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Partnerships for enhanced engagement in research (PEER) SCIENCE
Cycle 1 (2011 Deadline)

REDD based forest expansion, food consumption, and reduced emissions agricultural policies (REAP) in the Ecuadorian Amazon 

PI: Carlos Mena, Universidad San Francisco de Quito (USFQ)
US Partner: Thomas Rudel, Rutgers University
Project Dates: May 2012 - November 2015

Project Overview

EcuadorPartnership Picture A
Project team members Carolina Sampedro and Alexandra Guevara during fieldwork (Photo courtesy of Carlos Mena).

In tropical forest frontiers, agricultural policies that encourage cultivation increase greenhouse gas emissions,while at the same time forest policies that encourage an expansion in forest cover reduce greenhouse gas emissions but can create risks for food security. Can these contrasting goals be reconciled? This project aims to inform the current debate by proving links between payments for ecosystems services (i.e., Reducing emissions from deforestation and forest degradation or "REDD+") and the production of foodstuffs using emergent silvopastoral landscapes (pasture land with increasing forestation) in the Ecuadorian Amazon. The emergence of these new forested landscapes is viewed by these researchers as both an opportunity for REDD+ due the characteristics of these landscapes as a carbon sink and as a natural experiment to explore the relationship between the expansions of forested landscapes and the production of food.
This project has several interconnected objectives: (1) identifying the extent and drivers of silvopastoral landscapes; (2) identifying  food consumption and production patterns and understanding how they are affected by the emergence of silvopastoral landscapes; and (3) developing an emissions profile of peri-urban and urban farmers with an eye towards providing them an equitable distribution from the benefits of REDD+ while providing food security to urban areas. This project will be developed in two main areas of the Ecuadorian Amazon--Coca and Macas--that share key characteristics, including high population growth, high urban expansion, and the emergence of silvopastoral landscapes. However, these two areas are different in several respects. Coca is the center of oil exploration and extraction in Ecuador, and this industry is an important driver of agricultural expansion or land abandonment. Macas, on the other hand, is undergoing agricultural change due to mechanisms of rural-to-urban and international outmigration from agricultural areas. The use of these two areas will provide the opportunity to study processes common to the entire Amazon, where urban growth and the emergence of silvopastoral landscapes occur but due to different factors. To achieve their objectives, the researchers on this project will use a number of methods and techniques, including remote sensing, household surveys, and complex systems modeling. The project should contribute to increasing understanding of the relationship between food production and consumption and should generate a package of recommendations on reduced-emissions agricultural policies for Ecuador and the Amazon in general.
Summary of Recent Activities

The main goal of the research team during the first period of 2015 was to estimate the total amount of carbon released into the atmosphere due to deforestation in the Ecuadorian Amazon by the year 2038. For data pre-processing and analysis, ArcMap 10.1 and IDRISI Selva were used for three layers of vegetation cover in the entire Ecuadorian Amazon region for the years 1990, 2000, and 2008. Using IDRISI’s Land Change Modeler (LCM) the model was calibrated to compare 1990 and 2000 vegetation cover and assess how the distance to roads, the distance to rivers, and the slope affected the transition potential of the forest.

Markov chain calculations were used to find the probability of land use change between time periods. The model was projected with 10,000 iterations for 2008 and validated using the 2008 vegetation map and the validated model from the 2008 vegetation cover data was projected to the year 2038 using the previously selected variables. The regions where most land use change was likely to occur were identified and then aggregated to a final prediction map. The vegetation cover map from 2008 was then compared to the 2038 prediction map for the areas that showed a loss in forest cover. Finally, these areas were overlaid on a pre-existing baseline carbon map (MAE & FAO, 2014) to estimate the amount of carbon that would be released into the atmosphere by the year 2038.

In the coming months, the team will run a simulation of deforestation rates in the Amazon region under two different scenarios with the first assuming that existing protected areas are left intact and free from any deforestation while the second will examine the changes that occur if protected areas are subjected to deforestation. This will estimate the amount of carbon emissions that can be controlled in protected areas when REDD+ guidelines and regulations are implemented in contrast to the current deforestation trends.

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