Sustainable land use and biodiversity conservation in the Andes

Sustainable Land Use and Biodiversity Conservation in the Andes: Scaling Up SANREM-Andes Research

Submitted by: University of Georgia
Funding Period: 01/30/05-06/30/06

Principal Investigators:

  • Dr. Robert E. Rhoades, Professor of Anthropology
  • Dr. Virginia Nazarea, Professor of Anthropology


Over the past decade, the SANREM-Andes program has conducted interdisciplinary and intersectoral research at multiple levels with diverse stakeholders in the mountainous sites of Nanegal and Cotacachi, Ecuador. In Phase II (1999-2004), research coalesced around five priorities:

  1. Soil and water interaction and management;
  2. Biodiversity conservation and enhancement;
  3. Water management and education;
  4. Economics of watersheds;
  5. Organizational innovations for sustainability.

The overall objective of the SANREM-Andes Bridging Project is to scale up research findings and decision support tools developed during Phase II of the SANREM-Andes project. This information will be made available to Phase III researchers and local natural resource management decision-makers in Ecuador and other Latin American countries.


The goal of the SANREM-Andes Bridging Project is to create valuable impacts on sustainable agriculture and natural resource management by bringing SANREM-Andes research and decision tools to a wider Andean audience of scientists, policy makers, and communities. This will be accomplished by:

  1. Packaging and transfer of a suite of watershed visualization tools for land use change (LUC) modeling and scenario planning;
  2. Creating policy guidelines and methods for biodiversity conservation, especially related to in situ/ex situ complementation and local needs for repatriation of Andean crops;
  3. Finalizing and delivery of SANREM-Andes primary data and metadata into the SANREM III Knowledge Base.


The strength of the SANREM-Andes program has been its systems approach to resource management built around Land Use Change (LUC) modeling and decision support tools for soil, water, and biodiversity sustainability. Using LUC data, historical photographs, oral histories, and digital visualization, SANREM-Andes researchers have traced the 100-year decline of the Cotacachi glacier and the consequences for agriculture, biodiversity, water availability, and social conflict. Despite the success of the SANREM-Andes program, a great deal remains to be accomplished in terms of synthesis and extrapolation of the final SANREM-Andes outputs to other Andean institutions and countries.


The SANREM-Andes interdisciplinary LUC modeling approach uses participatory techniques for incorporating local values, knowledge, and gender perspectives into the planning process, and has been successfully tested in several workshops in two separate Ecuadorian locations. This project will further refine and disseminate the set of techniques involved in future visioning of landscape change by issuing publications such as methods manuals and by holding training workshops in Ecuador and the Andean region. Using visualization techniques, the Cotacachi communities have grasped and confronted broader issues related to climate change and land use. These techniques also allow issues and perceptions to be differentiated by age, social status, and gender. This project will apply the LUC modeling and visioning toolkit in two different alpine sites (Cayambe and Antisana glaciated volcano mountains). Both sites are especially relevant to the USAID-Ecuador Mission: the Antisana glacier supplies drinking water to the Quito metropolitan area, and Cayambe is an agricultural region dependent on glacial run-off.

SANREM-Andes has generated a coherent body of methods and findings which are useful for enhancing local and global biodiversity. Two successful strategies for increasing the retention of knowledge are:

  1. Memory banking of local knowledge to complement gene banking of traditional cultivars;
  2. In situ conservation in women's home gardens and community and school gardens and repatriation through the "Farm of the Ancestral Futures" demonstration facility.

In Cotacachi, a new project is building on SANREM research by linking conservation with income generation, eco-tourism, and food security. SANREM-Andes outputs will also be extended to biodiversity conservation projects in Chile, Bolivia, Peru, and Colombia. This project will:

  1. Involve women in defining culturally relevant plants to be repatriated and conserved in situ;
  2. Foster intergenerational links through the "minga de ancianos" (circle of elders), in which elders pass down knowledge to younger people about traditional crops;
  3. Investigate intergenerational transmission of plant knowledge and account for periods and causes of loss of both knowledge and plant species;
  4. Facilitate exchange visits between gene bank managers and local people in order to enhance understanding of and dialogue about formal and cultural concepts of conservation, management, and use of plant genetic resources. Sound guidelines for seed preparation and multiplication for communal gene banks and for foregrounding local priorities and preferences in repatriation also will be collaboratively developed.

Expected Results and Deliverables

This bridging activity will package select outputs into targeted publications, training protocols, policy protocols, multimedia products, and web-based data integration and then transfer the data to appropriate sites and programs in the Andes and to the Phase III Knowledge Base. A large database on the two Ecuadorian sites has already been created and is housed in Ecuador and at the University of Georgia Sustainable Human Ecosystems Laboratory. This database includes GIS-based soil, topographic, political, climatic, hydrological, demographic, and project-generated information from each SANREM-Andes activity.

Student Support and Training Activities

This bridging project will provide support for five Ph.D. students (4 females, 1 male; 4 Latin Americans/ 1 American). It will also provide training to other SANREM researchers on Toolbook data integration, training of stakeholders through gene bank-farmer exchanges, and future visioning training for NGOs and partners in the Andes.