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Home > Basin > Andes > Improving crop water productivity with the Quesungual Slash and Mulch Agroforestry System (PN15)

Full Project Title: Quesungual Slash and Mulch Agroforestry System (QSMAS): Improving crop water productivity, food security and resource quality in the sub-humid tropics (PN15)


Most agricultural areas especially on hillside slopes in the sub-humid tropics are facing increasingly frequent seasonal water scarcity and dry spells from a combination of inadequate soil and crop management practices and climate change.

For farmers, maintaining productivity of drought-prone hillside farming systems and coping with climate change depends on how they can respond to the key challenges of improving water availability, recovering forest cover and halting soil erosion.

The Quesungual Slash and Mulch Agroforestry System (QSMAS), a smallholder production system, comprises a group of technologies to manage vegetation, water, soil and nutrient resources in drought-prone areas of hillsides in the sub-humid tropics that contributes to building food security and resilience to natural extremes of water deficit and water excess.

The project’s objective was to use QSMAS to improve livelihoods of rural poor farming on hillside slopes in sub-humid areas through increased water resources and food security, while maintaining the soil and plant genetic resources for future generations.

Research Highlights

Research highlights

  • QSMAS can be a model production system embracing principles of conservation agriculture to achieve food security and sustainability in drought-prone areas of the sub-humid tropics.
  • QSMAS is not only eco-efficient through the use of renewable natural resources, but also provides ecosystem services including: food security through improved crop water productivity and yields at lower costs; and improved water cycling through reduced runoff, erosion, water turbidity and surface evaporation, and increased infiltration, soil water storage capacity and use of green water.
  • High natural variation in QSMAS plots (i.e. predominant vegetation, number of trees and shrubs, and soil properties) and marked differences on their management (e.g. crop production and crop residues) demonstrates that the implementation of its principles strongly relies on criteria of individual farmers that are influenced by current and future needs of the householders.
  • Positive results on validation of the biophysical performance of QSMAS in Nicaragua and Colombia affirm its potential to enhance support for livelihoods in vulnerable rural areas in sub-humid tropics, including on marginal soils on sloping lands.
Project Outcomes

Project outcomes

  • The acceptance of QSMAS as an alternative to slash and burn agriculture by farmers who validated the system in Nicaragua and Colombia.
  • The initiative of INTA to promote QSMAS in other suitable sub-humid areas in Nicaragua (according to a recent study, after four years of validation efforts, around 90% of the 120 farmers in La Danta watershed (where Negro River is born) eliminated burning to manage residues and about 70 of them are already using QSMAS.
  • In the validation area of Nicaragua, increased agricultural productivity and sustainability through the adoption of QSMAS by around 70% of the farmers in the area.
Publications and Outputs

To view all outputs from project PN15 visit our document repository.

Selected publications and outputs

Journal papers

  1. Ayarza, M., Amezquita, E., Barrios, E., Rondon, M. and I. Rao. 2005. Strengthening regional partnerships to facilitate integrated soil fertility management. The Communitor of the Tropical Soil Biology and Fertility Institute of CIAT (CIAT-TSBF) 9:11-12.
  2. Ferreira, O.I., Rondon M.A., and M.P. Hurtado. 2008. Greenhouse gas fluxes in Quesungual agroforestry system, slash and burn system and secondary forest in southern of Lempira, Honduras. TATASCAN, National School of Forestry Sciences 20: 98-111. (in Spanish)
  3. Fonte, S.J., Kong, A.Y., van Kessel, C., Hendrix, P.F., and J. Six. 2007. Influence of earthworm activity on aggregate-associated carbon and nitrogen dynamics differs with agroecosystem management. Soil Biology & Biochemistry 39:1014-1022.
  4. Fonte, S.J. and J. Six. 2009. Earthworms and litter inputs drive soil organic matter stabilization, nutrient dynamics, and plant nutrient uptake in the Quesungual agroforestry system of western Honduras. Ecological Applications (in press).
  5. Reynolds, J.F, Stafford Smith, D.M., Lambin, E.F., Turner, B.L., Mortimore, M., Batterbury, S.P.J., Downing, T.E., Dowlatabadi, H., FernaÅLndez, R.J., Herrick, J.E., Huber-Sannwald, E., Jiang, H., Leemans, R., Lynam, T., Maestre, F.T., Ayarza, M., and B. Walker. 2007. Global Desertification: Building a Science for Dryland Development. Science 316: 847-851. (
  6. Rivera, M., Amezquita Collazos, E., Rao, I., Menjivar Flores, J.C. 2009. Spatial and daily variability of soil moisture content in three agroforestry systems. Acta Agronomica, National University of Colombia 58: 75-83. ( (in Spanish)

Book chapters and reports

  1. Ayarza, M.A. and L.A. Welchez. 2004. Drivers Affecting the Development and Sustainability of the Quesungual Slash and Mulch Agroforestry System (QSMAS) on Hillsides of Honduras. In International Water Management Institute, Comprehensive Assessment “Bright Spots” Project, Final Report, 187-201.
  2. Ayarza, M., Huber-Sanwald, E., Herrick, J., and J. Reynolds. Forthcoming. Synthetic analysis of the sustainability of the Slash and Mulch Quesungual Agroforestry System for restoration and management of tropical deciduous forests agroecosystems.
  3. Baquera, N., Herrick, J.E., and M. Ayarza. 2006. Determining vegetation coverage and changes in land use under the Quesungual slash and mulch agroforestry system. Ecological Society of America, paper No. 62989.
  4. Cahill, S., Ayarza, M., Garcia, E., Navarro, E., Smyth, J., and D. Osmond. 2007. Good fertilizer management is profitable for resource limited farmers in Honduras and Nicaragua. Special Report, Soil Management CRSP. 5 p. (
  5. Castro, A., Barrios, E., Ayarza, M., Asakawa, N., Borrero, G., Menjivar, J.C., Garcia, E., and I. Rao. 2006. N and P dynamics in Quesungual Slash and Mulch Agroforestry System (QSMAS). Tropical Soil Biology and Fertility Institute of CIAT Annual Report 2006, 143-147..
Final Report
Project Partners

Project partners


Project Lead

Project lead


For more information on Phase 1 outputs please contact Udana Ariyawansa.