Restore Default

on the ground in latin america

Here are just a few of CNR’s projects happening on the ground in Latin America.

(Click on any hotspot on the map to view work done in that region of the country).

Jewel-bright plumage and a reputation for smarts have made parrots coveted pets for centuries. But with the international pet trade and habitat destruction, more than a third of New World parrots are at risk of extinction. Professor Steve Beissinger, a professor of environmental science, policy and management, has been conducting the first detailed study of these colorful birds with Venezuela’s green-rumped parrotlet. Like house martins, parrotlets readily raise chicks in artificial nest boxes. Since 1985, Beissinger has followed over 2,000 nesting attempts and marked more than 8,000 individuals with colored bands. What he’s discovered about their breeding, social system, and population dynamics will help establish sustainable harvesting of wild parrots for pets.

In southern Brazil, small farmers have ditched herbicides to control weeds. Instead, they sow combinations of naked oats, rye, hairy vetch, and fodder radish, then grow food crops directly atop the mulch. The result: fields that are nearly weed-free. Professor Miguel Altieri, a professor of environmental science, policy and management, and colleagues at the Universidade Federal de Santa Catarina have found that rye and radish produce natural chemicals that deter weed sprouting. The food crops are placed below this toxic chemical layer or are transplanted as hardy seedlings. These findings could help other farmers seeking to wean themselves from the high cost or toxic effects of herbicides.

Tropical forests have been called the lungs of the earth, but are also major sources of greenhouse gases. Their soils are the largest natural producers of nitrous oxide, carbon dioxide, and methane. By studying tropical forests in Puerto Rico, Whendee Silver, a professor of environmental science, policy and management, has found that hurricanes affect how soils release greenhouse gases. While these massive storms lower carbon dioxide emissions, they raise outputs of methane and nitrous oxide—gases that are 25 and 300 times more potent respectively at warming. This phenomenon bodes ill for the future, as hurricane frequency and intensity are projected to increase as the planet warms.

The potatoes on your plate may have been grown in Idaho, but their ancestors likely hail from Chiloé Island, off southern Chile. Indigenous peoples there cultivated hundreds of varieties of potatoes over the centuries. But most of the local varieties disappeared after government policies promoted higher yield varieties. Now residents cannot afford the fertilizers and fungicides these spuds require. To reconnect farmers with their agricultural heritage, Professor Miguel Altieri and the Centro de Educación y Tecnologia of Chiloé have established a community seed bank to preserve ancient potato varieties. The organization is also reintroducing traditional varieties of these tasty tubers to local farmers.

Microfinance institutions provide loans to the poorest of the poor, transforming beggars, farmers, and others into entrepreneurs. Yet as microfinance has caught on, default rates have begun to rise. Borrowers can take out loans from different banks, while potential lenders are unable to assess their indebtedness. Alain de Janvry and Elisabeth Sadoulet, professors of agricultural and resource economics, have found that credit bureaus can help solve this problem. They show that a credit bureau launched by a Guatemalan microfinance lender helped its branches gauge actual debt levels, and helped induce borrowers to repay loans. The downside: as group lending declined, less solvent clients, such as women, lost access to loans.

In the poor rural villages of Paraguay, formal sources of credit and insurance are few and far between. Lending and gift-giving within the community can be a viable substitute, but such informal finance methods seem to work better in some villages than in others. Ethan Ligon, an associate professor of agricultural and resource economics, and former student Laura Schechter, now at the University of Wisconsin, are investigating how such networks of trust function. Their surveys and experimental games are revealing how these systems help and hinder informal financial success.