Andean Regional Conference: Confronting the Impacts of Agricultural Burning
Lima, Peru, 12-13, February 2015
The goal of the conference was to address the issue of open agricultural burning in the Andes, by: 1) examining the status of Andean glaciers and the implications of their retreat, 2) comparing a decade of satellite mapping showing where and when burning takes place with field observation and experience, and then 3) examining what crops are burnt and by whom, as well as the driving forces for burning as an agricultural practice. Based on these insights, the conference began the process of identifying existing no-burn methods or options to reduce open burning within the region, especially in zones closer to the Andean Cryosphere. The conference helped energize a broad-based network of informed and engaged experts and stakeholders interested in increasing Andean agricultural yields and potentially decreasing the rate of regional climate impacts by demonstrating and encouraging adoption of alternatives to burning already being used elsewhere in South America.
The Conference was inaugurated by the Head of Peru’s National Water Authority (ANA), Sr. Juan Carlos Sevilla and Sr. Oscar Angulo, CONDESAN’s Representive in the Andean Basins, while Ing. Richard Vargas, CCAC Working Group Co-chair Representative, reminded participants of the global role of the CCAC and its purpose in establishing the new Andean Initiative to Reduce Open Burning. Dr. Luisa Molina, Director of the Molina Center for Energy and the Environment, emphasized the potential this initiative holds for the region and acknowledged the importance of ANA’s support for the Conference. The Honorable César Francisco Sotomayor Calderón, Viceministro de Políticas Agrarias del Ministro de Agricultura y Riego, gave the keynote address, which highlighted the plight of the Andean glacier system and the implications for water resources for both Andean urban centers and Andean agriculture.
Picking up on this theme and providing a context for the conference, Ing. Nelson Santillán, Especialista de la Unidad de Glaciologia de la ANA, made a compelling presentation on the crisis of the Andean Cryosphere (La Crisis de la Criósfera Andina), which focused on climate change drivers and impacts on tropical glaciers regionally, and especially on Peru, which is 70 % dependent on glacier run off. Dr. Stephanie Kinney, the ICCI Andean Director, provided an organizational context for the conference, explaining the CCAC’s focus on reducing short lived climate pollutants (SLCPs) and the special concern black carbon from open agricultural burning presents for cryosphere regions. She described the purpose of this regional conference as lead-up to subsequent phases aimed at establishing pilot projects to demonstrate better agricultural practices that preclude burning.
Dr. Nicolas Huneeus, University of Chile, Santiago, addressed how wind circulation affects the patterns of air pollution from biomass burning in the Andes in general and in Chile in particular. Dr. Marcos Andrade, from the Chacaltaya -GAW Monitoring Station (University of San Andrés Institute for Physics Research, La Paz, Bolivia), addressed the challenge of measuring black carbon and its adverse impact on Andean glaciers, thus setting the stage for a more detailed exploration of where and why agricultural burning persists in the Andes region.
The graphic representation of burning throughout the Andes via satellite mapping was the focus of the presentation of Dr. Jessica McCarty of Michigan Technological University. Drawing on a decade of overhead mapping, Dr. McCarty shared maps and insights for Bolivia, Chile, Peru and Ecuador with the audience, inviting a lively discussion during a question and answer period. It is clear the region enjoys local monitoring talent and capacity, which deserves greater recognition and support.
Dr. Stephanie Kinney further invited the audience to focus on key questions for each country aimed at confirming exactly where and when burning occurs most often, what crops are most involved and why, and what factors obstruct the adoption of alternative practices. Key crops include corn, sugar cane, cotton, cover crops, potatoes, cereal grains and rice, as well as grassland burning for pastures. The low cost and effectiveness of burning and the weight of hundreds of years of tradition suggest why alternative practices will be hard to implement. However, new information about soil damage due to burning and damage to the glaciers, along with greater awareness and demonstration of effectiveness of no burn/no-till alternatives may encourage greater interest in different practices.
