Intensive silvopastoral systems with Leucaena leucocephala in Latin America

Julián Chará, Julián Rivera, Rolando Barahona, Enrique Murgueitio, Zoraida Calle, Carolina Giraldo


Plenary paper presented at the International Leucaena Conference, 1‒3 November 2018, Brisbane, Queensland, Australia.

Leucaena leucocephala has played a key role in the development of sustainable cattle ranching in Latin America. This species is the backbone of the so-called Intensive Silvopastoral Systems (ISPS) that combine high-density cultivation of leucaena as fodder shrubs (4,000–40,000 plants/ha) with grasses and trees. The layers of vegetation added by shrubs and trees increase the system’s capacity for transforming solar energy into biomass and enhance habitat complexity. Although part of the biomass is transformed into livestock products, a significant amount is deposited as litter on the soil and, along with the nitrogen fixed by leucaena and other trees, has positive effects on soil properties and grass production. The increased complexity of the system has measurable effects on biodiversity. ISPS with leucaena support more species of birds, ants, dung beetles and woody plants than conventional pasture monocultures, contribute to landscape-scale connectivity and provide environmental services. They also enhance animal welfare through reduced heat stress and improved availability and quality of fodder resources. ISPS contribute to climate change mitigation by improving above- and below-ground carbon sequestration and by cutting down greenhouse gas emissions per units of dry matter consumed and cattle product. Although these systems have been successfully implemented in Colombia, Mexico and other countries, their adoption is still limited in relation to the area suitable for their introduction.

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