Socioeconomic and Environmental Basis for the Development of Small Scale Forestry in a Highly Degraded Watershed in the Venezuelan Andes
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In the last 20 years, the Mocotíes watershed in the Venezuelan Andes has experienced an intense process of land-use change, with natural forests being replaced by “sun grown coffee” (Coffea arabica) monocultures in sites of high slope, increasing risk conditions and the vulnerability of people living in lower parts of the watershed. Using a local-scale approach, 37 productive units (10% of total) in the San Isidro micro-watershed (51.85 km2) were assessed in order to evaluate local socioeconomic conditions and perceptions of ecosystem services, and how both are affected by human activity. Almost 65% of residents work in small farms of less than 5 ha, while family ownership remains the most important form of management. A significant lack of financial support was detected, support which is required to improve coffee productivity and improve conservation practices. Severe soil loss was detected in 45% of the area, associated with cultivation on steep slopes and the use of chemical fertilizers. Agroforestry and tree planting are well-regarded, as locals tend to recognize soil protection and climate change mitigation as two of the most important ecosystem services. Using a small-scale forestry approach, it is believed that current land management could be greatly improved to: (1) progressively introduce tree cover into coffee monocultures; (2) restore degraded areas where forest cover is lost and (3) reduce deforestation. Recommended policies and actions include institutional strengthening, decentralization and the development of community-based forest enterprises. The general principles presented in this work could provide a preliminary basis for basin-wide land restoration.