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This past March I had the pleasure of participating in a field trip to two of the dozen or so Andes Basin Development Challenge field sites. I had visited other sites on previous trips.

The first site was in the water-rich municipality of Coello, near Ibague in Colombia. In Coello there are several groups seeking water-related benefits. Even though water is abundant, the benefits
A cast of thousands, or maybe just 30
they seek are incompatible. Conservation groups want to use water to enhance ecosystem services, many related to biodiversity. Mining companies want to use water for ore processing. Urban communities want a stable supply of clean water for direct consumption. Upland farmers want to continue to graze livestock, even on fragile alpine wetlands. Downstream commercial rice farmers want to maintain their water rights concession – and obtain additional water rights if possible. The public sector, working at various levels, would like to please everyone. Strategic purchases of large tracts of land have been made by one side or another.

Our AN3 project has succeeded in fostering a dialogue among these stakeholders,taking advantage of legislation established for that very purpose. The project focuses on generating information on costs and benefits of land and water use to inform this debate, and seeking institutional mechanisms by which water-related benefits can be equitably shared.

The second site was in the area of Fuquene, north of Bogota. This site was studied in a CPWF Phase 1 project (PN22), where the focus was on the gradual disappearance of a large lake due to inflow of sediment and nutrients from upstream hillside farms. A rotating fund was Ploughing by horse
established with contributions from various sources to encourage the adoption of conservation agriculture practices (soil cover, zero tillage, no burning) on hillsides.

In Phase 2 these farmers have found a new reason to look even more closely at conservation agriculture. Much of their farmland has unexpectedly been incorporated into a newly created nature reserve. Local conservation authorities are working to adapt conservation agriculture practices to local needs so that farming need not be banned outright. Our AN2 project provides the technical assistance and adaptive research base. Equally importantly, the project quantifies and models the ecosystem consequences of conservation agriculture vs. conventional agriculture. This information is needed to demonstrate that conservation agriculture is compatible with the goals and objectives of the nature reserve.

In both sites our research raises larger issues. In Coello the larger issue is how to negotiate benefit sharing when water use is contentious. In Fuquene the larger issue is how to develop agricultural practices that also enhance ecosystem services – and how to document and prove that this has been done.

By Larry Harrington, CPWF Research Director


View more pictures from the trip.