- Learning Network
Challenges · Livestock and Pasture · Water
Tropical Wet & Dry
The northern region of El Chaco Paraguayo is one small part of the Gran Chaco Americano, a vast region composed of varied environments in 4 countries containing the continent’s largest forested area after the Amazon. The Gran Chaco Americano is home to a rich biodiversity that makes it a key conservation area. The Paraguayan portion, 25% of the Gran Chaco, is characterized by high temperatures and an annual rainfall of irregular distribution throughout the year, hindering agricultural production, including agriculture for household consumption. The main activity is livestock production, especially the production of meat, while agriculture is minimal and subsistence-oriented. Droughts can last months and the population is highly dependent on ecosystem goods and services. Forests and pristine areas, occupying 61% of the area of Alto Paraguay, provide key food and climate regulation roles. The population density is low and highly isolated by lack of adequate roads.
WCS Paraguay works with local institutions on conservation strategies, as well as alternative production and livelihoods strategies, in El Chaco Paraguayo’s northern regional landscape.
My previous work experience in conservation was oriented around technical assistance programs for smallholder producers in the Eastern region. This work included providing technical support, providing inputs, and ensuring sustainable production (ie environmentally sound, with management of agrochemicals, use of contours, etc.). Convincing a rancher to stop deforesting to restore pastures and produce differently has proven much more difficult, but at the same time convincing one represents the conservation of thousands of hectares, given the size of the ranches in the Chaco. In addition, while WCS works in 60 countries, this work is really organized by major ecosystem (Amazon, Chaco, Pantanal, etc.) rather than by country. So our activities contribute not only to the conservation of the Paraguayan portion of the Chaco but to the entire Chaco landscape.Maria del Carmen Fleytas Country Director, Wildlife Conservation Society (WCS) - Paraguay
Over the last few decades, the Chaco has been subjected to sustained degradation of natural resources due to the presence of extractive industries and overall lack of planning. Ranching and logging are traditional activities, so WCS implemented a series of pilot models of alternative livestock and forestry production on the farms of local producers. The success of these models, including agroforestry systems on degraded pastures, native forest management, and forest waste as a source of energy, among others, was based on the accompaniment of implementation with an economic analysis showing that production under these schemes was equally profitable to traditional systems with the added value of providing sustainability to existing resources, and in some cases even getting new products that improve farm income. Furthermore, the pilot models managed to capture the interest of the owners by offering technical assistance to test these new systems.
There has not been a history of collaboration, or integrated landscape management, in the northern region of El Chaco Paraguayo. As a result, WCS has focused on building alliances with each sector:
(1) Farmers: they are a very conservative group of stakeholders. They are often foreigners who do not live in the country and come only a few times a year to their land. Their confidence in the WCS team was instrumental - they allowed the team to access their property, they accompanied them in monitoring the progress of the pilots, they provided labor and housing, and more.
(2) Local government: in these isolated areas government is the only "visible" authority. Training them is key to enable them to contribute to more effective enforcement of environmental laws.
(3) Local populations: they are sparse and isolated, without much impact on production on large privately owned properties. In contrast, large private properties do influence the quality of life of communities, so working at that level is important.