A high-level panel of regional and national policy experts moderated by Dr. Katherine Riquero Atunez,
Directora General de Asuntos Ambientales Agrarios, Ministerio de Agricultura, provided a more strategic perspective on the day’s proceedings. Dr. Jose Benites, a recently- retired FAO Representative, addressed a regional picture of poor enforcement, perverse incentives, stove piped bureaucracies and more talk than action. Jaime Fernandez-Baca described the priority the Inter-american Development Bank attaches to climate change and the important role of agriculture in this regard, focusing especially on black carbon from open burning. The presentation of Ing. Richard Vargas of the Chilean Ministry of the Environment addressed all conference “key questions” for Chile, while Ing. Werner Correa from the Peruvian Ministry of the Environment stressed the importance of interagency coordination and collaboration, an important theme also highlighted by the moderator in her summary. Dr. Rene Mariaca of Bolivia’s Catholic University described the challenge of slash and burn practices in Bolivia and initiatives to overcome them, and Dr. Vicente Cordova of Ecuador’s Cotopaxi Technical University provided an informative overview of burning and agriculture in Ecuador, emphasizing some new policy openings for addressing both. Several panelists referenced the fact that older indigenous cultures farmed without burning and that reexamining their historical practices might now prove fruitful.
Two panels on Day 2 presented agricultural experts and farmers familiar with using alternatives to open burning. Dr. Rolf Derpsch described the motivation behind the spread of no-till farming in South America and defined “conservation agriculture” as minimum soil disturbance and conservation, soil coverage by harvest stubble and cover crops, and crop rotation. Dr. Jose Benites stressed the importance of access to the right tools for no-till/direct planting agriculture and the policy and institutional challenges slowing down adoption of conservation agriculture in the Andes. He also called attention to the “problem of aesthetics” when local populations consider that “no-till fields” look less well-kept than do burned fields, a factor confirmed both by Rolf Derpsch and Juliana Albertengo.
The presentation of Lic. Juliana Albertengo on the value and productivity of zero burning/no-till/direct planting agriculture was particularly effective since she is a third generation family farmer in Argentina, who has adopted these practices with outstanding results. Dr. Maria Isabel Manta of Peru’s Agrarian University provided invaluable data on land use and agricultural exports, sources of black carbon, as well as institutional and socio-cultural-economic factors challenging the adoption of new agricultural practices in Peru. Dr. Javier Aliaga shared what his group associated with High Altitude Community Agriculture in Bolivia has learned about overcoming socio-economic obstacles through a structured process of direct engagement with farmers and producers. Finally, Sr. Juan Olazabal, a Pasture and Livestock Consultant for the University of San Marcos’ field station in Huancayo, Peru, called attention to the extent and importance of grassland burning practices in this region, especially when local cattlemen believe burning conveys “benefits,” unaware of the severe damage burning does to soil fertility and productivity.
Looking forward to how agricultural burning might be reduced in the Andes, Dr. Gail Stevenson, the ICCI Russia Program Director, shared many “lessons learned” from Russia that might be applicable to the Andes. Important factors include revitalization of agricultural extension programs, study tours, recycling of stubble, equipment innovation and modernized agricultural curriculums, all of which stimulated further discussion about advancing more sustainable agricultural practices in the region.
In summary, the regional conference succeeded in preparing the ground for next steps and follow-up action, specifically the design of some pilot projects to demonstrate alternative practices to agricultural burning. There remains a need for more and better coordinated mapping of burning and agrarian black carbon emissions. Experience elsewhere suggests the value of inviting interested farmers to participate in “study tours” where burning is no longer used, in addition to the general importance of more education and outreach to stakeholders about the adverse impacts of burning, especially on the soil and yield per field. (No- till crop yields have risen to four to six times that of burned fields.) The availability of the right tools and equipment is crucial, as is low cost and/or collective financing for the same. There was wide agreement on the importance of identifying “perverse incentives” that encourage unsustainable practices, and the importance of aligning public policy and incentives with conservation agriculture. Above all, despite national differences and the diversity of local circumstances, the Andean region needs to recognize the common threat burning poses not only to soil and agricultural productivity but also to its glaciers, water resources and mountain ecosystems. This will require the involvement of many government institutions in the region with the participation of local communities. Conference participants were encouraged to come together to consider what next steps they can take to educate, support and advance conservation agriculture networks and collaboration throughout the Andean region. ICCI will welcome any “next step” proposals generated by this Conference.