Scientific challenge

Colombia is the second most biodiverse country in the world with a large rural population of small-holder, low income farmers. As the demand for meat and dairy increases, livestock farming continues to expand onto land that is not appropriate for farming, causing environmental damage through forest clearance, land degradation and loss of biodiversity. Different national initiatives aim to encourage more intensive and sustainable farming to support farmers' livelihoods, and protect the environment and its rich biodiversity. Silvopastoral farming is one of those initiatives as it combines forestry and grazing.  These approaches will help sustainably intensify livestock production, whilst protecting forests and other natural areas, to protect biodiversity, economic development and social wellbeing in Colombia. However, due to cultural and social factors, together with economic and agronomic influences, uptake of silvopastoral systems remains low and deforestation continues.

This interdisciplinary project brings together cultural geography, behavioural economics and ecological expertise from both the UK and Colombia to investigate the cultural and socio-economic reasons for low adoption of silvopastoral livestock farming practices. Through farmer interviews, focus groups and existing socio-economic information we will develop and test effective mechanisms for knowledge exchange and engagement with government policy makers, to promote effective uptake and implementation of best practice for silvopastoral systems. Furthermore we will quantify the effect of silvopastoral practices and forest protection on biodiversity and ecosystem services to provide landscape scale policy relevant guidance, at the landscape scale.


Project overview

BioSmart is a Newton Fund project that aims to explore and understand the reasons behind the low adoption of silvopastoral systems in Colombia. We are using botanical and invertebrate surveys to measure biodiversity across different habitat types within each farm, and will quantify the benefits of silvopastoral practices and forest protection on biodiversity and ecosystem services. We are also studying cultural geography and economic behaviours and hope to provide policy guidence and identify approaches to promote forest protection and silvopastoral implementation at a landscape scale.

Cultural geography

We use the innovative methodology of Institutional Ethnography and combine research tools that include in-depth interviews, focus groups, participant observation and document analysis to investigate how agro-environmental projects, inclusive but not limited to silvopasture are organised, offered and implemented in the area. Based on evidence from Phase I, our starting point is that low adoption of agro-environmental schemes, including silvopastoral systems is too often explained as farmers’ failure, while the ways in which they are offered and implemented escapes detailed scrutiny. We aim to understand what that the offer of silvopastoral projects entails and how they work from the standpoint of farmers. We listen to farmers’ experiences to improve the adoption and sustainability of livestock production systems.

Economics and behaviours

We use a variety of approaches based on economic theory to understand the policy environment and how that may influence farmers use of silvopastoral systems. We review policy influences that affect uptake of silvopasture, to assess the potential for policy interventions, including payments for ecosystems services, across the BioSmart project region of Colombia. We examine farmer decision making, based on a large-scale survey (collected by CIAT) but also using economic experiments, to understand farmer behaviour and the balancing of risks and benefits from adopting silvopasture. Finally, using spatial modelling we will codify the effect of these influences on farmers across the region, to develop predictions of uptake of silvopasture systems and the impacts for economic and environmental recovery, e.g. Greenhouse gas mitigation, and sustainable and equitable incomes.


BioSmart have identified the following communities who will be impacted by our work: smallholder farmers currently adopting or wishing to adopt silvopastoral systems, policymakers and other stakeholders interested in seeking ways to promote silvopastoral systems to increase resilience and enhance ecolosystems services in Colombian agricultural systems, consumers of milk and dairy produce within Colombia. With this in mind, we have organised activities and events in order to maximise outreach of our results:

- Farmer workshops.

- A symposium on silvopastoral systems at the British Ecological Society Tropical Ecosystem meeting in Edinburgh 2019. 

- A symposium on The socio-ecological dynamics of tropical silvopastoral systems, planned for the Association for Tropical Biology and Conservation’s annual meeting 2020 (postponed to 2021).

- Scientific publications and other publications including web page and other literature in English and Spanish.

The UK members of the BioSmart team include:


Principal Investigators:

  • PI: Dr. Maria Paula Escobar-Tello, University of Bristol.
  • Co-PI: Dr. Jill Thompson, UKCEH Edinburgh.
  • Co-PI: Dr. Michael Garratt, University of Reading.
  • Co-PI: Prof. Andrew Barnes, SRUC.


Post-doctoral research fellows:

  • Entomology: Dr. Lois Kinneen, University of Reading.
  • Botany: Dr. Cristina Rosique-Esplugas, UKCEH Edinburgh.
  • Cultural Geography: Dr. Adriana Suarez-Delucchi, Univerity of Bristol.
  • Economy: Dr. Ignacio Sepulveda, SRUC.


Partners in Colombia:

CIAT, International Centre of Tropical Agriculture, Cali.

Universidad de la Amazonia, Florencia, Caqueta.


Location of the study:

The study is based in the Colombian Amazonia basin, in the department of Caquetá, with farms located in three municipalities: Morelia, Albania and Belen de los Andaquies.

We collected information from 18 farms, which were participants in a much larger project on Sustainable Amazonia Landscapes (SAL).


Area of Study: Department of Caqueta, including city of Florencia, Colombia.

Principal Investigator

  • I joined CEH in February 2009 as a plant ecologist after working for several years in Puerto Rico, Ghana and Brazil.