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Sustainable agriculture, and arid and semiarid ecosystems of Venezuela

Sustainable agriculture, and arid and semiarid ecosystems of Venezuela

Interciencia 22(3): 123-130, 156-157

The strategies for resources management depend upon the underlying comprehension about ecosystems dynamics. Contrasted approaches arise according to whether emphasis is laid on ecosystems' equilibrium or on resilience. Management proposals are based on the latter spares temporal and spatial heterogeneity. Arid and semiarid ecosystems follow pulse-reserve dynamics; i.e., they show a remarkable short-term temporal variation. Water availability is the major controlling factor, yearly precipitation is variable, and occurs in infrequent, discrete events. After a long dry period, the system is in an inactive steady state. Rainfall triggers growth and biomass builds up. The size of the production pulse depends on the input level. The system's persistence depends both on the amounts of stored reserves, and on backflow to reserves. Any factor interfering with storage mechanisms or accelerating reserve losses reduces the persistence capacity. In arid and semiarid ecosystems with high resilience, cryptic degradation takes place, and when its effects become evident it is usually too late to stop the process. The management of these ecosystems is a delicate enterprise, since small disturbances gradually reduce their resilience up to the threshold value, beyond which an unpredicted event may irreversibly degrade the ecosystem. The Venezuelan arid and semiarid lands occupy 4.6% of the territory. Their long history of devastating land use, based on goat herding in a haphazard manner at the expense of natural vegetation, has depleted the ecological base, and increased poverty. Their small relative extension and great fragility, are arguments to encourage a strategy of "no-action". However, the importance of vegetation cover in ameliorating climates, as well as the presence of an impoverished human population, are good reasons to promote research and development, based on a minimum risk policy. Governmental agencies have handled the situation in an unidimensional fashion, focusing their attention on water scarcity. However, it is the set of interactions in the socio-ecological system that influence the pulse-reserve dynamics and modify resilience. In this paper, a different approach, based on the local experience and with the community participation from the planning stage, is proposed. Land use diversification with minimum capital input is promoted. The aim is to optimize land use while reducing extra regional dependence; i.e., increasing self-reliance. Actual and potential uses of native and introduced forage species are promoted, together with the appropriate cropping systems, in order to reduce the pressure on natural vegetation. Lowcost technologies, aimed at increasing water and soil conservation, are analyzed. The quest of the intersection between scientific knowledge and concrete action in the current social media, offers an opportunity to overcome the classical approaches.

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Accession: 002973612

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