Building our Latin America presence
The 7th Brazilian Congress of Agroforestry Systems gave us an opportunity to showcase our growing role in Latin America.
Held in Luziânia, Brazil from 22-26 June, the Congress was themed Dialogue and integration of knowledge in agroforestry systems for sustainable societies, and therefore closely matched the World Agroforestry Centre's mission of promoting tree-based solutions to address global problems of rural poverty, hunger and environmental degradation.
More than 300 participants attended the Congress, representing 24 of the 26 Brazilian states and eight different countries. The Congress comprised various sessions and site visits with diverse topics, ranging from agroforestry systems and climate change to gender issues in agroforestry systems.
The World Agroforestry Centre directed a seminar titled Agroforestry networks and experiences in the Amazon which featured 11 speakers from different Amazonian regions of Brazil and neighboring countries, including Peru, Bolivia, Ecuador, Colombia and Venezuela.
The speakers, many of whom had just participated in a series of workshops titled Amazon Agroforestry Alliances - organized by the Centre and other institutions comprising the Amazon Initiative (AI) Consortium - shed light on issues common to producers throughout Amazonia as well as issues unique to each particular region.
According to one speaker, Hector Maza from the National University of Loja in Ecuador, the seminar allowed participants to take away valuable lessons from one another's diverse experiences. "We learned about experiences from other countries, and as a result will be better prepared to resolve certain issues in our own territories. In this type of interchange you both share and receive information and ideas."
The seminar dealt with the various opportunities and limitations facing agroforestry systems. Speakers highlighted the potential environmental and social benefits of hundreds of native species that could be used in such systems, but at the same time acknowledged numerous barriers to widespread adoption of agroforestry practices in their respective regions. Among the barriers are degraded soils, lack of technical assistance, and difficulties in registering agroforestry products. As several speakers noted, just getting local producers to warm to unfamiliar products or practices is often a difficult task in itself.
Despite these obstacles, the mood of the seminar was optimistic. According to another speaker, Frans Torres, agronomy engineer from Puerto Ayacucho, Venezuela, "The seminar provided a basis with which to better understand that there exist many regions of the Amazon, and that each country is confronting its own particular problems. That said, there are advances in the use of resources towards promoting biodiversity, giving hope that we can utilize the Amazon without having to revert to the practice of massive deforestation."
The Centre also launched several new publications authored and edited by its researchers during the Congress.
Roberto Porro, Regional Coordinator for the World Agroforestry Centre in Latin America described his newly-published volume, The Agroforestry Alternative in the Amazon in Transformation, consisting of 40 chapters written by 85 authors throughout the Amazon region. The volume, divided into 5 sections with chapters in both Spanish and Portuguese, reflects the priority the Centre has placed on establishing new alliances in agroforestry research and development throughout the region.
Speaking in front of more than 50 attendees, eight of which contributed to the volume's authorship, Porro stated his hope that the book would be "the first of a series through which we can continue to enhance the agroforestry perspective in the Amazon."
Marcos Tito, also from the Centre, presented his newly-published technical manual: Guide for the Determination of Carbon in Smallholder Properties (in Portugese). The manual, directed toward agents involved in projects promoting the inclusion of rural communities and family producers in carbon markets, presents the steps involved in field measurement of aerial and subterranean biomass, and of the organic carbon in the soil of forest plantations, agroforestry systems, and natural forests.
Tito also used the occasion to speak about a new online database Agroforestry Publications in the Brazilian Amazon. The site serves as a search engine for agroforestry documents published since 1980, both technical (manuals, project reports) and scientific (articles, books, theses, dissertations, panels, etc.) pertaining to the region. Currently, the database contains 1500 documents spread over 80 categories.
In addition to achieving further recognition through active participation in the Congress, the Centre benefited from its role as observer, gaining a better understanding of the current condition of the agroforestry alternative in Brazil, home to 60% of the Amazon rainforest. While progress in the region is steady, its potential is far from being reached. The Centre's expanding influence in Latin America will be a critical component toward making the Amazon region a model for sustainable practices, preserving the landscape, and improving the livelihoods of those who are helping transform the agroforestry vision into a reality.