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Slippery Slopes

  • Linda Platts

  • More than 200 million impoverished people worldwide make their homes on
    hillsides. These hillsides are the source of some 20 percent of the world’s
    freshwater, and yet agricultural activities have resulted in vast deforestation
    and topsoil erosion. Since 1993, the International Centre for Tropical
    Agriculture (CIAT) based in Cali, Colombia, has been working with farmers to
    conserve soil and water while helping them to increase their meager incomes.

    The nonprofit agency has combined the knowledge of local communities with
    computer-based geographic information systems to help monitor farmland and
    plan alternative uses. Researchers have also introduced new high-yield plants.

    In the Cabuyal watershed, the changes have been significant. Better seeds
    have increased food production for local communities. Fencing around streams
    has ensured clean water to downstream households as well as to local coffee
    growers. In exchange, the growers have supplied farmers with water tanks for
    their cattle. In newly created buffer zones around the streams, farmers have
    planted trees which produce a native fruit called lulo, which they can sell
    at local markets.

    The hillsides project has expanded to areas of Honduras and Nicaragua as
    well as some African countries. More than 1,000 people from communities,
    local governments, and other nonprofit agencies have been trained in the
    techniques developed by CIAT. The project’s ecological and economic benefits
    have been far-reaching.


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