throughout large areas of the Southern Cone, can be combined with tree production on the same area. The combination of forestry (silviculture) and livestock herding (pastoralism) is called silvopastoral production.
Here are five reasons to invest in silvopastoral production systems if not 20 years ago, then today:
- Earn more: Synergies between cattle and trees mean that a combined system can produce more income than either system on its own. Comfortable cows lead to more and higher quality beef and milk.
- Fight climate change: When planted on degraded pasture land, trees sequester significant amounts of carbon dioxide. For example, a silvopastoral project in Colombia has increased carbon sequestration by about eight tons of carbon dioxide per hectare. Silvopastoral systems can provide watershed and biodiversity benefits as well.
- Access finance: It is difficult for forestry companies to borrow for investments in forest plantations because of their cash flow profile. Trees are harvested when they are mature, meaning that all plantations’ incomes come at the end, at least seven years later. Bankers don’t like this risk. Adding cattle to the system generates revenues every year. Such cash flow allows ranchers to access finance and start to pay back a loan while they wait for trees to grow.
- Make more with less: Planting two crops allows a farmer to produce more on the same area of land. Given the global challenge of feeding nine billion people by 2050, this is an important benefit.
- Adapt to local conditions: Silvopastoral systems can be altered to fit farmers’ needs by focusing more on forestry growth or cattle productivity. There are farms in Paraguay, where timber production is emphasized and therefore trees are planted quite densely. Dairy farmers in Brazil on the other hand optimize for milk production. They plant trees in lower density to allow more light for the pasture but maintain some shade for the cattle.
If you are interested to learn more about the economic, environmental and social benefits of silvopastoralism in Paraguay and beyond and evaluate whether this is a worthwhile investment in your farm, join us at the IDB Country Office in Asuncion, Paraguay, on Friday May 13th.
Experts will present the results of a study conducted on real farms, analyzing the economic feasibility of silvopastoral systems under different production scenarios, as well as their benefits for the environment and employment generation.
Please email ISandra Benitez Pereira for further details.
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