The Southern Grassland Alliance aims to promote good management practices in the grassland biome of South America, where agricultural intensification has seen the loss of 25% of habitat in the past three decades. The group has recently published best practise guidelines for cattle ranchers on how to increase meat production while also conserving grassland biodiversity.
Across Uruguay, Argentina, Brazil and Paraguay the rich diversity of native grasslands is being threatened by agricultural intensification. The destruction of this biome for the production of monoculture crops is happening at an alarming rate; in Uruguay alone, the expansion of soybean had exceeded one million hectares by 2013 (Ferrari et al. 2013). This change in land cover has resulted in a significant loss of soil nutrients, greater homogenization of the landscape, an increased risks of water contamination by agrochemicals and the loss of natural habitat and the concurrent extinction of species (Viglizzo et al. 2002). With 95% of the grasslands privately owned and used for beef production, conservationists must work with farmers to help them manage their land sustainably.
To this end, BirdLife Partners in Uruguay, Argentina, Brazil and Paraguay formed the Southern Grassland Alliance in 2006 to promote sustainable cattle grazing practises. The Grasslands Alliance believes that traditional farming can coexist with biodiversity; through their regional research they have shown that meat production yields can improve threefold solely as a result of good management practices, while also conserving grassland biodiversity (Marino 2008). To aid conservation action, the Alliance has published best practice guidelines giving cattle ranchers in South America information on how to increase productivity and conserve biodiversity.
Initially during their research, the Grasslands Alliance worked with farmers and expert technicians on 10 pilot sites, all within Important Bird and Biodiversity Areas (IBAs). They experimented with a variety of different approaches to land management—such as variable stocking rates, rotational grazing, restoration of native grasslands and use of fire as a management tool—to understand better how these practices impacted soil health, water quality and carbon sequestration.
Soil degradation impacts food security, flood susceptibility, drought tolerance, drinking water quality, biodiversity and future genetic resources. Land use change can significantly reduce soil organic carbon and increases carbon dioxide (CO2), nitrous dioxide (NO2) and methane (CH4) emissions. Changing land use from pasture to cropland results in the greatest loss of soil organic carbon and is contributing to climate change (Young 2015).
Agricultural intensification is also threatening the livelihoods of traditional farming communities, as they are under pressure to convert their grasslands to grow crops and make a greater profit over the short term or to sell their land to agricultural companies. The aim of the Grasslands Alliance is to show farmers that there is an alternative. The best practice guidelines guarantee productivity—placing more attention on growing healthy native grasses, controlling grazing, and enhancing natural seeding—while ensuring there is sufficient and thriving natural habitat for birds and other wildlife.
The management techniques are designed to improve the state of the soil, pasture and biological processes that sustain forage production and species diversity, rather than implementing a management plan based on the indiscriminate use of herbicides, pesticides and fertilisers. The aim is to maximise sustainable efficiency rather than create short-term gains (Marino 2008). The best practice guidelines recognise that there is no single recipe for managing grasslands and techniques must be chosen according to the objectives, work plan and resources of each farm, taking into account that grasslands vary between countries, regions, farms and even individual fields. Solutions, therefore, need to be tailored to each situation (Marino 2008).
Along with the best practice reports, the Grasslands Alliance also provide online training materials on their website, including manuals and videos.
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Compiled: 2016 Copyright: 2016
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