Examining Sustainable Soil and Landscape Management

Lead Organization:

Colorado State University

Partner Organizations:

Grupo Yanapai, Vecinos Mundiales, and farmers and communities with which the project works; local universities and research institutions; potential new partners with expertise in biogeochemical modeling, landscape ecology and GIS, soil microbiology, and economics, including payments for ecosystem services; PhD student Anna Visscher at the University of Bolzano, Italy; and Mountain Institute and IRD, possibly

Community of Practice:





Agricultural land use transformation and modern practices (reduced fallow, synthetic fertilizers) have triggered widespread soil erosion and degraded soil health. This is particularly concerning in mountain ecosystems with unpredictable climates and fragile soils. Both traditional and innovative agroecological practices may restore soil health and long-term sustainability (Fonte et al., 2012); however, rapid social change and associated agricultural management and land use changes (Caulfield et al., 2019) necessitate better understanding and integration of agroecological options within current rotations.

The Forage and Fallows project tested managed fallows to support soil regeneration and address forage shortages for livestock. Long-term impacts require assessment and adaptation to farmer contexts across diverse socioeconomic, cultural, and environmental conditions. Lacking are policies and incentives supporting agroecological practices. Previous project phases examined the success of forage-based fallows and how this responds to biophysical limitations and opportunities in the landscape (Vanek et al., 2020). Other literature demonstrated the potential of fallow-based soil regeneration and erosion (Rolando et al., 2018, Sarmiento et al., 2012). Knowledge gaps remain: How do field-level modifications affect cultural and socioecological trajectories? Better understanding of dissemination bottlenecks or scaling out of new approaches (Tey et al., 2017, Arslan et al., 2020) and how these interact with existing practices and social factors (Giller et al., 2011, Douxchamps et al., 2016) is required. Given the diverse livelihoods among Andean smallholders, the need exists to examine using fallow practices with community governance, existing innovations among farmers, and gender. Detailed, holistic study is needed of multipurpose fallows’ impact in the context of existing land uses relative to ecosystem services. Findings can contribute to policy discussions about soil management and farmers’ role in supporting productivity in the mixed crop-livestock system.

Grant Aims:

  1. Continue training and support for a promising young scientist with deep connections in and knowledge of the Andes. A member of the Forage and Fallows project, Katherin Meza finished her MSc at Colorado State University. As a PhD student, she will probe long-term sustainability and potential of multipurpose forage-based fallows as a viable AEI option in the region.
  2. Examine long-term trajectories for soil organic matter and nutrients (NPK) within a typical crop rotation both with and without multipurpose forage-based fallows.
  3. Understand community- and household-level drivers and barriers for uptake and utilization of multipurpose forage-based fallows and other agroecological practices; explore different levers to facilitate agroecological transitions (community governance, market, policy, existing livelihood strategies) in eight communities in which the Forage and Fallows project works.
  4. Integrate results from the above and previous research to understand how expanding multipurpose forage-based fallows will influence provision of ecosystem services at landscape scale; incorporate improved understanding on drivers plus barriers of utilization to predict likely extent of practice in contrasting Andean landscapes; explore how farmer management of improved fallows may influence provision of ecosystem services at landscape scale.

Outputs and Outcomes:

  • Meza’s PhD degree obtained along with associated skill development and capacity building that goes with it
  • Soil nutrient and carbon budgets addressing long-term sustainability of different improved fallow options; identification of key management levers or intervention points to ensure continued productivity of these systems
  • Regional dissemination of work through farmer workshops, cross-community exchanges, and presentations at local universities; national and international sharing via meeting and conference presentations and peer-reviewed journal articles
  • Widespread utilization/adaptation of main household- and community-level determinants of improved fallow utilization and associated agroecological practices; policy brief developed with key messages to help shape local and region discussions on soil health management
  • Understanding of the extent to which improved fallows will be adopted and how expansion into new areas and associated management of these fallows will influence provision of ecosystem services and biodiversity at landscape scale.