Report on the La Plata Basin planning workshop
on landuse change and biofuels

Buenos Aires,  March 28 - 31, 2007

Holm Tiessen

The workshop was a first joint planning and brainstorming session to develop a research program in the La Plata Basin and Central Brazil with the following objectives:

To provide scientific knowledge in support of decision making that will permit the Region of the la Plata Basin to use the opportunities provided by the developments in the agricultural commodity and biofuel market and by current global change processes while minimizing negative impacts. And to determine the regional differentiation of these processes and associated risks and vulnerabilities based on infrastructure endowment, natural resource quality and climate.

Products and objectives:

A key task will be to characterize the multifunctionality of landscapes, including “used” natural vegetation systems and associated ecosystem services (browsed, firewood, fauna).
How does one evaluate mosaics of landuse, cover and management for function and value? In some cases such as slope or riparian management land cover and landscape connectivity have obvious relationships, but planning and management of multifunctional landscapes in the context of rural development will require much new interdisciplinary effort.

Since even some very basic information is missing (e.g. soils map) strategies will be developed to develop basic “minimum package” background information from remote sensed data, possibly based on the RADAM experience. The IAI as an institution may play a role in data rescue & assembly across the region. EMBRAPA is collecting “lost” data for web based presentation of data and/or metadata. MODIS imagery may be analysed regionally for that purpose. But the products need to be user friendly and provide easy access to data banks.

Both climate and landuse/cover information will be modelled in hindcast and forecast modes for 25 years which matches the socio-economic time horizons. This will permit a reanalysis of climate change - landscape - landuse links. Model data will be verified by joint climate and LUC relying on existing networks including those from socio-economic surveys. A critical task will be to link remote climate forcings to regional conditions and feedbacks. Soil moisture is a key property that will need remote sensing and local verification. Remote sensing may be able to provide the entire cycle: precipitation - soil storage - river flow.  In addition 60 stations in Argentina, Paraguay and Uruguay can provide data on changing frequency of rainfall extremes to be integrated with the hindcasts (Olga Penalba ).

An additional approach will be to use diagnostics in different places as proxy for future scenarios. Analysis across the entire basin, including different countries permits a diagnostic of the status quo in a region of advanced development, which may then be extrapolated to future scenarios for less developed regions.  Suitable indicators may be: school, health, retirement, crime & mobility.

Over much of the region land rental is an issue that changes conservation and management practices. Land value is linked to knowledge (of optimal management practices). Social capital - skilled labor demand - social indicators. A typical question in Argentina may be “how come a pool from outside the region can have greater success than the local experienced AACREA farmer?”   Pools can take greater risk at any one location because it is aggregated and spread over all the pools production regions. How does that risk spread by pools compare to potential crop insurance schemes?

The complexity of the analysis and the need for usable products require that decision makers be integrated into the planning process from the beginning. A fuzzy logic approach may be needed to develop decision products for end-users.

The program will identify opportunities and impediments to the use of climate knowledge, survey and identify knowledge gaps on the future of agriculture based on demand, land use, technology, sustainability, perspectives for biofuel production. Provide policy guides. Questions of food vs. fuel security need to consider economic, carbon and energy balances, evaluate whole farming systems, for instance the role of large/small operators. Multiple perspectives need to consider “values”. Internal biofuel demand is generated by decree within the region. So, the contrast is no longer only “local food security” vs. “global fuel security” .

The program will also develop a predictive capacity to indicate what happens when production system successful in one region are transplanted into marginal areas, or what happens when evolving systems fail due to climate change. Could or would they go back or move to something new. (e.g.: grazing lands that had fencing removed). Methodologies for this analysis may be borrowed from industrial product life cycle analysis.

Data analysis and synthesis should aim at ecological and economic zoning, and provide location specific analyses that addresses development and sustainability issues for different types of producers and communities.  This will provide an analysis of the geographic distribution of benefits (for whom?), risks and climate uncertainties, ecosystem capital & services, and point towards conflict potential.

Indicators derived for the science output can serve as decision making input: the program has to provide guides and aids for decision making at multiple levels. Where political and management structures are poor the decision process may have to rely on (in)forming public opinion.

Core data storage facilities may be provided by CPTEC, there is a need for additional distributed data storage.

Hydrology can be used to integrate land use and climate, with water as a crucial link. Indicator quantities may be hydrological regulation and water quality. Water table levels are related to landuse.  Water and land – climate feedbacks can be traced using isotopes.  Paired basin studies will fit the nested design of the overall project. Hydrology issues are related to :

Three year moving averages of rainfall provide estimates of storage in the landscape. Combined with in-year precipitation, these can be used for flood prediction.

Increased runoff and flood regimes are straining infrastructure such as dams, which may not be suitable under climate change. Past hydrological events have been recorded in Argentina by interviews  (Guillermo Podestá)

The basin study will required a nested design with areas of intensive study embedded in regions of less dense data.  The climate super site located near Foz do Iguaçu will have an intense data collection in a circle of 100 km, with lower intensity over 500 km and a third tier corresponding to the whole basin.

Priority areas for the nested design:

Crúz, Bolivia

Overlying these focal areas will be a basin-wide, large scale remote sensed data sets including landuse & topography and 20 years of NDVI (CPTEC).

Issues to be addressed in the proposal:

Several science partners for the program participated in the workshop:

The principal partner in the proposal development will be the La Plata Basin initiative LPB coordinated by CLIVAR.
Central topics for LPB are improved climate prediction, climate impact studies and the feedbacks from land use to climate.

Current land cover maps are too coarse for detailed studies, and LPB will generate remotely sensed maps that can be linked to scenarios for future climate and provide, for instance, inundation risk mapping.  LPB will bring together the following observation components: existing data, radar climate integration, flux towers and soil moisture measurement.  Researchers in the LPB are also linked into several other programs in the region:

Existing projects, information and networks which will enrich the proposed program:

Existing on-the-ground networks of scientists & “people” in meteorology can be linked in the new initiative be linked to social surveys. The networks provide a reality check on models, allowing them to be translated into climate risks. The networks also provide opportunities for land cover monitoring in real time to recheck importance, relevance of trends. These networks carry important development implications, particularly for capacity building and institutional linkages. Data collection, management and information flow may be facilitated by commercial partners with existing distribution (customer) networks (e.g.: Petrobrás).  One recurrent problem is the lack of follow-up on involvement of stakeholders.  It is suggested to make the networking and its effectiveness and durability the object of an investigation, possibly at PhD level.

There are existing family agriculture programs in Argentina, Brazil and Uruguay. An ecological-economic zoning program in Br is classifying land into “preserve, conserve, or consolidate categories.  In the latter new businesses receive support.

JFT’s group is surveying farmers’ perceptions of the last 25 years development experience and their resulting expectations for the next 25 years of change. Linking the survey network and the networks established for climate monitoring would provide an opportunity for large-scale regional interdisciplinary data collection, for a comparative multiscale analysis of processes of development, perception of climate related uncertainty and risk management.

Additional sources of background data are:

An encuesta agropecuaria is available annually in point form as part of the Argentina census.

INTA & INIA studies of producers

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